If you've ever been disappointed that you can't play a recent and improved version of the hugely successful Plants vs. Zombies on your 3DS - aside from the DS release - you may be intrigued by the shamelessly similarly-named Toys vs. Monsters on the eShop. All of the information about it points to a fun little experience that fills a void, but if you do go ahead and buy it you may be disappointed.
Toys vs. Monsters is a very late entry in this form of the tower defence genre. Much like the game it attempts to emulate, you place down different toys in order to prevent an onslaught of monsters from charging forth towards the toys' owner – a small child of indeterminate gender – and allow them to sleep peacefully. Unlike the original plant and undead title that inspired it, you must power these toys with batteries that provide a specific field on the screen with energy to allow the toys to function. If the energy doesn't stretch far enough, you can't even place the toy down to act as a basic barrier against the monster foes, which does change the way you have to play.
The top screen exclusively shows you what's happening in the level and the bottom screen is used to show you the toys you have available to you. The action all takes place on an angled 3D perspective which is fairly pleasing, but you can still look at the grid underneath the enemies' feet to determine their location with more accuracy. You touch the toy you wish to place with the stylus and drag it around using the top screen as reference. It's a nice, fluid way to control the placement but can sometimes cause you to place toys in the wrong location; luckily there are two one-time-use undo buttons so you don't have to waste any resources if this happens. It's nice to see that the developer has attempted something new rather than making a cheap carbon copy of the original, but unfortunately there's not an awful lot else to appeal to seasoned 3DS owners.
The gameplay itself is incredibly slow and tedious, and for the earlier levels your arsenal of toys is so limited you'll have reams of the same toy littering the playing field; it's just a bit too boring and predictable to be any fun. Once you've got a basic tactic in your head all challenge is removed from these early levels, and later levels aren't too difficult either as you unlock new toys as new monsters appear, removing any need to work out what to do through trial and error.
Naturally your toys cost resources in order to deploy, and you can increase the rate at which these resources are attained by drawing a circle with the stylus over a magnetic coil. This is a good idea in concept, but the motion is very uncomfortable and adds unnecessary strain into what is in essence a game of strategy. Another peculiar feature is the fact that the enemies' health bar only appears after they have already taken a considerable amount of damage, which doesn't impede on the gameplay per se, but does feel like a strange choice overall.
There are a good number of levels and even some mini games that you can unlock if you're persistent enough, but the main missions are definitely the more involving aspects. As you reach the later levels the gameplay becomes more frantic and involving, but it doesn't truly evolve beyond what happens in the early levels. Due to the fact that the selection of toys you have available increases as the number and types of enemies does the same, the difficulty never really makes itself apparent.The only really challenging element is that fact that it's game over if a single monster breaks through your defences, but this is a situation that almost never happens.
The presentation is a bit of a mixed bag; the animation on the monster enemies isn't too bad, and the models for some of the assets are fairly pleasing. Having said that, this does appear to only be the case for the enemies, as the toys that you have at your disposal are all disappointingly plain and uninspired. The menus contain exclusively 2D artwork of absolutely horrendous quality and really doesn't give a good first impression when loading up the game for the first time.
Toys vs. Monsters is an attempt to ride the success of significantly older games, with repetitive gameplay and visuals that aren't too easy on the eyes. There's nothing inherently wrong with the game - and it runs well on the 3DS hardware - but disappointing design makes it feel like an uninspired attempt to cash in on other franchises, which is a shame given that the 3DS eShop isn't privy to many games in this genre. It's generally not worth your time, unless you really want a tower defence game on your 3DS regardless of the quality.