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Monster Madness: a little too scary

We had planned on posting these impressions yesterday, but we were just swamped in Oblivion paperwork. A Monster Madness demo dropped yesterday, and we were raring to give it a go. Being big fans of dungeon crawlers like Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and more recent titles like Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, we were excited to give Monster Madness a go. A typical dungeon crawler with a twist of horror movie camp? Sounds great. At least, it did.

Monster Madness plays a lot like the Hunter games on the original Xbox (which were pretty good, by the way). Players control a character's movements with the left stick and aim with the right stick (similar to Geometry Wars). The triggers use primary and secondary weapons, and clicking the right stick jumps. Other buttons cycle through weapons or serve as hotkeys. Now, with all primary buttons taken up by weapons or cycling, we're left with one of Monster Madness' biggest flaws: the camera. The camera is completely uncontrollable. This wouldn't be a problem except the demo takes place entirely indoors. Walls and other objects can get in the way, making it difficult to discern what's going on. Not only that, but the isometric viewpoints make judging jump distance a pain.

Unfortunately, Monster Madness has a few more issues as well. The biggest issue is the controls. The right stick always controls which direction your character is facing, no matter what. We like multidirectional aiming, and it worked well in the Hunter games, but it doesn't work nearly as well here. One reason for this is that the directional aiming is constant. In other words, if your character is facing left, he keeps facing left until you adjust the right stick. It works fine for ranged weapons, but it's a pain to have to manually aim a melee weapon. If the game at least had an option to snap the aim in whatever direction a character is running (assuming no direction is being pressed on the right stick), we'd be happy.

As for the melee attacks themselves, they leave something to be desired. Basically, each character has about three attack animations and that's it. There are no chains or combos, you just constantly mash the right trigger and flail at your enemies. Each character has a power attack that charges as successive hits are made, but that's as far as the variety goes.

Finally, the characters themselves have the annoying habit of talking ... constantly. Listening to your character repeatedly quip "I hope you're flexible, because it's time to kiss your butt goodbye" gets tiring really fast.

Now, having said all that, we couldn't help but enjoy the game just a little. It's certainly the kind of game that's more enjoyable with friends, and the demo offers several multiplayer options including co-op and versus. There's nothing revolutionary here, and nothing that other games haven't done better, but Monster Madness does have some charm to it. It's clear that a lot of work went into the concepts and character designs, which makes it all the more unfortunate that the demo isn't any better than it is. The demo clearly states that it's not representative of final code. We're taking that to heart, because Monster Madness has potential. If the retail version has a decent story and an enjoyable campaign, it should at least be worth a rental for some co-op with your buddies. For now, we'll have to wait and see.

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