Review: A Monsteca Corral: Monsters vs. Robots (WiiWare)

Pikmin-like play that packs a punch

A Monsteca Corral: Monsters vs. Robots is refreshing, both in its quirky tone and its strategic demands. What starts off as a seemingly simplistic mechanic – guide a herd of creatures around to collect bubbles – eventually evolves into a surprisingly deep and thoroughly challenging affair. This is achieved by the game's non-combative nature, as the somewhat harmless herd you guide around does not fare well against the bevy of angry robots constantly hunting them down. Players need to think defensively and operate on stealth, hiding their herd behind hills, climbing up mountains or jumping into the water to avoid their robot oppressors. Still, while this serves well to add strategic depth to the game, it also can be a point of frustration. Several of the objectives laid out by the game become very difficult to achieve due to poor navigation controls, an unresponsive camera and one incredibly frustrating maggot.

The creatures you control in the game are called Stompies, identical little orange guys with sharp teeth and a goofy gait. The camera is controlled with the Nunchuk, and players use the Wii Remote to guide a reticule around the screen, hitting the B button to place markers for the Stompies to follow. The goal of the game is simple: gather your herd, collect bubbles of gas and then feed those bubbles to another creature called the Astromaggot. Once the galactic grub has had enough bubbles it floats away, and you have to latch your little orange guys onto it before it soars off. The Astromaggot is never in the same place though, and will pop in and out of the ground at different times during the level. You'll also want to have a big herd of Stompies, because the more creatures that are in your herd, the more bubbles they can collect, but watch out: collecting too many bubbles will cause Stompies to float out of the herd. This can be remedied by shaking the Wii Remote, which will cause the floating one to pass gas and fall back to the ground.

At the beginning of each level you are given only one monster, and must have it run around and "wake up" its companions, done by simply bumping into them. The bubbles you need to collect fall into the stage slowly, so if you want to beat the level in the target time you'll have to get them the other way, by knocking down buildings. Each building requires a specific amount of monsters to take down, and you can check this by hovering the reticule over the building. Robots are usually on guard though, so you can either guide them away or try to fight them off before going for the building. The robots can never be destroyed though, only immobilised momentarily, and as with the buildings each robot requires a specific amount of Stompies to stop, and if approached correctly can be pushed away and knocked out for a time. They will soon get back up, so the best way to get rid of them is to lure them into the water, frying their circuits until a Helibot picks them up for repairs.

The Astromaggot can be spotted on the screen by the white glow surrounding it, which helps players to find it as it moves about the level. Once filled, it dives underground once more and the music changes to a cheery and triumphant tune. What happens next is one of the most irritating design elements in the game: the Astromaggot re-emerges at a random spot on the map and quickly floats away. To beat the level players need not only to achieve this in a certain amount of time but also attach all of their Stompies to the maggot as it floats away. This is hit or miss, as the Astromaggot picks up the Stompies, not the player, leaving you to gather them around it in the hope it drops its silk and takes away your herd. Sadly this does not always happen, and you'll sometimes have one or two angry orange guys left behind, frantically chasing the maggot as it leisurely floats away. If you are lucky, you can get the stragglers to leap up to the maggot's belly, sometimes resulting in a grab, but this is spotty at best mainly due to the wonky waggle controls used to jump.

Each level has a set amount of objectives, which generally remain the same after you reach a certain point in the game. In early levels, you only have to fill the Astromaggot in a set amount of time and get your army on board before it takes off. In later levels, you'll be tasked with doing so without any Stompies being injured or spotted by robots. Thankfully these secondary objectives don't have to happen within the time limit, so you can replay a level and take plenty of time to move stealthily around. One of the more challenging goals is destroying all of the robot's buildings, which does have to happen within the time limit, and can be frustrating not only because you need to collect bubbles and feed the Astromaggot as you do it, but because facing off against robots never really seems to work in the game.

Your robot enemies can stun and steal bubbles from Stompies and some, like the Helibot, can even whisk them away to jail. Imprisoned creatures will need to be broken out of jail, which is done by, you guessed it, knocking down the building. Many robots only require a few attacks to knock them out, but battling robots is generally a waste of time, mainly due to how awfully the limited offensive you are given works. Placing your marker near a robot sends your army to attack, and though you may have the appropriate amount needed to take a robot down, your troops don't always do what you want. This is mostly because once the Stompies in the head of the herd reach the marker, the rest of them stop. This is very frustrating when trying to knock back the aggressive robots, as some require six soldiers to fight, and unless you happen to surround them, there is a good chance they'll knock you down instead.

Still, there is fun to be had simply avoiding the robots, and the game is most fun when you are able to confuse them and lure them away from their buildings. Some of the robots introduced later in the game are very aggressive and need to be avoided at all costs. One robot, called an Impostor Bot, looks like the Stompies and will chase them down and self destruct when it gets near. The Imposter Bot can be hard to spot, and sometimes even a Helibot will mistake it for a real Stompy, stealing it off the ground and flying away. The buildings Impostor Bots guard are always chock-full of bubbles though, so if this happens, make it a point to take down the building.

Advanced controls are taught to the player later in the game, letting them draw specific tracks for Stompies to follow and even being able to control two groups at once. Due to problems with the camera however, these controls become more trouble than they are worth, and you may find yourself relying on the simpler controls you were taught at the beginning of the game. The new controls are a good idea, but feel like they were left out from most of the game due to the erratic camera. While players are usually able to use the Nunchuk to rotate the view around their herd and zoom in and out, for some odd reason the game periodically disables the player's control and zooms very far out, making it difficult to make sense of what is happening to your already tiny, and now incredibly distant army. This happens erratically, and only for a few moments, but it is long enough to block your view of the action behind a large mountain or a big group of robots, making the complex controls useless. Why the camera begins to act out on its own is a mystery, and seems like it may be a glitch, but either way it's very troublesome and can easily rob you of a perfect score in a level.

Another point of contention for some will be the graphics. Monsteca Corral is not a pretty game, in fact it seems decidedly ugly. The Stompies are all identical and move with a jagged intensity that is actually pretty funny. Robots are big and dumb, and a pterodactyl, sometimes sporting a Stompy on its back, is oddly always flying around in each level. Think of Keita Takahashi's oddball Noby Noby Boy: the graphics are minimalist and stylized in an exaggerated, tripped-out manner. Fine for some, but definitely not everyone's cup of tea.

The multiplayer mode in A Mosteca Corral plays just like the single player one, and can be accessed at any time during any level. By turning on another Wii Remote a different coloured reticule will appear on screen. This new reticule can then claim Stompies from another player's herd and guide them, with the camera still being controlled by player one. Up to four people can join in at once, and gathering several herds is pretty simple: players just hold down the + button and wave their reticule over the group of Stompies they want. The coloured dot above their heads then change to match the player controlling them. This means players can "steal" Stompies from each other, but also opens up new opportunities to confuse your enemies, as several herds can distract a group of robots while another sneaks behind to take down the building they guard.


A Monsteca Corral: Mosters vs Robots may borrow heavily from the core gameplay of Pikmin, but it adds enough stealth and strategy to the mix to stand on its own merits. The graphics are simplistic and fun, as is the gameplay and character design. While the strategic stealth elements definitely stem from a conscience decision by the developers, it also becomes necessary due to the flawed battling system. Still, the levels are fun and sometimes very hard, and it will take players quite some time to achieve all of the goals in each one. It's sad to see such a potentially great game be held back by a few poor design choices and a wonky camera, but it's worth a gamble at only 500 Points.

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