B Movies: one of the classic “genres” of cinema, especially popular between the 1950s and 1970s. These films were low-budget and typically weren’t meant to present anything artistic. Rather, they were more of just popcorn entertainment, originally presented as the “B-side” to a major movie when first introduced (hence their name). Popular genres for these style of movies were horror, western, and sci-fi, and they helped launch the careers of some famous actors, such as John Wayne.
Quite often, the term “So Bad It’s Good” is an apt description of B Movies. The entertainment one gets from these movies usually comes from just how bad or cheesy the film is. Popular shows like Mystery Science Theater 3000 revolved around this concept, and modern movies like Sharknado are created entirely to appeal to this market.
ACE Team, an indie developer from Chile, tapped into the theme of B Movies and their low-budget entertainment style for their newest game, The Deadly Tower of Monsters. Everything about this game is designed to feel like you’re playing through a B Movie, even down to the cheesy title.
Published by Atlus, The Deadly Tower of Monsters
was released on Steam and PS4 on January 19th, 2016. The Steam release was played for this review.
Deep and Meaningful
The Deadly Tower of Monsters stars our hero, Dick Starspeed, as he crash lands on the alien planet of Gravoria. The crash destroys his ship, along with his trusty robot sidekick, Robot. Dick sets out to explore the planet when he happens upon the beautiful Scarlet Nova, the daughter of the evil emperor of Gravoria. The two decide to team up and overthrow the emperor, but to do that, they must climb…the Deadly Tower of Monsters.
This is all wrapped up in a meta-story: the game itself is presented as a remastered DVD release of a movie called The Deadly Tower of Monsters. Your playthrough of the game is the movie itself, with a constant running commentary in the background by the movie’s director, Dan Smith.
This “commentary track” is one of the highlights of the game, done in a very Bastion-esque style, with Smith remarking on how your controlling your character along with what’s happening in each scene. Some of the humor, though, can be very hit-or-miss, and some of the jokes can drag on a bit too long.
On The Way Up
The Deadly Tower of Monsters is a straight-up action game with some twin-stick shooter elements. You control your choice of character from an eventual stable of three, beating up and shooting your way through hordes of various B Movie monsters. Your character is able to carry two weapons at a time: a melee weapon like a dagger or whip, and a projectile weapon like a ray gun or flamethrower. New weapons are found often, but there isn’t much difference between them in action other than animations and rate of attack. Outside of very few situations where certain weapons are preferable, I tended to stick with early-game weapons throughout my playthrough.
The characters are controlled in a twin-stick style, with movement and aiming handled separately. The keyboard and mouse controls on the Steam version feel very awkward in the way they handle this, so I would highly recommend using a controller with this version. Handling projectile aiming with this control style makes sense, but melee attacks have to be aimed as well, which was unusual and took a while to get used to. Once an enemy is targeted, though, your aim will stick to it and you can move around it freely while attacking.
The variety of enemies you fight through is amazing, with many of them each requiring different tactics to take down. You’ll come up against everything from evil monkey people to mutant ants and dinosaurs, representing all kinds of B Movie schlock. On the other hand, this variety doesn’t really exist in the characters you can play as. Other than each of the three characters having access to different special attacks, they all handle the same and use the same weaponry. Although a few portions of the game require the use of a certain special attack, the characters are little more than cosmetic choices.
The game also allows you to level up your characters and weaponry. Character leveling is handled by skill points you earn by playing through the game, and each level lets you buff a certain skill or your life/energy bars. Weapon leveling is done by cashing in money and “cogs” you find throughout the world to change your weapon’s look and power. The issue is, none of these actually feel like they have much of an impact; enemies always seemed to take just as much damage with a base weapon as with a leveled weapon, and increasing the character’s stats didn’t have much of a noticeable effect, either.
I think the overall reason for much of these criticisms is that the game is surprisingly easy. Health is plentiful, projectile attacks feel overpowered, most enemies are slow to attack…there just isn’t much challenge offered here.
Make Do With What You Have
The graphical presentation of The Deadly Tower of Monsters is a major highlight of this game, if not the highlight. ACE Team went all out in presenting their game as a B Movie, and everything from character animations to the scratch old-VHS-style filter really sells it. Some characters, such as the dinosaurs, are animated in a stop-motion style, others are designed like people wearing obvious crappy costumes…there’s even one point where lens flairs show fingerprints on the screen, inferring that the “movie” was filmed with a dirty lens.
Also of note is the world itself. The game involves, as mentioned in the title, climbing a massive tower, and the game takes place almost entirely on that tower. As you climb, the camera moves around on its own, offering sweeping shots of the tower and some vertigo-inducing moments that show just how high you have climbed. The tower itself has a number of different environments, too, keeping the view from ever being too repetitive.
One of the best parts to show off the direction, though, is to jump off a high-up part of the tower. After falling a certain distance, the camera pans behind your character so you can watch the tower fly by as you careen toward the ground. Thanks to having a jet pack and an instant “warp back to where you fell off the tower” button, along with having some collectibles off the side of the tower, doing exactly this is actively encouraged.
Sell The Feeling
The music and voice acting definitely sells the B Movie style of the game as well. The soundtrack is all cheesy Sci-Fi-style songs, with booming brass and sweeping strings with occasional electronic moments. The seamless shifting between bombastic battle music and quieter exploration moments is handled excellently, as is the occasional use of silence in some moments.
When it comes to the voice acting, it’s easy to tell that the performers were having a great time hamming it up. Most all of the performances are done in the cliche “bad acting” style, although others give more traditional performances (pointed out in the commentary that these characters were “real actors”). Surprisingly enough, I would say that the weakest performance comes from the commentary itself, where the voice actor occasionally sounds flat out boring…although this may be another purposeful inclusion for a B Movie style that flew over my head.
Fun For Fun’s Sake
Overall, The Deadly Tower of Monsters takes after the B Movies that it loves so much. It’s a mindlessly fun popcorn game, it doesn’t try to be more than that, and that is it’s definite strength. The leveling systems and multiple characters feel like useless inclusions, but they don’t take away from the enjoyment of violently beating your way through a world of cheesy monsters.
Ironically, the greatest parts of the game are in its artistic presentation. The art style, filters, music, and voice acting are what really lift this game up from being just another action game. The game doesn’t overstay its welcome, either, clocking in between three and four hours for a first playthrough. The short playtime can make the full asking price ($14.99 at the time of writing, not counting any sales going on) a bit hard to swallow, though.
Despite that, The Deadly Tower of Monsters is a great switch-off-your-brain-and-play game, and definitely worth giving a shot.
~ Final Score: 9/10 ~
Review copy provided by Atlus for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.