Here’s something you may not know about me – I absolutely love movies. Ok, so you probably already knew that, especially given that every time I review a game I somehow manage to sneak in a film reference. My favourite era of films is easily the 1950’s with its insanely low budget, yet so greatly over the top sci-fi and horror films like Them! and The Forbidden Planet. So, when I saw The Deadly Tower of Monsters pop up on the ‘new release’ page on the Playstation Store (and also on Steam), I simply had to get it right away and see how the world of hugely imaginative B-grade movies had been translated into a video game.
Created by the minds at ACE Team and released by perennial Persona-producer Atlus, The Deadly Tower of Monsters has fictional director Dan Smith sitting down to record an audio commentary on of his 1970’s sci-fi film starring Dick Starspeed – a man whose spaceship crashes on the strange planet, Gravoria. The planet is inhabited by bizarre beasts and vehicles ranging from dinosaurs and giant apes, to radioactive ants and UFO’s, and many, many other sci-fi-esque creatures. During his travels, Dick meets Scarlett Nova, daughter to the overlord Emperor who rules this world. Before you know it, Dick is helping Scarlett overthrow her tyrannical father’s hold on Gravoria, and helping restore order to the world.
There are so many things that The Deadly Tower of Monsters does right, that it’s hard to even know where to begin. So, let’s start with the visuals, as that’s the main reason I decided to purchase the game. One of the key elements of sci-fi films like Them! and Planet of the Apes was the interesting monster designs that often looked as if they were made in somebody’s backyard. While the Oscar winning costume design for Planet of the Apes was ground breaking for its time, it’s still quite obviously just a man in a suit when viewed today – something that Deadly Tower manages to ape perfectly here. The ape enemies and friends you encounter are so perfectly displayed as just being ‘men in a monkey costume’ that it helps immerse you in this fictional world immediately.
The ultra-stilted movements of the dinosaurs helps add to the Ray Harryhausen-esque stop motion animation elements used to bring these monsters to life. The ever hilarious implementation of visible strings for the flying creatures and spaceships further helps with immersing you into this world of B-grade sci-fi films. The appearance of Robot (a clear reference to the staple character ‘Robby the Robot’ from Forbidden Planet and many other films) shines a light on a part of film history that some may not be aware of. This attention to detail shows that there was a lot of love and admiration for the films being referenced here, making this more than just an aesthetic design choice for the game. It appears that, first and foremost, the developers wanted to create a game based on a genre that they fell in love with, and did it with as much sincerity and passion as you would hope.
Even though the fictional film was “made in the 1970’s”, it is, without a doubt, a grand homage to the hokey and cheap creature and set designs from 1950’s sci-fi films. Playing as one of three characters (Dick, Scarlett, or Robot), you’re tasked with progressing through the Tower of Monsters – an isometric environment that continually grows higher and higher into the sky. Using either a trusty laser based weapon (such as a pistol) or a melee weapon (such as an electric whip), you can either whip enemies real good or blast them away into oblivion. Combat is hardly difficult or taxing and with the exception of some later battles, you’ll never feel truly overwhelmed – but the gameplay is genuinely fun and exciting, and is constantly kept fresh by the ever changing variety of enemies you encounter.
To add another element of variety to the mix, you can collect cogs and coins to level up your weapons. On top of this, as you progress you can pick up other weapons which make up part of your arsenal. At regular intervals, you’re given the opportunity to change your character, as well as your weapon load out. Increasing the power of your weapons means you can turn that electric whip into an octopus tentacle, or a laser pistol into a super-strength laser weapon. It’s a slight letdown then, that the great variety of weapons is mostly just an aesthetic choice rather than something that has a specific effect on certain types of enemies. It would have been great to find that the laser pistol was ineffective against a certain type of enemy, meaning you had to change up your weapon to the frog shooter.
Another point of combat variety comes in the form of needing to swap over to play as different characters. As you progress, each character unlocks character specific boosts, such as the dash boots that Scarlett finds, which allow her to run against the flow of conveyer belts, or the tesla coil-like function that Robot gets, which allows him to emit an electric shock. Often, you’ll pass an element which you can’t reach, which then encourages you to go back and explore the world once you’ve unlocked the right booster. An early jetpack unlock helps make navigation nice and easy, with navigation to lower levels a simple ‘jump off the side of the platform’ and glide to your intended destination. Frequent checkpoints that you can revisit make exploration a breeze.
One last combat element that helps change up gameplay is the ‘peer over the edge’ combat mode. At certain points, enemies will approach from below the level you’re on, and to defeat them, all you need to do is head over to the ledge, press the context sensitive button, and then blast those oncoming enemies away. This is possibly the weakest element of combat as it’s mostly just moving a cursor around on the screen to destroy enemies. The fact that the gun you have equipped during this mode always reverts back to being a basic pistol, makes this mode feel like one of the less well-developed elements of the game.
Finally, we come to one of the more entertaining elements of the game – in fact, the element that, if not implemented properly, could have broken the game completely – and that is the ‘directors commentary’ by Dan Smith. While the core mechanics of the game are great fun, and would most likely work as an entertaining game without the commentary, the added element of an aging director revisiting his film after many years make Deadly Tower truly hilarious. Not only are the fictional stories from the set an enlightening look into how films were made in the height of the B-Movie genre, they also provide a hilarious context to the actions taking place on screen. From the first box that Dick Starspeed smashes through, to some of the latter costume designs for the enemies, there is a continual array of joy to be gained from the reasoning behind these actions.
While this humour alone would have been enough to make Deadly Tower a good, comedic game, the added commentary on sexism and actor’s rights add extra depth to the title. While Deadly Tower is not trying to make some kind of grand statement, it does manage to make light of issues that went on in Hollywood in that era – and in some places, still go on today.
It’s not often that a game comes along that feels like it’s been created solely for your enjoyment. The Deadly Tower of Monsters is a throwback game that’s been delivered with respect and admiration for the films that it’s paying homage to – yet, it’s not simply a film based nostalgia ride; it is a fun and entertaining game in itself. Not since Stubbs the Zombie and Destroy All Humans! has a specific genre and era of filmmaking been replicated as wonderfully as it has been here. Yes, just like the films it’s referencing, it’s not an entirely perfect game, but with all its imperfections, The Deadly Tower of Monsters is a game that will be hard not to enjoy and laugh with.