Monolith scratches my itch for rouge-lite randomness while dazzling my senses with angry, pulsating, bullet-hell set pieces.
8 and 16-bit indie games are a dime a dozen these days. Search Steam or any other digital gaming storefront for “retro”, and you’ll quickly get buried under the weight of your own curiosity. While there are obvious stand-outs like Minecraft and Undertale, the amount of developers that are simply cashing in on the trend is anything if not a little overwhelming.
Often times the more competent, well-crafted games like Monolith can go completely unnoticed. And let me tell you, that’s a real shame. Because it’s absolutely worth the cost of admission.
It’s obvious from the outset that D-13 has a passion for arcade shooters. It’s presented in a very traditional vertical shoot-em-up form factor, and the opening hearkens back to fond memories of the looped, pre-game screens of yesteryear. Where they differ from shooter tradition, however, is with the inclusion of randomly-generated rouge-lite style stages a la Rouge Legacy. These two genres are the driving force behind Monolith, and are both represented with a hand of grace.
You begin your journey by plunging into the depths, with nothing but a quaint little space ship, an itchy trigger finger, and a prayer. Each room you enter as you descend contains either a cluster of enemies to crush, a vendor, an upgrade terminal, or a host of other things. Gameplay is simple in the world of Monolith: Them’s enemies. I’sa gunna shoot em’ real good. Shoot ’em dead. Mmmhmm.
Along the way, you unearth an assortment of ancient weapons, each with limited ammo, as well as randomized modifiers attached. Want a fireball that freezes? Great! Want lasers that break apart into smaller lasers? Got that too! Want a giant-ass sword that’s bigger than your ship that can deflect bullets? Uh… let me check in the back.
Welcome To The Thunderdome
But more impressive than the weapons and the minions you melt with them are Monolith’s boss battles. The normal enemies, while challenging, are mostly cutesy little things that want to hug you with death. But when you defeat the mini-boss of a stage and kick down the door of the main boss room, oh it gets real. It’s been a hot minute since a 2D game has made me put down my controller and take a breath before moving on, but good god, D-13 knows how to make a boss fight.
“It’s obvious from the outset that D-13 has a passion for arcade shooters.”
After the boss-room door goes flying off it’s hinges, you’re treated to a dramatic build-up as the name of the guy you just woke up is slowly revealed. As if to say “Buddy, you picked the wrong house”. The presentation here sets the mood so perfectly, and the big guys that follow are no strangers to showmanship either. Some explode through a nearby wall like the Kool-Aid man, while the edge-lord types fade in from the background and just cackle maniacally.
What’re Ya Buyin’?
After dying (and unless you are some kind of bullet-hell god you definitely will die), you’re taken back to the lobby of the facility to splash some water on your face and try again. This is where Monolith kicks back in it’s recliner, cracks open a beer, and starts getting all cheeky.
You’re introduced to your begrudging pre-session vendor: a snarky, quadriplegic, bouncing feline who goes by the name of Kleines. Each time you die, he welcomes you back, then immediately starts peddling you new weapon and item unlocks. He also tells you the latest gossip, gives you gameplay tips, and gets increasingly more annoyed at your presence should you get too chatty.
There are lots of little quirky bits of humor strewn about the game world. Easily my favorite is when you pause the game while engaged in combat. You are then switched to a pause screen of your ship drinking a hot cuppa’ joe, while effortlessly dodging a hail of gunfire. Even space ships need a coffee break, I guess.
Insert Coin To Continue
Monolith brings me back to the golden age of gaming without pandering a single iota. D-13 knew what they set out to make, and delivered it without compromise. Cute, snarky, and damn difficult at times, It’s a hell of a good arcade throwback with just enough new going on to be fresh and engaging.