Monster Train, all aboard – First Sip Review
Monster Train is a strategic roguelike deck-building game. Developed by Shiny Shoe and published by Good Shepherd Entertainment. The game is Shiny Shoe’s second Steam title after assisting Double Fine with their remastering of Full Throttle. However, Monster Train has no co-developers making it their first full title. Good Shepherd have a range of games they have published. A few of them have been listed in our most recent Steam Sales lists.
Monster Train is not actually available commercially at the time of writing. However, while it is in Beta it feels complete enough where it can be reviewed. But please keep in mind that additional elements will be added to the game similar to Monster Sanctuary.
The story in Monster Train is fairly simple. Hell has frozen over and is on the verge of completely losing its fire. However, there is a little twist here in that you control the demons. So it’s your duty to protect Hell’s last pyre and defeat the attacking hordes of Heaven’s army. In a way, it reminds me a little bit of the Spawn comic series. Purely because Spawn is the reluctant general of Hell’s army and needs to defeat various Angels to stop Heaven. Except that Spawn focuses far less on trains than Monster Train.
There are five clans (soon to be 7) of Hell’s demons that must unite if they are to retake their lands. There isn’t much in the way of story beyond the opening as the cards are randomized so you don’t really have a guide to give you exposition. But I did mostly play the multiplayer mode which is heavily about speed so story slowing it down would be a real handicap.
There are some random events that occur that do give you some insights into the world of the game. For instance, I ran across another broken train which shows that others have tried before me and failed. While optional, there seems to be a lot of lore you can uncover if you want.
The art of the game is unsurprisingly like a card game come to life. Considering that’s what it is. Each card is wonderfully designed especially the various monster cards. But their summoned versions look even better. When you summon a creature to your train it will obviously be a lot larger than it appears on the card so you can see a lot more of the detail on each one. The Angelic enemies are also well designed and highly detailed. Spells and attacks generally come with effects, notably bloom effects or classic RPG slash marks. The Steam page currently mentions over 200 cards are available. When I played the Beta it mentions another 100 are on the way. An exciting prospect for other collector type players like myself.
The only slightly negative thing I have to say about the art is that a lot of attack animations have the creature change their pose and then move forward then back and then revert their pose. It’s not really an issue and is standard of the genre. And the game is so fast-paced usually that you’ll barely notice it. But I’d love a little more fluidity in the animations.
Monster Train uses music fairly effectively. Each area has its own music and when you start a level it actually tells you at the top of the screen which theme is playing. Overall I don’t really recall any of the themes because the gameplay is very engaging so the music is really just background. I know I enjoyed it when I was playing though, and with more runs, I’ll likely start to recognize the themes more.
Where the sound design really shines though is the sound-effects. Each attack, heal, spell or other effects comes with a satisfying sound. You’ll hear a lot of impact noises, the clink of armor being applied, the flourish of a healing spell, and plenty more. You also get the ambient noise from being on a train, which is somehow both relaxing and tense depending on the situation.
The opening cinematic of the game is also fully voiced and sounds great.
The gameplay of Monster Train shares a lot of the basics with other card games. You have a deck of cards, each turn you have a hand of drawn cards, and you have embers that are expended to play your cards. When you run out of cards, embers, or just wish to move things along you end your turn. The enemy then takes their turn and you continue until one side is wiped out. Outside of the battles, you move your train down the tracks but you have to pick a route meaning you will miss out on some things. There are occasional caves that contain random events much like in Doors of Insanity. However, unlike Doors of Insanity, you can see what each track has to offer before you make your choice. It’s an interesting system and it works quite well.
The other aspect that sets the game apart from others of the genre, is the actual battles themselves. The battles take place on your train, which four layers. Each layer has a capacity limit and each creature you summon fills a different amount. Enemies will generally spawn at the bottom of the train and if they survive the first round they will ascend to the next floor. The first three floors can be protected with your monsters, but the top floor where your pyre is cannot be. Luckily your pyre can also defend itself and is quite strong so not all is lost if an enemy reaches it. Unfortunately, the enemies attack first so your pyre will take damage when they reach it so you can’t rely on it to defend itself indefinitely. And when your pyre runs out of health that’s the end of your run.
But, even though your current run may have ended it’s not for nothing. When a run ends you will gain XP for your most-used clans, leveling them up unlocks new (and generally more powerful) cards to use for that clan next time. However, as the game deals in random elements, you may not see the new cards on your next run. At earlier stages, though it’s quite likely you will get to try out the new cards.
Even at the beta stage Monster Train feels like a slick and polished game. While it does show locks on some elements that aren’t ready yet there is so much of the game that is finished they could probably launch the game tomorrow and most wouldn’t regret purchasing the game. There are even a ton of elements I didn’t touch on in my review purely because there is so much. As well as the spells and creatures, you also have a champion that is free to play and upgrades as you progress further into the game. Spells and creatures can also be upgraded via certain merchants if you have the coins to buy the gems and the slots free to install them. Then there are artifacts that modify all sorts of things.
There are even multiplayer modes like Hell Rush where up to 8 players compete for score. Each player is dealt the same cards and options so it’s all about who plays them better and faster. And then there is a Daily Challenge which has gameplay modifiers to change the way the game is played and a global leaderboard for bragging rights. And that’s still not everything. In conclusion, Monster Train is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
In Coffee Terms
Monster Train in coffee terms is like a well-made coffee with great presentation. But it’s not done yet, at least in the barista’s mind. While most would consider it ready to be served they are still adding more toppings and trying to improve the flavor overall. So when it’s eventually deemed ready it should be one Hell of a drink.
Monster Train Links
Monster Train Review Summary
One half of the YouTube brother duo, The Game Bros with Sirhc and Ar0n, Chris is a lover of games, movies and other great things you can do from home.
Coffee of choice: I like the sweeter kinds, mixed with chocolate, coconut, caramel etc. but I won’t turn down a flat white or a straight black either.