Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment of America
Release Date: April 7th, 2015
Available on: PlayStation Vita
I’ve never heard of MonsterBag until the day it got chucked onto the Instant Game Collection next to Killzone: Mercenaries. What a shame, as MonsterBag will probably be overshadowed. It doesn’t deserve to be, as MonsterBag is probably one of the most entertaining and heartwarming games I have played in a long time
Nia is a forgetful little girl who one day goes off to school without V, her little pet monster/backpack thing. Distressed over this, V goes to follow her and along the way may or may not trigger the apocalypse. Telling its story with no words, just sound effects and some of the most beautifully animated cutscenes I’ve seen on the Vita, MonsterBag starts out as a pretty funny slapstick but as it continues it starts to become something else. A lot of the story is really open to interpretation, some of the things I got out of it may not quite be what someone else will. Yet I think that made it all the better. I was genuinely surprised by the end of the game at how touched I was about the whole thing. To me MonsterBag stands out as a brilliant story that hits all the right notes, something that I think even non-Vita owners should at least find some way to watch once.
MonsterBag combines stealth and puzzle game elements. Each stage is a line of people that V has to move between by using the D-pad. Most people aren’t really paying attention and V can move between them undisturbed. Yet I had to watch out as some people are just angry, and are more than happy to take that anger out on V. Get caught by an enraged person and they will proceed to kill V violently with surprisingly bloody animations. Watching people’s eyes become important, as that is how you can tell if you’ll be able to sneak past them or not. Early levels make it easier to know where someone is looking, often giving you many visual clues. Later levels mix it up though, and missing the little hints on when someone will turn or where he’s looking is the easiest way to get V killed.
Yet sometimes V can’t sneak past enemies, which is where the more puzzle-based parts of MonsterBag come in. V can interact with things close to him by using telekinesis, which simply required me to tap the item I wanted to pick up, and then tap where I wanted to throw it. Throw it at the wrong person and I risked enraging them and putting one more person willing to kill V on the map. Often I had to deal with a bit of trial and error to fix the problem, but it was never bad enough that it left me frustrated. Solutions are often rather entertaining once I was able to figure them out. Needed to get past a guy playing his guitar on a bus? Open the door to the bus to surprise the guy eating apples next to it, making him drop an apple. Then throw the apple at the girl next to the guitarist, which makes her angry and causes her to smash the guitar.
Yet as much fun as the early levels are, the last five or so levels devolve into a frustrating mess. Puzzles involving matching colors based off of vague hints isn’t much fun, and a few puzzles that required me to throw light switches to change who I could jump to just felt like they didn’t quite belong. Worse, levels now have everyone enraged, which means every single jump needs to be perfectly planned. It makes the fact that an enraged person’s time frame for being able to catch and kill V is far larger than I would expect. Often I would be completely behind the next person, but because I was caught in the very last frame of the jump I found V being torn apart by an enraged monster. The last boss is also a problem, requiring me to do damage to it in a certain time frame. Yet I often found that impossible because I was stuck between two enemies that just would not look away from each other, and the object I needed to interact with was just out of reach.
MonsterBag is a bit on the short side, only taking between 2.5 – 3 hours to finish. After I finished the game I was able to replay it in a special “Oblain Mode”, yet the only real difference seems to be that a gooey black monster goes around and smacks everybody on the back of their head, starting them out enraged. It makes the early levels more challenging as now there’s a bunch of enraged people, but in the last few levels when everyone was already enraged anyway it hardly mattered. MonsterBag was also a little glitchy: objects I had to interact with did nothing when tapped until I restarted the level. I also encountered one girl (playing a PlayStation Vita no less) whom, if anything was thrown at her, would cause the game to freeze immediately.
Still, I loved MonsterBag. Its creative ideas and lovely story are marred by the last few frustrating levels, but there was still so much good here that I was willing to let it pass. Of all the games I’ve played on my Vita, none have ever made me as happy to own the thing as MonsterBag has.