‘Monster Sanctuary’ manages to be a pixel art Pokemon Metroidvania RPG

What’s in a genre, anyway?

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Despite my best efforts, it turns out I can only play about 200 hours of before I get bored of Sea Storm, Artemis Chiron Bow, or Merciful End runs. That left me in a dangerous predicament: Without a good game for time off around the holidays.

I was poking around the Switch store this weekend, and rolled the dice on , a surprisingly addictive game with a really bad name. It’s mostly a ripoff, with the added platforming exploration and puzzles of a Metroidvania game.

But to call it a total ripoff is a disservice. Monster Sancutary manages to prove that Pokemon left chips on the table, and reinvents the franchises’ cookie cutter formula into a satisfying platforming RPG.

You collect monsters (unclear whether they’re stored in your pocket) which you train and use to fight off bigger, evil monsters and protect the realm. But instead of gaining a standard set of moves, your Pokemon — I mean monsters — each have their own skill tree, which allows them to grow stronger, specialize into specific strengths, and synergize with other monsters in battle. You get monsters by fighting them in the wild. The better you perform in the fight, the higher the chance an egg will drop and you’ll be able to hatch your own copy.

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Each fight is typically three wild monsters against your three, and your monsters learn moves that buffs their team, debuff enemies, project shields, leverage elemental weaknesses, and more I haven’t found yet.

A new skill is unlocked every level, and every 10 levels a new tier of abilities is unlocked. You have 6 active monsters that can be used and gain experience every battle. This creates a really satisfying cycle of constant upgrades, with a nice power bump every few hours of the game. The RPG influence doesn’t stop there. Each monster can be outfitted with four pieces of equipment to bump specific stats, and even fed temporary consumable items.

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But there’s . Monsters can also run and jump alongside your character as you explore the world, and each has a special skill like seeing in the dark, levitating the player past spikes, or unlocking a specific kind of door. You can carry a seemingly unlimited amount of monsters, meaning you don’t need to waste one of your precious 6 Pokeball slots for a Pokemon dedicated as an HM Swiss army knife. It’s easy and intuitive to switch between monsters and their abilities, allowing for some puzzles to require multiple monsters to solve.

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As you explore new biomes, you also find new and stronger monsters. These monsters are a challenge to fight at first, but as you get stronger the fights get easier, you start to unlock those monsters, and then use their abilities to explore futher. It’s a tidy loop that links exploration and battle.

I’ve only put about 20 hours into the game, but so far, Monster Sanctuary has managed to surprise me at its inventiveness, reward systems, and charm. It’s a masterful extension of the Pokemon genre of game, and I think a game worth a few dozen hours of your time.

Senior Writer at OneZero covering surveillance, facial recognition, DIY tech, and artificial intelligence. Previously: Qz, PopSci, and NYTimes.

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