Simple in concept and execution, Monsterbag is the bizarre story of a monster named V… who is a schoolbag. When his owner leaves for school and accidentally leaves him behind, it’s up to you to help the blue monster to track her down again and be reunited. Despite its simplicity, Monsterbag is certainly one of the more unique games that I’ve played in a while.
Monsterbag is a 2D puzzle game, where level progression takes the form of V jumping across the backs of different people in order to reach the end of the level. Along the way, you’ll encounter angry red-eyed people, who will tear the humble monsterbag V apart if he’s glimpsed jumping onto their back. The key is to distract these enemies in various ways to avoid detection, whether it be by throwing a glass of lemonade at a thirsty kid, or inciting soldiers to kill each other as they try to get on an escaping helicopter. Besides distracting them, the only other way to progress past these enemies is by waiting until they screw their face up in anger or are looking the other way.
Just like V’s owner, Monsterbag won’t hold your hand. The first level is a trial by fire, with players having to learn through death after brutal death exactly how to progress to the end. Once you do get a grip on how to control V and distract people, levels really just boil down to finding out what will distract an enemy and then reaching the end point.
There’s no jump button here, just a simple use of the directional pad to navigate across the ‘platforms’. As this is a PlayStation Vita game, there is the occasional touch screen element thrown in to mix up the simple navigational controls. Environmental elements can be tapped to interact with, opening up the option to throw the item at a person to incite a reaction. Some of these reactions are surprisingly violent, in ways that go against the childlike animation of the game.
There were some fairly gory deaths along the way, not just from V being killed by enemies, but also from enemies killing each other. Heads are decapitated, bright fluoro pink blood is spilt, people are bitten in half by monsters – all in a bizarre animation style that you wouldn’t be surprised to see on the Cartoon Network. It’s this Itchy & Scratchy violence that makes Monsterbag both alarming and hilarious at the same time.
The mixture of eye-popping violence and simplistic animation style makes me wonder who exactly this game is marketed for. Seasoned gamers may get tired of the basic play style, which feels as if this is a game directed at kids. However, the over-the-top violence and really dark moments toward the end of the game makes me question whether that is an appropriate market or not. I’m all for boundary-pushing violence, but if this was a game intended for children, then it feels like it’s too far in the wrong direction.
There is a level of complexity that comes from trying to learn the patterns of the people or creatures you’re trying to sneak past. Later in the game, there are some moments where you have to time “jumps” so that neither enemy is looking in your direction; however, the window for jumping without being seen is so short that it requires a precision that the game doesn’t accommodate. The fact that every death triggers a short five-second cut scene, with Monsterbag dying by “brutal kill,” adds to the frustration that could have been avoided with the implementation of more forgiving enemies.
On the subject of cut scenes, each chapter is separated by some really imaginative cut scenes that help link up the ever escalating and crazy story. For a game that really doesn’t change up the core gameplay all that much, Monsterbag does have some very entertaining cut scenes to help progress things along. To see the game start with a bag trying to be reunited with its owner and end with a full blown apocalypse, well, it’s exciting for sure.
Thankfully, Monsterbag doesn’t overstay its welcome with the credits rolling at about the two hour mark. Playing this in one sitting helps to overlook the bland last couple of chapters, which feel like the developers ran out of steam. There is an amusing and crazy story within Monsterbag that helps with the fact the core gameplay is just very simple. As a long bus ride distraction, Monsterbag works just fine, but it’s not one that you should rush to add to your PlayStation Vita catalogue.