I admit without shame that I was a huge Poké-nerd back in Pikachu's heyday. The explosion of Pokémon's popularity coincided with my sophomore year of high school, and being nerdy enough to know my cool-kid rep was in the negatives even before I started lugging around a Pokédex with my textbooks, I wore Pokémon t-shirts and evangelized the games and cartoon without a care. I also saw new Pokémon movies on opening night and, surrounded by squirmy kiddles and their irritated parents, broke out in wild applause and cheers when the Nintendo logo appeared on the screen, which prompted all the kids to whoop and holler along with me (and the parents to stare at me with such loathing that I wanted to crawl into the nearest Poke-ball).
There is, however, one immediately noticeable difference between MonTowers ~Legend of Summoners'~ [Free] critters and Nintendo's kid-friendly goldmine. Amid the fantasy- and horror-themed creatures you will amass, you'll also accumulate anime girls so scantily clad and busty they make Lara Croft look like a teenie bopper who has only just started to blossom. Fortunately, unlike the milky-white flesh of your personal monster-hunting assistant (and what soft, creamy, heaving flesh it is), there is much more to MonTowers than meets the eye.
Like Pokémon, MonTowers is a monster-hunting game where you pit monsters against each other and, ideally, add defeated opponents to your ensemble. Your goal is to clear a series of towers by defeating the monster on each floor and moving up to the next challenge. There's a cursory story outlined at the start of the adventure, but really, it's all about climbing monster towers and fighting deadlier and deadlier opponents.
At the beginning of each brawl, you get a chance to attack first by completing a touchscreen minigame. During your attack phase, your monsters automatically step up one by one to deal their damage. Should you botch your first-strike opportunity, the opposing monster gets its licks in before your group. The cycle rinses and repeats until your team or the enemy drops dead.
When you defeat an opponent, they either combust in a flash of light, or shrink into a coin. Earning a monster's coin adds that monster to your collection. From the moment I received my first coin, I felt that old Poké-compulsion come flooding back--not only the burning desire to "catch em all," but to form posses made up of different abilities that dominated the competition.
As our forum users can attest, there's no real rhyme or reason to capturing a monster. Sometimes you'll bag it, but more often than you'd like, you just won't. Not to worry; there are other ways to expand your portfolio. As the game unfolds, you'll learn recipes that reveal monsters you can breed to create new types. When you run out of monsters to hook up, you can spend the tokens you earn from leveling up on Gachamon, a gambling-type minigame where a payment of five tokens cooks up a random monster. Most monsters created through Gachamon are stronger than many of the ones you'll encounter as you ascend monster towers floor by floor, making it an expensive addiction I was willing to indulge.
To build your team, you unlock monster slots that allow you to beam in monsters from your coin collection. Each monster comes with a summoning cost divided among five colored gems you harvest during the game, and you can use those same gems to buy upgrades. The catch is, you can't take all your monsters into a fight. Instead you assemble a small squad from your pool of summoned fighters, picking and choosing ones with lots of health, attack power, and special abilities like health regeneration.
As you progress, you'll eventually have to un-summon older, weaker monsters to fill your finite amount of monster slots with new blood you recruit along the way. Un-summoning a monster frees up its slot, but costs you all the time and gems you spent decking out your monster with enhanced powers.
I actually found myself growing attached to battle-scarred veterans, and it's a shame that most battles end quickly if you bring in your heaviest hitters, rendering many older monsters obsolete. Ah, progress. You are a cruel mistress. (Although you can reminisce on old times by visiting the gallery, where you can view all your summoned monsters past and present, and in the various stages of undress brought about by any upgrades you purchased for them. Believe me, once you capture and fully upgrade the Nymph and Succubus, you'll be spending a lot of time "reminiscing" with them.)
As with any collecting game, obsessing over filling every blank spot in your monster collection is the star of the show. A good thing, too, since MonTowers' battle system is pretty simplistic. Aside from exercising slight control over who attacks first and pouring healing potions down the throats of injured monsters (lose them in battle and all their upgrades go with them), you mostly just sit back and watch. To be fair, I found the battle system just as complex as it needs to be. The real strategy lies in upgrading your bestiary, building dream teams, watching them annihilate the biggest and baddest the game has to throw at you, taming them, and continuing your journey upward.
Even your strongest team of monster slayers doesn't stand a chance against the game's most powerful adversary: Father Time. Similar to other freemium games like Tiny Tower [Free], many functions in MonTowers require real-time minutes or hours to complete. Lowly monsters only need a few seconds or minutes to pop up, but more advanced minions will keep you waiting for hours. The upgrade gems you harvest cost one energy apiece, and you replenish one energy every three minutes. Not so long, but to the impatient, waiting is waiting.
You can expedite certain time restrictions depending on the girth of your wallet. Tired of waiting for a summoned monster to warp in or apply researched upgrades? Slip it some tokens and it will appear instantly. Don't want to wait for your wounded monsters to regenerate one health per second? Feed them potions, but be prepared to spend tokens on more once you run out, as you'll rely on them in battle once you enter the third tower and beyond.
In many ways, the game's time restrictions feel designed to make you either watch the clock and wait for assorted activities to wrap up in their own time, or break down and spend money--in-game or real--to get things moving. But, just like with Tiny Tower, the time restrictions never bothered me. There's usually something to do while your timers tick down. Return to monsters you haven't captured, take on new foes, consult your recipes to arrange blind dates for two lucky monsters, spend your savings on Gachamon, grind or purchase IAP tokens to instantly finish summons and upgrades--or, God forbid, put the game down and do something else for a while. Maybe gather some friends and LARP MonTowers in the woods or salivate over your sexier acquisitions.
And speaking of sexy (the game asks you to confirm that you're at least 17 before installing it), the amount of skin it shows is good for a chuckle, but is no more than window dressing designed to attract horny 15-year-olds. Case in point: your female monsters actually remove clothing with every upgrade rather than adding on more for protection. Silly logic. But don't let MonTowers' cheap bids for attention fool you. Look beyond all the thongs and pasties and you'll find an engaging, if somewhat simplified, monster-hunting experience.
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