It’s fair to say that Western support for the PlayStation Vita has dwindled in the past year or so, setting the stage for several Japanese ports to step up and plug the hole. None, however, are more questionably sexualised than Monster Monpiece; a card game where leveling up monster girls by rubbing the handheld’s touchscreen in a suggestive fashion is one of the title’s central mechanics. But is that really all the releaase has to offer?
In a fantasy world where the resident deity has confined the single-gendered monsters to human bodies as punishment for their constant struggle with mankind, an age of peace has descended upon the world. To better understand one another, human and monster-kind attend academies with the aim of not only learning more about each other's race, but also about protecting cities from the threat of monsters and The Lost — humans who have lost their hearts.
Having been persuaded by her tutor to travel to a neighbouring academy for a battle, protagonist May and her friends quickly find themselves in a world of trouble as an evil magic causes one of the party to become Lost and disappear — only ever showing up again to look evil and cause trouble. In a quest to protect the academies and their inhabitants, May, her bespectacled friend, and capable monster girl Fia, begin battling their way across the land in order to save the day.
All battles take place on a 7x3 grid, with the player starting on the left and your opponent on the right. At the extremities of the battleground lay HQs, and the winner is determined by whomever is first to reach their opponent's side of the board and destroy the enemy stronghold. Cards from your deck are then randomly placed into the tray at the bottom of the screen each turn, and can be set anywhere on your side of the grid as long as you have the mana to summon them –- which also replenishes with each turn.
Once a card is placed, it'll march mercilessly toward the enemy with each turn, only ever pausing when a foe blocks its path — at which point it’ll attack automatically. When this inevitable confrontation occurs, the monster girl will attack her opponent for the damage listed on her card. However, placing cards with varying abilities plays a huge role in securing victory, as no single monster girl is capable of taking down an opponent’s deck by herself.
The majority of the cards you’ll have in your set will probably be straightforward, no-nonsense offensive cards. They’ll deal decent damage and take a few hits, but without backup, they’re as good as doomed. Thankfully, by placing healer cards behind your melee monsters, they’ll recover HP with each go, and you can even increase the damage of an ally by selecting a buffer unit to flank them. Long distance attacks are also possible courtesy of the bow-wielding ranged cards, which allows them to hit enemies from up to three places away, although they can’t fire upon foes without a direct line of sight.
On top of this, there are also a few different species of cards, and should you place one of the same species upon another that’s already in play, they'll fuse and combine statistics. This not only provides a handy way to boost a warrior that’s in jeopardy, but also bolsters any attacking formation that you might put into action. However, for an all-around team boost, it’s worth paying attention to a card’s aura – of which there are four possible colours. Placing two cards of the same aura consecutively will land you a small bonus, but utilise 3 and all of your placed cards will receive a large stat increase.
Occasionally, you’ll come across a unit that has a potential. These bonus powers appear as a symbol on the side of the card, and their buffs can range from bonus HP to allowing the monster girl to take a step forward immediately after being summoned. We must admit that while it’s a lot of information to take in at first, once we got the hang of it, it felt extremely rewarding to have three bolstered monster girls advancing across the grid towards the enemy HQ. However, we’re sorry to report that the game throws you into battle so frequently that it wasn’t too long before we began to grow rather tired of the whole affair.
Should you wish to permanently increase a monster girl’s stats, you must engage in the filthy minigame that is Final Crush Rub. By cashing in special currency earned from winning battles, you can level up a unit by briskly rubbing her, and, tilting the Vita 90 degrees clockwise, the monster girl in question is presented in all her glory. No two girls will have the same soft spot, and you can’t just rub randomly as you only have a certain amount of time to fill the gauge on the left of the screen, so, in our experience, a monster girl’s tickle zones are best revealed after an initial rubbing frenzy in which you must keep an eye out for the telltale signs of stars or hearts exploding in your direction. Once you’ve found the spot, it’s time to go to town.
Hearing a monster girl scream with pleasure as you vigorously rub them will more than likely be the most uncomfortable experience that you’ve ever participated in while playing a video game. Firstly, there’s the physical discomfort, as it turns out that rubbing your handheld's screen actually really hurts your finger, and then there’s the fact that a monster girl’s 'private areas' are usually the zones that you’ll find yourself forced to stimulate in order to level them up. Lastly, on two occasions we encountered a bug that didn’t allow the game to continue onto the success screen. This forced us to quit the game, but as the title doesn’t have automatic saving, we lost several hours of progress in both instances.
While we appreciate that this is hardly the time or place to get into a discussion about sexism in video games, there is literally no purpose to this minigame other than to titillate the male consumer. This observation is clearly demonstrated when a monster girl inexplicably becomes even more scantily clad despite her recent increase in power. Why the developer couldn’t have had them level up into a more badass, awesomely-armoured warrior is beyond us, but it’s particularly insulting that you're forced to partake in this minigame in order to progress the plot — not that the narrative is particularly ground breaking, anyway.
The world and lore of Monster Monpiece follow a number of predictable JRPG tropes, in that names of individuals and locations are overcomplicated and difficult to remember, the protagonist is shy and has low confidence in her abilities, and a lot of the explanations for events require the player to suspend their disbelief, 'because magic'. Another perplexing occurrence is the way that the monster girls have chosen to work with humanity by being pawns in a card game. This struck us as particularly odd, as, despite having a tail or fluffy ears, the creatures are very human-like: they speak articulately and with conviction, and yet are confined to cards that us humans use to wage war.
Simply put, Monster Monpiece is a game that doesn’t really need to go to the extremes that it does. With a dull narrative, stereotypical characters, and game-breaking bugs, its only saving grace is the surprisingly strong card game at its core — although even then, it wasn’t long before we began to tire of that, too. Ultimately, if it weren’t for the inclusion of the absurd leveling up minigame, no one would pay this mediocre title much heed at all.