Take control of the massively awesome and super sexy aristocratic demon known only as "The Duke" in an upwards-scrolling platformer where chasing down giant fleeing monsters is the business at hand. Build combos to unleash increasingly magnificent finishing moves on the (most likely) guilty monsters - and impress your adoring fans.
The Duke is a jerk. He absolutely insists poor Cthulhu and a handful of other large monsters have stolen his princess, beating them to a pulp over the course of the handful of levels which make up Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess. Monsters is a port of the PlayStation 3 compatible PS Mini launched on April 22, 2010 for $5US, a game many PS Mini review sites appear to consider that platform's best offering, and Xbox owners should be happy to acquire such a gem at a fraction of the cost -- that fraction being 3/5.
Players control a dracula named The Duke who begins each level accusing some innocent, enormous monster of theft of his princess. The monster flees, and The Duke pursues the creature along a series of vertically oriented platforms looking to smack it for possibly doing something bad. The Duke gets around by jumping, double jumping, and wall jumping, and players can drop him down from a platform just by tapping down on the analog stick. Players will occasionally want to drop The Duke so that he can touch a platform below him in order to help build up their combo tally. Each platform The Duke touches adds to the combo, and the total continues to build so long as The Duke never touches a platform twice, at which point the combo resets. The level ends either when the monster escapes or when the player defeats it. The Duke must double jump into the monster to attack it; the monster flees a bit further away, and the player must chase after it and repeat the process again. After three strikes, the monster is defeated with a strike determined by the player's combo score, and The Duke is then whisked away to lay blame and punishment to the next creature.
Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess oozes personality. The Duke himself is a charming demonic bastard, and it's difficult to not sympathize with the poor monsters given how innocently they're drawn and animated. The character and level art are terrific, and the cartoony style truly suits the game well. I love the exaggerated mannerisms of The Duke and the short cinema scenes in which the little demon shouts down his prey and then beats them to a pulp. Between the egotistical dialogue and little touches such as The Duke's notes on the world map marking his disdain for everything other than his own "magnificent castle," there's much to love here. Each level is completely unique with the monsters' techniques varying each round about as much as possible via the evasive techniques they employ as they look to escape The Duke's wrath. Although the main game is a scant five levels long and beatable in 10 or so minutes, a dozen plus score attack challenges await to help extend depth some. The game does rate the player on how well he or she clears each level, unlocking some goodies for doing well along the way, so there is some incentive in repeated plays and striving to improve one's combo count on each run.
It's a wonderful package, but I just can't get into the gameplay as much as I thought I would to make a purchase. The Duke controls too loose for my tastes and has a tendency to veer off when striking the monster. While that could be taken as part of the challenge in maintaining a combo, I found it more of a nuisance than some understandable quirk. The game rewards leaping on as many platforms as possible without factoring time, leading to frequent situations where The Duke has long since passed the monster and must hang around at the top of the level before landing the final hit, awkward due to the forced bit of inactivity and given the whole premise of the game. I also do not understand why Mediatonic thought it a good idea to imprint the combo number right on top of The Duke as he jumps from platform to platform, a decision which inevitably obscures him once the combo counter hits 50. Finally, I just don't find the main challenge terribly interesting, although later score attack levels I've seen do vary routes and extend platforms enough to require some planning if one hopes to touch them all for a perfect combo streak.
There's so much to like about Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess that I feel bad for passing on it, but while Monsters is arguably the best of a somewhat lackluster library of PS minis, it's just another excellent title in what is a thriving indie game library on the Xbox 360. I'll likely come back to Monsters and pick it up myself on a slow week, but for now my grievances, no matter how minor they may be in light of what is a stellar if simple arcade release, is enough to hold me back at this time, especially with so much else out there left to play. The two accessible trial levels along with their score attack offerings are more than enough for people to make a decision on the game if it merits a purchase or not, but Monsters is a must play (and probably buy) for The Duke alone, the real star of the show.