Nov. 4, 2008

There are a lot of bad kid’s games on the Wii, with even more to come during this holiday season, so we here at Blast are going to tell you about one of the better, younger skewing titles to invest your money into this winter. Backbone Entertainment’s “Monster Lab” is a game that will surely fly under the radar, but it’s worthy of more than that sad fate.

You play as a mad scientist in training who plans to join the Mad Science Alliance. Your initial contact to that organization is Dr. Fuseless, as the others have scattered due to poor leadership in the group. You will create, customize and fight in order to save the Uncanny Valley and restore the Mad Science Alliance. Yes, the plot is somewhat flimsy and disposable, but this is not a game you play because you are looking for story.

Creation is where it is at in “Monster Lab,” and you will have plenty of options to keep you busy. You find ingredients lying around, or have them given to you, or earn them by completing various mini-games and puzzles. You then use those to make parts, which you can then fuse together in order to build monsters from scratch or improve upon existing models, of which you can hold up to ten at a time.

While customization and creation are slow at first, you eventually unlock more and more items to create new parts that will keep all of your monsters from being the same. You will need different kinds of monsters too, as the game has a rock-paper-scissors quality to it, with mechanical parts doing more damage to biological parts, biological doing more damage to alchemical, and alchemical harming mechanical the most.

One thing that may irk some, though, is the fact that experimentation is forced upon you. You never know what you are making unless you have made it previously, and the values for the item-such as hit points, attack power, etc.-are not shown until after you have already completed building the part. While I understand wanting to make people experiment in a game based around building monsters in a laboratory, it adversely affects the rock-paper-scissors battle strategy, since it makes building specific parts for specific tasks more difficult.

Building parts can be fun though, as the mini-games that go along with this are entertaining, and the kind that you can improve upon in order to build even better parts. You do a lot of welding early on, which is essentially playing “trace the line” but it moves at odd angles and directions while giving you random spots to fill in along the way, meaning you will need to do well at this and pay attention in order to build powerful parts.

The turn-based battles are also fun, as there is a lot of strategy involved in them. You pick an attack, which uses a set amount of power, and you target a specific area, such as heads, arms, legs, or torso. You then carry out the attack in the hopes of knocking off a part that your opponent will no longer be able to use. You also need to recharge your battery though, which is done in two ways: you can recharge fully and leave yourself open to enemy attacks, or you can recharge one-third of your battery life and dodge your opponent’s advances.

Battles like this show you why it’s important to have a solid array of monsters from all three classes available to you, and to keep them up to speed with the most advanced parts you can make. You can heal in between battles on the world map, and you will need to, but this is gimmicky and gets annoying after a few times, as it is a tacked on waggle mechanic for the Wii version, and brings up a loading screen as well.

“Monster Lab” for Wii also boasts an online mode, but you cannot play against strangers, so unless a friend of yours (or your children’s friends) also own a copy, battling online is going to be disappointing. That is a letdown, as battling monsters against someone more intelligent than the AI is promising and adds greatly to the experience.

The presentation for the game is above-average, and light years ahead of what you expect from most titles that shoot for a younger audience. There is voice acting for many of the lines-though it’s occasionally so campy and over-the-top it is painful-and there are short, animated cutscenes that convey important moments of the story. The graphics themselves are quality, and if you dig the Tim Burton style of art, they are appealing as well, especially in the lab, which is designed for easy navigation as a hub world.

There are two areas where the presentation fall short though, and that is in the individual locations you travel to and in the way you see the game itself. The areas you travel to look somewhat like a game board, and not like the locations they are supposed to be at all, which is an aesthetic turn off, and looks out of place given the quality of the presentation elsewhere in “Monster Lab.”

As for the latter issue, you “view” the monster’s activity through a series of cameras, which means that battles and the aforementioned locations have a somewhat grainy and dingy look to them, compared to the colorful and bright cartoony world the game actually takes place in. This may not be a problem for all, but it is somewhat disappointing, given the look of the game elsewhere.

Not all of the mini-games you play are fun either, though you could do worse for a kid’s game on the Wii. Some of them are a bit repetitive, or a bit too long-or the opposite problem, where you have a fun one that is short-and others rely a little too much on waggling as fast or often as you can in order to advance. They do control well though, and there are plenty of them, which is more than you can say for a lot of less polished titles.

“Monster Lab” is surprisingly well put-together and polished, and it has plenty to offer as a title with replay value, due to the sheer number of different parts and monsters you can create. If the game sells better than expected, the online mode should also improve upon the experience. If you are looking for one game that skews younger this holiday season for your younger Wii-owning relatives or children, “Monster Lab” is a worthy entry into that discussion.

About The Author

Marc Normandin was gaming editor of Blast from 2008 to mid-2010. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter @Marc_Normandin

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