No Refunds: “Monster Sanctuary”

Consensus: After exactly two hours and one minute, it was hard for me to stop playing this game, midway through the second dungeon, the Blue Caves. I’ll be coming back to this one for sure.

Release Date: 12/8

Platform: PC* (*Available on XBOX Game Pass)

Developer: Moi Rai Games

Publisher: Team17 Digital

I might be biased because of my love of all things platformer, especially those with gorgeous pixel art, but combining turn-based RPG combat, Pokemon-like monster collecting, and the so-called Metroidvania style turns out to work exceedingly well.

The game essentially hooks you four different ways. First, there’s the exploration, with each monster type serving to give you new ways to cut or burn through vines, smash through walls, press down plates, activate elemental orbs, or otherwise navigate the environment. Second, there’s the monster taming, with each type having a robust skill tree with a variety of branches to level up depending on whether you’re using them to heal, support, or damage foes. Third, there’s the optional theorycrafting, where you can tweak a monster’s diet and its weapons and accessories to maximize the output on passives that work in conjunction with crits or maximum HP. And finally, there’s the combat itself, which ranks each battle based on how well you chain together combos, utilize debuffs and damage over time, and minimize incoming attacks.

It speaks to these strengths of Monster Sanctuary that the absence of a story–little more than an extended tutorial in these first two hours–isn’t bothersome. And it’s encouraging that each zone has enough variety of monsters to keep the constant battling for new eggs (i.e., hatchable recruits) from feeling like a grind. “Sanctuary” may be in the title, but this game doesn’t feel safe; here’s hoping it holds up.

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