|The Deadly Tower of Monsters
|January 19, 2016
|PC, Playstation 4
I wasn’t even born when this classic B-movie came out on VHS, back in the 80’s, so I’m glad that it’s being released again on DVD… Huh? Video game? What’s that?
Actually, The Deadly Tower of Monsters is a game, but it sticks so closely to its sci-fi movie theme that you could easily be fooled by its marketing text. The basic premise is that the incompetent director has returned to make an idiot of himself on the commentary track, while you control one of the three main characters of the film: Dick Starspeed, Scarlet Nova, and the Robot. I hope you like the sound of the director’s voice and his sense of humor, because you’ll be hearing him a lot.
As a game, I would call this a beat-em-up platformer. As you climb up the ridiculously tall tower, you’ll have to quickly shift your focus between jumping your way up and fighting the various enemies that come your way. Regardless of your character, you’ll be able to bring two melee weapons and two ranged weapons to the fight. Since ranged weapons have limited energy that recharge quickly, much of the game is about running around the screen, avoiding enemy attacks and quickly striking back.
There’s a total of ten ranged weapons and eight melee weapons to choose from, and all of them can be upgraded with cogs that are hidden around the tower. Any character can use any weapon–the only real difference between them is with their special abilities, like Scarlet’s force field and Dick’s explosives. In addition, you can upgrade your basic stats like health, melee damage and ranged weapon energy, by spending skill points. There’s no experience or leveling up going on, though. Instead, you gain skill points by getting achievements throughout the game. Some will be handed to you just for defeating the major bosses, but many others involve finding hidden secrets around the tower.
That, in my opinion, is where The Deadly Tower of Monsters shines. If you happen to fall off the tower–or jump off on purpose–you can press a button to quickly teleport back to the last solid ground you stood on… or you can embrace it. After falling for a few seconds you’ll go into a skydiving mode that lets you fly through hoops, shoot pesky pterodactyls, or look for hidden areas to land on. This really gives you a sense of how huge the tower is, and a perspective on the challenges you’ve already faced, because when you look down from the top, the whole game world is visible.
Another way the game absolutely nails it is, of course, in giving you that cheaply-made old movie feel. It’s not just the tropes of the intrepid hero fighting his way to the diabolical emperor either. Early on, Dick gets picked up by a monster, and you can see his model being replaced by a crummy doll of him. A lot of the monsters are clearly made of stop motion clay, and you can see the strings holding up the flying enemies. The character voice acting and sound effects are pretty hammy, and the orchestrated music is also just a little over the top. By default, there’s even a nice film grain effect (you can turn that off though). Notice a flaw in the story? The director usually has a (bad) excuse for it.
There’s a lot of stuff that this game gets extremely right, but the flaws are pretty serious too. What this game has in design and aesthetics, it severely lacks on the technical side. I don’t just mean the annoying automatic camera swings as you’re trying to climb, either. Even if you meet the technical requirements, this game can end up running at a frustratingly low speed on PC. That, in turn, can trigger some of the annoying bugs that I’ve noticed in it, even preventing you from getting past certain points until you lower your settings. Collisions are sometimes a little wonky–just whacking a switch with my melee weapon proved a little harder than it needed to be.
Also, if you’re not a huge fan of the director’s commentary, you’re out of luck, because it’s not going away. The story within the movie itself is meant to be cheesy and unoriginal, and it does a good job of purposely not developing the plot much. It’s what you come to learn about the director and his production, that gives this game any sense of narrative strength. I believe you can turn down the voice volume, but the subtitles for the director’s comments stay. This part, obviously, is good or bad depending on your taste, but I thought it was worth noting.
I rushed up The Deadly Tower of Monsters in about 8 hours, although for those willing to explore a bit, it should certainly be a bit longer than that. There might not be any real replay value, but discovering secret areas is an adventure in itself. Looking back on it, I haven’t forgotten the frustrating moments, but the game’s good points seem to outweigh them considerably. I’ve also noticed in the Steam discussion boards that my complaints are pretty common and that the devs have noticed them, so these things might get fixed in the near future. I hope that happens, because that would tip the scale on this game from pretty good to downright amazing.
I wouldn’t wait too long, though–although the normal price for this game is $14.99 USD, both Steam and the PlayStation Network have it down to $9.89 USD until February 2nd. At that price… definitely get it, if you have a PS4 or think your PC can run it.
Review copy supplied by the publisher. Review based on the PC version of the game.