Standalone WiiWare Review: A Monsteca Corral: Monsters vs. Robots

It’s a well-worn cliche that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover; the gaming equivalent would probably be not to judge a game by its teaser trailer – a sin I was certainly guilty of with regards to Monsteca Corral. Orange plasticine figures stomping across a hillside, robots, astro-maggots – what the heck is this? If you’re willing to take a chance, however, you’ll find a fun game with a strong artistic vision and a surprising level of challenge.

Monsteca Corral is superficially similar to games like Pikmin and Little King’s Story: players guide a group of orange monsters called “Stompys” across a landscape of trees, water and robots in a quest for gas bubbles to feed to a giant grub called the Astro Maggot. The reason for feeding gas to this colossal subterranean caterpillar is to blow it up like a balloon until it can fly your stompys away into space – apparently they want to find someplace not overrun with annoying robots bent on locking them up and digging up the countryside.

Although the game’s premise may sound bizarre it’s pretty straightforward to play: use the Nunchuk to control the camera and the remote pointer and B button to direct your stompys in a given direction. Initially you’ll start out with a lone stompy that comes stomping (ha-ha) in from the fog surrounding the playfield who must then “corral” the others who are just lazing about picking fluff out of their navels or whatever. When an active stompy runs into a stationary one they join the march and it won’t be long before you have a small army of the things running around collecting gas bubbles, beating on robots and trashing their buildings.

Robots are your nemeses. They have little time for pesky orange beasties and will try to lock them up in special jails or give them a good pounding, so you can either avoid them or get a gang together and strike first. Hitting a robot with a group of stompys will send it flying, but if you don’t want it coming back to get you, you’ll want to drive it into a body of water to founder until a Heli-bot can rescue it; by which time you should be safely out of the area.

A group of stompys can also bring down large installations by surrounding them, with a little pointer jiggling over the offending structure to speed things along. The robot buildings release multiple gas bubbles when they collapse, giving you an incentive to knock them down rather than pursue the time-consuming process of roaming the countryside to collect the precious stuff before running over to the Astro Maggot to drop off your bounty. Once your Maggot is ready to take flight, just guide your corral to it as it emerges and touch it to establish a silk tether to ride it out of there!

If that sounds simple, it’s because for the most part it is. The game levels aren’t designed to be difficult to complete since there’s no real “game over” condition. Instead, the challenge lies in completing enough achievements in the available levels to unlock the next group for play.

Achievements consist of simple tasks like completing the level within the par time, evading robot detection or completing the level with all stompys and no injuries. You can also try to destroy all the buildings within the time limit – though this can be rather time-consuming in some of the later levels with a high risk of failure. Working against you is the fact that the par time is a bit tight and only two of the achievements aren’t tied to it: no injuries (you’ll need to collect all the stompys within the par time to earn this) and the robot evasion award. On the plus side, once earned achievements don’t need to be earned again so you can focus on different ones over multiple replays.

As you go through the levels additional controls will be made available and further opposition will appear in the form of the aforementioned Heli-bots and the most implacable opponent of all, the dreaded “Imposter” bot. New controls take the form of using the – and + buttons to select a subset of stompys to control. The idea seems to be dividing them into groups to do different things, though it’s a bit impractical until later in the game when you can start using “slug juice” to paint a trail for stompys to follow on their own using the pointer and the A button.

Best to leave dividing your corral into smaller groups for multiplayer games where a few of your friends can join-in to directly control them. Whilst the group and trail controls work well enough in solo play, the limited rotate/zoom camera control and single-screen presentation make dividing your stompys into groups on your own a risky proposition – especially with the Imposter Bot and his pals about.

The Imposter Bot hangs out in a little house and will emerge if your stompys are up to mischief nearby like dumping digger bots in the drink or smashing a building. He’ll run right at your stompys and can move over difficult terrain quicker than them. If he gets close enough he’ll leap into the middle of your corral and explode, sending stompys flying and forcing you to gather them up again, costing you precious time. The Heli-bots are less problematic but still a threat as they’ll pick up your stompys and put them in the “monster jail” until you can smash that building and bust them out. Destroying their landing pads is the only way to get them out of the picture, but carries the risk of getting nabbed.

If those pesky robots weren’t bad enough, achieving par is complicated further by the fact that the Astro Maggot only stays above ground for a limited time to feed, so you need to gather a lot of bubbles when you get the chance. Of course if you collect too much gas your stompys start to float a bit which slows them down or worse results in them taking to the skies. A quick flick of the Remote will make them “release” the gas (complete with grade school chuckle-inducing sound effects), but that applies to your whole corral – not just the one or two floating ones – meaning less gas to deliver to your ride out of there.

After the Maggot has had its fill it takes several seconds to emerge again, with no real indication of where it’ll pop-up. If you only have a quarter of the par time remaining you’re almost guaranteed to fail if you haven’t topped up the Maggot completely considering the time required to reach it and get aboard thanks to some slightly dodgy motion control implementation for stompy jumping.

The lack of sensitivity settings means false detection of motion direction is common, so you’ll jump left when you swing right, etc. When boarding the Maggot dirigible you need to either be right there when it comes out so you can just touch it to get your stompys tethered (rare) or you need to get them under it and motion upwards to try to jump up and hit it. The camera angles are such that it’s hard to tell which stompys aren’t tethered and whether or not they’re jumping in the right direction. It’s a minor issue overall, but when you literally only have seconds to make par it can be very frustrating to miss it over a couple of stragglers.

The biggest mediating factor for any frustration you might feel is the overall experience of playing the game. Rather than opting for highly-detailed designs, the development team have packed an impressive 20+ levels into a small footprint (only 125 blocks – smaller than many Virtual Console games) by opting for a simple, but unique look for their game. The environments and their inhabitants are brightly-coloured models with textures largely limited to certain terrain types and terrific water effects. The consistently excellent frame rate and absence of noticeable glitches indicate a well-polished game.

When it comes to the interface minimalism is the order of the day, allowing for the playfield to be largely unobstructed by gauges and the like. The stompys have icons floating near them which change colour depending on whether they’ve been corraled or not and can be seen through the terrain to act as an aide in locating them. A flower in the upper-right corner grows a petal for each stompy corraled, which also shrinks if they get injured. Round icons in the lower-right corner indicate the achievements and their current status and a gauge in the opposite corner will show you how full the Astro Maggot is. This gauge also flashes when it surfaces and pulsing green rings emanate from its location to show you where to carry your bubbles (if only there was the vaguest clue of where it was going to emerge next time)

In keeping with this clutter-free presentation, the level-select screen is represented by an uncoiling fern-like plant – though to be honest it took me three play sessions before I figured that out! Having the currently selected level also highlight the flower on the branch which represents it would have made this a bit easier to suss out rather than just pressing the control stick in various directions and noticing the background image changing.

Binding everything together is a delicate and lovely soundtrack of simple tones. The whole experience immerses you in the game world which resembles an interactive art installation, so complementary is the look and sound. Monsteca Corral’s levels contain other colourful creatures besides the stompys, leaving me with the impression there are more Monsteca adventures to come, which is certainly welcome.

Considering you can complete a level in 10 minutes or less (not counting replays for achievements, mind), the combination of music and visual style makes for a relaxing break from blasting aliens or pummeling people senseless in other games. For 500 points, it’s well worth checking out, so take the chance and enjoy.