Illustration for article titled Returning Gamer Reviews: Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom

I have recently returned to gaming and am loving it. This post is the first of a maybe-series in which I review games from that perspective.

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I have never beaten a 2-d platformer.

I played a lot of them as a kid - Super Mario Bros 1-3, Megaman 2 and 3, the amazing Aladdin and Lion King games on Sega Genesis - but I never developed the twitchy skills or the patience I needed to beat those often insanely difficult 8- and 16-bit beasts. I beat lots of RPGs, even action RPGs like Crystalis, but childhood me could not jump and swing consistently enough to get all the way through a platformer in the pre-savepoint era.

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Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom was the absolutely perfect game to help me dust off my platforming skills and break my losing streak.

Like several of the games I’ve ended up loving on the Switch, I downloaded Monster Boy when it went on sale (still on sale, I think! Get it!) and originally got it for my 8-year-old son. He liked it. The colors! The funny animals! The freaking fantastic music and amazing introduction video! He was in.

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He played for about an hour, then things got a bit too difficult for him. He went back to Minecraft. So that night, after he was in bed, I picked up the switch and gave it a try. I enjoyed it immediately, and kept playing a little at a time for several nights, but it is only now, looking back, that I realize how brilliant this game was at building up to its full gameplay experience.

Just casually shootin’ a fireball at a crab, no big deal.
Just casually shootin’ a fireball at a crab, no big deal.
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It starts out as a simple platformer. The first stage is very linear. You are jumping and swinging a sword at crabs - Maddy Myers compares it to a Kirby game on Splitscreen, and that’s fair. It’s pretty, but easy.

Then, suddenly, you have to buy some boots. Special boots that make you sink beneath the ocean. You have an inventory, and find yourself doubling back. Oh-ho, so it’s not just a Mario game, it’s a little bit of a Metroid! But the level is still very linear, the character pretty simple.

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The pig always looks like he’s high-stepping, and I am here for it.
The pig always looks like he’s high-stepping, and I am here for it.

But then you get turned into a pig. A pirate pig. A pirate pig with magic spells granted by truffles, and a sensitive nose that can uncover secrets. Suddenly, this simple platformer has a puzzle layer. Also, the pig is simply amazingly animated and is incredibly fun to watch.

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The game continues to ramp up the complexity. Add a new form (a snake) for more puzzles. Add a fast travel system, and a detailed map. Add more forms (a frog! A lion! A dragon!). By the time you have 3 or 4 forms, the game, which starts out as a fun simple platformer, is HARD. You have to change forms in midair, bounce off of enemies like crazy, switch weapons and armor constantly, follow cryptic clues to find hidden secrets.

You can fly with that dragon, but not for long. Notice the conveyor belts, beam of light, and mirror statue - puzzle time.
You can fly with that dragon, but not for long. Notice the conveyor belts, beam of light, and mirror statue - puzzle time.
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If the game had started out anywhere close to that hard, I would have given up. I did give up on Hollow Knight after about 5 hours last summer, because I was confused and kept dying and even though it was fun, I wasn’t invested enough yet to push through, plus the color palette was bumming me out. But I’ll be going back to Hollow Knight, because Monster Boy made me better at platformers.

I beat Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom after 27 hours of play time, with 72% completion, and consulted a walkthrough about 4 times. I encountered no bugs or weirdnesses, and I bopped to the music the entire time, except when I was watching Cheer on netflix while playing.

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