“The Deadly Tower of Monsters” is a new sci-fi action-adventure game from ACE Team and Atlus, released on Steam for the PC on January 19, 2016. A copy of the game was provided by Atlus’s PR team, but this does not affect the game’s review!
When I first heard about this game, I wasn’t quite sure what to think. It was advertised as a video game version of a B-level sci-fi horror from days gone by (in this case, in the 1970s), and normally that wouldn’t quite be the selling point for a game. It sounds strange, and the funny thing is, after having actually played the game for a good while now, I can’t say that it’s any less strange. If nothing else, I’d say it’s more strange! But that’s not really a bad thing though, and if you bear with me, you’ll see how all of this just…works!
The Deadly Tower of Monsters comes to us from Chilean developer ACE Team, who you might know for the Zeno Clash series of games. The premise is that fictional director Dan Smith is coming into the studio to record the director’s commentary track for a bygone sci-fi romp he filmed some many years ago called “The Deadly Tower of Monsters.” We, the player, are actually taking the role of the characters from that sci-fi movie while he provides narrations and strange insights all throughout. So, it’s a game about a movie…sort of…And in this game we begin as Dick Starspeed, an astronaut/explorer played by “a middle-aged nobody,” who ends up getting shot down over the planet Gravoria. No real explanation is given to why Dick is flying over this planet or what he was doing in that portion of space (a fact that the sound guy recording the director’s commentary points out more than once), but Dan Smith tells us not to question things or “it all sort of falls apart.” Good advice, really, for a lot of movies from that era.
Once on the planet, we meet up with a woman named Scarlet Nova, the daughter of the planet’s emperor, and we get drawn into a crazy plot to destroy all manner of terrible creatures and ascend a massive tower to confront the emperor and end his plans. Along the way, Dick, Scarlet, and Robot battle dinosaurs, ape-men, lizard people, and all sorts of other trope-like characters, as well as some well-familiar (but for copyright reasons slightly distinct) monsters of other films. What might they be? Well, let’s just say that one of them bears a resemblance to a certain giant ape from a mystical island. Yeah, that one.
In terms of gameplay, Deadly Towers reminds me a lot of the Zelda series, with a bit of Metroid and some Super Mario platforming mixed in for good measure. As you explore the tower and the islands surrounding it, you pick up different types of weapons for your characters and also gain equipment that will enhance them in many ways. Each character also comes with and can acquire skills that are very important to progressing the game. Dick will eventually gain the ability to use landmines, and they are necessary to take down large barricades that impede both your forward progress as well as block some treasures you’ll definitely want to go back for. The Robot possesses the ability to slow down time, which is needed to get through things like giant fans and other traps that the two human heroes won’t be able to get past. In this way, the game is not entirely linear, because even though you can progress from A to B in a lot of instances, there will be many times you’ll either need to or want to return to previous locations with new skills in order to pick up things that you missed.
The game also has the ability to level up your characters as well as enhance the different weapons they collect. The enhancement system requires the use of different types of Cogs found throughout the game world, and while a few you will get by killing enemies, others (the silver and gold ones) will need to be obtained through exploration and using skills you get. I personally found that upgrading the gear wasn’t a necessity for a lot of the stuff, but it certainly can make things easier if your gear is in better shape at least.
Graphically, the game is actually really good. The visuals are crisp and clear, the lighting and shadow effects are all really good, and I love the movie-set aesthetics that you encounter throughout the experience. The game recommends using a VHS type of film filter for the game itself, but naturally if you really want to (not recommended by ACE Team, of course!), you can turn that off and just enjoy the standard high-definition visuals we are used to. The sound is much the same way, actually. You can apply either a VHS (mono) or DVD (stereo) sound filter to the game, and no matter what you do, I noticed some little audio pops and glitches and things of that nature that really make you feel like you’re watching a movie rather than playing a game.
Sound-wise, though, the one gripe I had is that no matter what balance I chose for the volume levels, the in-game music and dialogue was always much louder than the director’s commentary. For some reason, that was just recorded very softly in some places, and it’s too bad because it’s one of the real gems in this game. Still, subtitles are provided for you, so it’s not the worst thing in the world either.
While overall this game is just a blast to play, I think one of the best parts of the experience is the directorial commentary by Dan Smith. It’s really spot on and points out all these obvious flubs and cheesy things about the movie from the modern perspective that are pretty much the same types of things I notice when I go back and watch movies like this. He jokes about the strings that you can see on space ships and flying dinosaurs, the fact that the “rock barricades” were actually inflatables that never had explosion effects added during post-production, and in one particularly funny scene where he goes on about lens flair, he mentions that he kept touching the camera lens and that’s why you can see his fingerprints all over the camera in that area. It’s just hilarious.
The game is of a decent length for this type of experience, and there’s quite a bit of replay factor involved too. Given that non-blue Cogs are finite and hidden throughout the islands and tower, there’s a very high chance you’ll miss a lot of them if you hurry through your playthrough of the game. Also, like most good Steam games, this one comes packed with several different achievements that you’ll want to work on. And, in this case, it’s not just Steam achievements but they also come in the guise of “missions” that you can complete within the game itself.
This is a game that I’d like to come back to sometime soon and record a strong gameplay sampling for you all to enjoy. I think it’s a great game that can appeal to a wide variety of players. It’s not overly easy, though: while the game starts out simple enough and teaches you all the tricks of the trade (learning to aim downwards to kill enemies below, or hover with your jetpack, or to do a mid-air teleportation), but these things all take time to master. There are plenty of save points throughout, and you will have the ability to teleport between them, so backtracking is at least easier. The game is forgiving, though, because even if you lose to a boss you won’t have to go back too far to get back there and nothing plays in any sort of unfair mechanic.
It’s worth noting that the game does not seem to support ultra-wide resolutions (as you can see in the screenshots), and there are a few minor bugs along the way as well. There were times when I reached places I don’t think I was meant to go and had a very difficult time getting out of them outside of just teleporting away. That said, the engine holds up very well with strong performance even at the highest graphical quality.
Overall, on a scale from 0 to 10, with a 5 representing a true “average,” this game gets a rating of:
“VERY GOOD:” 8.5 / 10