I’m a fan of roguelikes as many of you may know at this point and because of that, I “obviously” had to play Slay the Spire. And I loved it. And because I loved Slay the Spire, I was told that I’d have to play Monster Train because it’s getting compared to it a lot and it’s according to others very similar and I feel like the comparison doesn’t do it justice. Yes, I played both games now and spoilers: I love them both. Still, I feel like at its core Monster Train may be a lot cooler than Slay the Spire even if I understand that there are similarities.
Developer: Shiny Shoe Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment Genre: Card Battler, Roguelite, Deckbuilding, Turn-Based Release Date: May 21st, 2020 Reviewed on: PC Available on: PC Copy was purchased.
But what exactly is this Monster Train that I’m talking about? Well, Hell has frozen over and it’s now our job to board a train with the last bits of Pyre to ignite Hell once again but Heaven and its followers won’t let us do this without a fight. In Monster Train, you build a deck of spells, monsters and artefacts and fight through a few different stages to deliver the goods. Cards have different stats and cost Ember to be used. Up to seven monsters can be placed on three different layers of your map, bringing a bit of verticality to the strategic nature of roguelike deckbuilding games. There are a lot of different effects and enemies, each with their own gimmicks that all need to be taken into consideration while you try to survive until you fight the boss of your current stage. If you succeed, hell yeah! You can now choose rewards and prepare for the next fight, upgrading, purging or acquiring new units or cards. If you fail, well… F.
What makes Monster Train is not only the verticality of the combat but also the five different clans that band together to reignite the fires of hell. Each clan comes with their own decks and strengths and can be paired with another clan to support them. The powerful Hellhorned have sheer strength and a powerful “rage” buff but can very much profit from a defensive clan like the Awoken who provide tanks, heals and spikes to protect your damage dealers. There are twenty different combinations available to you as every clan of the five can be paired with four others, and each combination can lead to some powerful synergies, which is fairly interesting. There are spell-slingers, for starters, that apply nice damage over time effects, while another clan eats their kin to grow in strength.
Each of the five clans (well, six if you get the DLC…) is lead by a Champion. This is a card that you can upgrade throughout your run and that provides powerful benefits to your deck based on what paths you take. Once you level up your different decks, you’ll also unlock the Exiled Champions who are somewhat different from the normal version, resulting in even more combination possibilities for you as you unlock more stuff. What I find very satisfying here is that you can potentially get these super-broken synergies going with the different clans and champions and all sorts of artefacts. As time goes on, however, you understand that anything that isn’t “super-broken” and very snowball-y, isn’t gonna work. You’ll have to learn about your strengths and weaknesses and how you maximise your deck’s potential and that leads to a lot of strategies and more importantly, a lot of trial and error. See, each champion, for instance, has a few upgrades to choose from but since your choice is narrowed down to two out of three, it can feel a bit frustrating at times when the odds are stacked against you… but it’s even more satisfying to come back from that and turn the tables completely.
Personally, I really enjoyed that aspect of Monster Train a lot on top of all the modifiers for bosses and challenges that can make every run feel unique. Sure, if you find one strategy that you like, you can attempt to do that every time,… but there are so many possibilities and arguably, there isn’t one thing that always works. In the end, it’s a matter of strategy and skill. That’s especially true because of the bosses that provide new mechanics when you have to fight them. Every boss provides a little extra and with the many variations, I find that they never get “too easy” or super boring or whatever. The runs aren’t easy either and a successful run can take about an hour from start to completion. Once you’ve completed a run, you may add a so-called covenant rank to the game to make things even harder for yourself (like ascension in Slay The Spire). There’s also a bunch of challenges that you can turn on for extra rewards, at which point your decision-making gets very important. Do you risk the enemy potentially breaking through to your Pyre room or do you play it safe but do without the extra unit draft or the bounty that is promised here?
So, gameplay-wise Monster Train is top-notch, I would say, and it really scratches that “Slay the Spire itch” that I’ve been feeling as of late but it does it better than Slay the Spire, in my opinion. It’s more versatile and can be as frustrating but gives you more opportunities to turn the tables. On top of that, the art is charming, the music is amazing, and I love that quality of life feature that lets you speed up the game by holding right-click anywhere on the screen.
All in all, I would recommend Monster Train to anyone looking for a decent challenge and a plethora of opportunities to test your decision-making. As a roguelike, it’s a lot of fun even when the RNG can feel punishing. As a deck builder, it adds new mechanics, three extra layers, and a lot of theory-crafting potential to that roguelike deck builder formula. Personally, I loved it. I’m looking forward to playing more of it on Twitch and I’m looking forward to maybe even writing some more about it on here.