Ever since cockfighting was declared illegal by those spoilsports in government, people have turned to video games to get their fix of animal battling. Collecting creatures and then forcing them to beat the ever-living shit out of each other is merely a part of the human condition, and it is our God-given right upon this Earth. I am of course joking, but given the startling amount of games featuring this premise, you’d be forgiven for believing otherwise.
Combat Monsters is what would happen if Magic: The Gathering fell clumsily into bed with Chaos Reborn: a blend of tactical grid-based combat with collectible cards. Originally designed as a free-to-play mobile game back in 2013, Combat Monsters has now been ported to the PC, with all of the trappings in place of its previous iteration.
In all fairness, some of the game’s design comes down to the commendable fact that it is a cross-play title. You can play a few games on your iPhone, earn some new cards, then pick them up when you log in at your PC. You can also battle across different platforms too, meaning that a PC player can play against someone using their iPhone and vice versa. While that is certainly a nice touch, a question needs to be asked; why play it on your PC at all?
This is the fundamental issue with Combat Monsters. Designed for mobile gaming, the developers haven’t even bothered to update the interface for the PC version. Little details such as the training missions telling you to “tap the screen” smack of laziness, and really set a precedent for the whole experience. When battling, parts of the map and the interface are hidden behind your characters, which is symptomatic of a smaller screen, but seems rather bizarre on the high resolutions of desktop computing. Certain elements of this conversion could have been thought through much better to improve the experience, rather than hinder it when the player picks up a mouse and keyboard.
Unfortunately, there are poor elements about Combat Monsters that cannot be excused by the porting issue. For starters, the sound design is utterly terrible. When the narrator in the training missions sounds like he’s talking to you through a £10 microphone via Skype, your expectations are immediately set, but the game does very little to try and meet those already low standards. Awful, repetitive music plagues the whole game, making each new match a scramble to find something more suitable in your Spotify playlist. Combat Monsters only has one track when it comes to battle music. Most of the game’s sound effects are akin to listening to someone fart through a sheet of tracing paper. Like a Katy Perry music video, it’s much more enjoyable when muted.
Visually, Combat Monsters is an ugly affair. Most of the monsters that you can summon look like they have ham hocks for hands, making the graphics look more ham-fisted than a Porky Pig punching bag. Each monster in the game lacks any distinctive character, with many of them using the same character models that are merely coloured differently. Do I want to use the green orc named Rhys, or the reddish green orc named Hosh? Frankly, the character designs blend away pretty quickly as you learn that the stats are all you need to look at. Picking at the graphic design may seem petty, but while less visually complex games can stand up to scrutiny (such as Nidhogg), Combat Monsters is just unappealing in terms of the art style it’s aiming for, and what is achieved on screen.
This all feels such a shame because, underneath the sub-par window dressing, there is actually a fun, simple to learn strategy game at its heart. Your main character is a hero/villain that can summon up new monsters, weapons, armour and combat bonuses via your deck of cards. If your main character dies, then you lose the match, so the aim is mainly to take down the opponent’s main character as quickly as possible. Each turn you can move, attack, and summon new cards based on how much mojo you have in stock. Each monster has three stats: attack, defence, and health, which all do exactly as you’d expect. You can also add bonuses, such as runes, which replenish your mojo quicker, allowing you to summon more creatures or use more devastating attacks. As you start stacking your characters with items, you can turn weak monsters into surprisingly devastating assets, adding an extra layer of complexity with buffs that can turn the tide of battle. Imagine Rainbow Moon’s battle system with collectible cards and you’re halfway there.
Of course, as with many collectible card games, you have the option to buy card packs. These packs are purchased with a currency that you earn in game, or you can pay to triple the amount of currency you earn. While it is perfectly possible to play the game for free, there is a constant reminder after battle that you could be tripling your money right about now, although this is never too obnoxious.
There are two versions of multiplayer available, asynchronous and real-time. Asynchronous allows each player up to one day to make their turn, turning it into a sedate game of chess that can be played out over longer periods of time. Real-time is exactly as it says, relying on two players to be connected at the same time.
All in all, Combat Monsters is a decent way to spend your time, provided you wish to whittle away your commute while playing on a phone. As a PC title, Combat Monsters is a practically pointless experience.