|System: DS, Wii, PS2||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Backbone Interactive||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Eidos||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Nov. 4, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jason Lauritzen
In fiction, there are two kinds of monsters: those with origins largely unknown and human created monstrosities with a genesis that can be traced back to plain old curiosity and experimentation. The second category is the basis for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the DS title Monster Lab. Both play off the idea of inspired creation, but Monster Lab being a kid-centered game tosses away the idea of responsibility for one's meddling and trades it in for a Pokémon-inspired collect-a-thon. It results in a gaming formula that, while potentially creatively lucrative, falls under the weight of dumbed-down mechanics and a limited combat system.
Few are inherently born mad scientists rather it's a process that takes ample time and energy. At the start of Monster Lab, you learn that your initial title is one of apprentice and your mentor, Professor Fuseless, holds the keys to learning the ins-and-outs of monster creation and experimentation. Resembling a mix of Igor and the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the self-appointed professor runs a castle equipped with all the latest in ghastly creation tools and assigns you tasks that revolve around collecting items whether they be bent screws, magnets, or bits of wire that he then throws into various machines to form parts for your soon-to-be creations.
Before you get into the actual nuts and bolts of the game, you have to find them. Once outside the castle, you can explore one of the Monster Lab's six regions. These areas like the town and swamp mirror a Mario Party game. Instead of being 3D and open, or 2D and sidescrolling, they have a board game look, where you move your character from one tile to the next. This tile approach, while somewhat limiting in an exploration sense, allows you to spot monsters, quests, and items easily and you'll need to because Monster Lab is all about collecting.
If you accept a quest from someone, then you'll be collecting. Running into one of several mini-games means collecting more stuff. Accumulation is the underwhelming name of the game. The majority of items you receive come from the large assortment of mini-games. You may dig for treasure, fish items out of a sewer, disable laser fields, or knock items out a tree, but this large assortment of mini-games shares one thing in common: extensive use of the DS stylus. When digging for treasure, you prod at the screen; when fishing for items, you scoop out from a river of green slime; when disabling laser fields, you trace lines; and when knocking items from a tree, you scratch the stylus furiously and collect items with a wooden bucket. So, yes, there's variety from a conceptual standpoint, but since you're always either poking the screen or simply tracing lines, the early allure wears thin rather quickly. It doesn't help when stylus movements like flicking away angry mob tomatoes or smashing barrels refuse to work efficiently.
Since the castle is your laboratory, you can return there at any time (as long as you go to the right exit) and get to work on your creation. However, monsters require parts specifically a head, a right and left arm, a pair of legs, and a torso section so you have to use one of Professor's many creation machines. To use any one, you chuck in some parts you've collected and then play through you guessed it a mini-game featuring the stylus. For example, once you throw items in the Weld-O-Tron, you play a welding game that requires you to trace sections of the screen and blow into your DS microphone should the tool get too hot. Another machine, The Robo-Evolver, features a game where you have to smash robots in a Wac-A-Mole fashion. Completing any of these machine-centered mini-games rewards you with a new part that you can attach to a monster. While the games themselves are pretty mundane, the randomized aspect of not knowing what you may get from combining two random items makes for an addictive result that should allow many to forgive the stylus-heavy gameplay.