Release Date: 08/06/2017
Played On: PC
Available On: PC
Time Played: 2h 20m
Progress: Made it to the third floor… still trying…
Developer: Team D-13
Publisher: Team D-13
NB: Game key was provided for free by the developer.
A long time ago, in a basement not so far away; a friend and I spent an entire afternoon trying to get Doom II running on their PC. They had a brand new 16-bit sound card to try out, and I had a copy of the full game backed up on about sixteen floppy discs. It was astronomical to conceive of such a huge game that used the cutting edge technology of the time. When we finally got it running, the 16-bit grunts of the Pinkies would forever be etched into my memory.
Monolith has nothing to do with Doom II, but it gave me a similar vibe as I did the modern day equivalent of unpacking a game to find out what was waiting inside. I entered my game key into Steam and got ready to download the entire… 16mb game?
As soon as I'd clicked "install", the game was waiting for me to play. Installing Doom II had taken all afternoon and a lot of disc swapping back in the day, but it paid off with one of the most incredible gaming experiences of its time. Loading a 16mb game in 2017 that advertised procedural generation, really felt like I was in for some disappointment.
I'm an ignoramus when it comes to making games, but I still cannot fathom how the developers managed to get so much out of what is now a tiny speck of data. Within moments I was pleasantly surprised by Monolith and I already know it has a place among my regular rotation of pick up and put down games.
In essence, Monolith is a rogue-lite twin stick shooter, which borrows a lot of inspiration from other games. The room layout and random generation feels like The Binding Of Isaac; the shooting and bombs are similar to Enter The Gungeon; the upgrades are a bit like Nuclear Throne; and I could go on. Suffice to say that there is an immediate language to the game that is intuitive and recognisable, making it fairly easy to figure out the mechanics from the start.
However, unlike other games, I actually like the controls and shooting mechanics in Monolith a whole lot. As an unskilled fan of twin stick shooters and shmups in general, I can be a bit fussy when it comes to control schemes. I prefer the style of a game like Waves or Super Stardust, where shooting is tied to the right stick and no other buttons need to be pressed. This is how Monolith handles it's controller layout, along with the usual shoulder buttons to dash or use bombs.
It's also clear that Monolith was made with gamepad and mousey keyboard controls in mind, as both seem to work well. I never really got hooked by Nuclear Throne because it's gamepad implementation is a bit lackluster, so it's nice to see some care taken here. At times it feels like using mousey keyboard would be more useful, but that's only because I'm a bit of a scrub when it comes to precision aiming on a gamepad.
Mechanics aside, the game is filled with interesting surreal enemies and items to discover and be killed by. Without a doubt Monolith can be super difficult, especially when you get a bad run of room and item combinations. Much like The Binding Of Isaac; there are tough runs and OP runs depending on how friendly the RNG feels on any given occasion.
One aspect I haven't encountered in previous games is the way that Monolith handles its weapon upgrades. I may just be ignorant to where it comes from, but instead of a library of unique weapons, there are a few types of weapons that receive random modifiers. Thankfully, these modifiers can actually make a significant difference and manage to avoid the drudgery of weapon differences in a game like Borderlands. In Monolith you might pick your favourite weapon type, but it could have some lame modifiers that do nothing for your power on the run. It's a neat system that can create some hard decisions between the type of weapon you want, versus the available modifiers you prefer.
I haven't finished the game yet; I've only made it to the third floor twice in a series of runs, but I'm enjoying myself enough to continue plugging away and hoping for that golden run that will carry me to the end. As someone who usually dislikes the rogue-lite formula, this is high praise and can largely be attributed to the fantastic controls and presentation.
The soundtrack features a feisty chip-tune landscape that prevents clearing rooms from getting boring and mundane. Each floor has a unique theme to the music, which stops altogether during important rooms and decisions.
My ears are constantly having a good time in Monolith, which is often at odds with the graphics. Again, I'm not usually a fan of pixel graphics or themes that try to emulate retro styles, but this game has won me over. It doesn't look bad for the sake of looking old and uses the pixelated art as a purposeful style throughout.
Animations are tight and detailed enough to be interesting and believable, while environments are readable and clear despite their relative simplicity. It's a nice and somewhat disturbing place to explore, so I have to applaud the developers for making this a comfortable game to play, when so many others can be jarring and disjointed.
I'm increasingly aware of the fact that I have only just scratched the surface of Monolith, because I haven't completed a full run yet. With that in mind, some of this praise could turn out to be novelty by the time I'm completely immersed.
Sometimes the powerup selection feels too limited, as you quickly learn what to take from the small pool available. Sure the weapon modifiers are really nice, but I wonder if I've seen all the variations already, or if there's still more to come. It's an interesting balance to consider with games like this, as too much variety makes it overwhelmingly difficult to understand like The Binding Of Isaac (especially with the expansions).
Then again, being too simple can be a real snooze fest, so it's hard for a noob like me to make a judgement call on that one. All I can say is that at the moment, it feels like there is enough in Monolith to keep me interested, which is more than I can say for a lot of others in the genre.
Ultimately though, I feel like this is a game that you will know whether you'll enjoy it just by watching a video online, or seeing some screenshots. If you like this style of game, then Monolith is a good one and has a decent price tag of under ten bucks.
I'm not sure why I made it on someone's mailing list to receive a key for free, as it's the first one I've ever been sent. I hope that it hasn't had an effect on my opinion of the game, but if you think it would then feel free to ignore everything I've said here.
If you want to find out for yourself, there is a demo available here: https://monolithdevs.itch.io/monolith
I also have no idea why playing Monolith made me think of playing Doom II back in the day with my friend, but I think I'm just amazed that the whole game is only 16mb. It doesn't indicate quality or course, but the other day I was thinking about throwing out my 2gb flash drive because it doesn't have enough space to be useful.
Kudos to the three-person development team for making something so polished and detailed. Sometimes the cool things really do come in small packages.
Final Note: All the images used in this post were from the Monolith press kit. For some reason Steam wouldn't capture screenshots for me in the actual game, but I didn't try very hard either.