Wait...a level 6 skeleton? Aren't they supposed to be fantasy cannon fodder?

Review: Monster Slayers

PC, Mac •

How often does a game’s catchphrase, a blurb that’s often silly and seldom informative, sell you on playing said game? We’re hoping the answer is, “not often”, but check this out:

A Deckbuilding Roguelike Adventure.

Sold! That’s the tagline for Monster Slayers, a game by Nerdook Productions, and it’s the exact coupling of words needed to penetrate the inky blackness of my heart and, more importantly, wallet.

In Monster Slayers you pick a class, build a hero, and battle your way across a game world using a customized deck of cards. The goal of all this carnage [card-age? Nailed it! -ed.] is to gain admittance into the eponymous Monster Slayers’ Guild. All that’s needed for admittance is a trip to the Northern Valley and slay three legendary monsters that call it home. [Perseus called, he wants his plot back. Seriously, I’m on fire. -ed.]

If you enjoy challenge–i.e., dying a lot–I’ve got some good news for you: Monster Slayers does not coddle its players. The Northern Valley is separated into regions—The Dead Forest, Quagmire Swamp, Forbidden Desert, and so on—and each is full of monsters to defeat on the way to facing off with the resident boss. The first region you visit isn’t terribly difficult once you get the hang of things, but the difficulty ramps up significantly in the second region, which delivers one heck of a beating. As in all good rougelikes, death means starting over from scratch…kind of.

I don’t want to fat shame you, Gold Dragon, but it might be time to lay off the cheeseburgers.

As you defeat monsters you earn fame which, when you inevitably join the choir invisible, gets converted into ranks that can be spent on an assortment of general and class-specific benefits that apply to all future runs. You can bump up the starting hit points of adventurers and improve their hit-point increase at each level. You’re also able to unlock new and more powerful cards to help develop stronger strategies or get an extra mulligan to get a better start to any battle. The class-specific options improve your deck and provide other combat bonuses. These benefits, along with keeping all the loot from your previous forays, are great motivation to jump back in for another run. Then another. Then another.

Monster Slayers has top-notch replay value thanks to six different classes. The traditional fantasy-RPG options are represented and offer a bevy of fun and effective styles of play from which to choose. The Rogue, for example, is all about slinging cards that slice up your foe and draw new cards. You chain card after card hopefully culminating in an epic backstab that deals damage based on the number of cards played that turn. Wizards specialize in big-time burst damage—headlined by a steady supply of Magic Missiles—as well as the potential to filter your deck for answers using a handy card called Clairvoyance.  The Cleric is one of the more defensive-minded classes. You stay alive with an assortment of heals and shields while stacking Repent, a card that applies ongoing damage to your foe, and hammering away with other attacks. The Barbarian, Ranger, and Knight each have their own strengths and strategies as well, and the experimentation is what really drives the game forward.

The Jackal is being played by Glenne Headly (spoiler!)

The deckbuilding aspect of Monster Slayers is on the light side…more like deck tweaking. You don’t get to choose your exact cards, but there are ample opportunities to make changes to improve your deck. You upgrade cards to improve their effect and delete weaker cards to thin the deck. You’ll also have the option to add new cards if they fit your overall strategy.

Monster Slayers is heavily influenced by another deck-building rogue-like game: Dream Quest. In fact, there’s an homage to it on the Monster Slayers title page. If you enjoy Dream Quest, or like the sound of it but could never get past the art, Monster Slayers is for you. Fans of Lost Portal, Guild of Dungeoneering, and Solitairica will find a lot to love as well. I’m not sure I can think of a better compliment than comparing it to those four gems of the App Store.

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