The straight mash-up of rouge-like and card battling has been around for a while now, but while I’m familiar with both sub-genres, I’ve never had the pleasure of testing this mix out myself. And you know, cards, deckbuilding, permadeath goes hand-in-hand, right? Well, yes, it really does. Following in footsteps of the likes of Slay the Spire, developer Nerdook Productions deals its fast-paced batter onto the Switch.
As soon as you’re thrown out of the game’s title screen, it’s a click away from getting started; no long story, no cutscenes, just a little background piece and it’s onwards to choosing from one of the initial eight classes.
So, what’s the actually card game like then? Quick, simple and deep. There are four card types to build your deck with; the red damage-dealing attack cards as the no nonsense, guns blazing types; the yellow support cards which deal unavoidable damage or a range of assists, such as raising action points (AP) or magic points (MP), blue magic cards for the magics and; green interrupt cards which are automatically deployed from your hand at opportune moments.
Cards have a cost based on AP, MP or, depending on class-type, health draining. Picked the Dragon class? Reap the benefits of free elemental attacks but lose the ability to don your hard-earned equipment. Using a Rogue class? Keep the cycle rolling with a passive AP bonus. It’s a flexible system and one that I found thrilling to experiment with. For me, the most enjoyable strategies came from gradually building AP through weak attacks, then rifling through large combos of cards in a single turn. Battles are snappy and short, and the pace matches just about every aspect of the game, from the map navigation to the deckbuilding.
Each victory adds experience points which directly contribute to the deck-building element of the game; each time you level up you are offered a choice of one out of a randomised set of upgrades. This could be gaining a new card, upgrading a card (most cards allow two upgrades, generally for higher output at a greater AP/MP cost), finding an item, gaining gold (to be spent on similar upgrades or health restoration and the like) or deleting a card to allow a great chance of drawing what you need. The number of cards drawn per turn will also increase as you level up.
Your deck and experience gains are contained within a single run, that is to say, all the levels you accumulate will be reset and your deck dies with you once you face defeat. Fear not, as your legacy remains, as does your gear.
I’m Gonna Live Forever
You gain fame, you die. You die, you gain fame. You pass the torch to the next slayer and so goes the circle of rogue-like.
As your fame increases, so do your options. When you move up from the rank of Keith Duffy towards Ed Sheeran tier your upgrade points will skyrocket. Fame in Monster Slayers is your cumulative, persistent progress marker; an experience level which, upon gaining a rank, unlocks an upgrade point. Some skills come with multiple options, of which you can swap out at will. Once per save you can completely reshuffle your skills, resetting your choices while maintaining your rank. This gave me the chance to undo all the random experimental skills I picked in favour of a more reasoned approach.
Skills are mixed between class-specific and general. You might gain an extra AP at the beginning of each battle, unlock a specific elemental attack for your mage or add a skill to your choice of companion. There’s plenty to chose from and these frequent, tangible rewards helps continued playthroughs feel equally exhilarating. Also, like any good rogue-like, equipment is key and, like fame, is persistent, allowing you to bring your skills and equipment build to each new character.
Each area is represented as a simple map consisting of linked squares. One is visited, the adjacent squares are opened to chose from. Occupying the squares are enemies, potential recruits, merchants and, once sufficient progress is made, the area boss. Your character and your companions are then animated running towards their target in 2D for a short burst and the encounter begins. Do you take the route to the healer and perhaps get the opportunity to thin out your deck, drop one of those weak attack cards that shame your deck and slow you down? Or perhaps take a risk and head to the undead cleric that’s two levels higher than you? That extra experience boost could make the next boss battle a breeze. Naturally these events are procedurally generated so, as per the genre hook, every playthrough is different.
Slay it Like it Is
The point to take here is that there’s no fluff; Monster Slayers just gets on with it, making the wise decision to keep further complications aside for the main attraction: the card battles.
The small volume of looping music tracks wear out quickly, though all fit the fantasy mould closely. The visuals do nothing new, following fantasy art tropes for backgrounds and the aesthetics of all areas continue to remain basic throughout. The chibi character designs themselves have charm and card animations are smooth, though performance does hit a number of notable stutters on Switch. Either way, if you’re here at this point, you’re probably in it for the gameplay, which is where Monster Slayers lands a critical hit every time.
Overall Score: 7/10
If the core deck mechanics and the skill balancing represent the excellence and versitility of the standard 52 cards in a deck, consider the rest of the package to be the Jokers. Just discard them.
Format: Switch (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, PC, PS Vita
Developer: Nerdook Productions / Stage Clear Studios
Age Rating: PEGI 12
Release Date: 05/04/19
Review copy provided by publisher