The Deadly Tower of Monsters PC Review
-Colorful, creative visuals
-Great authentic soundtrack
-Interesting genre-bending mechanics
-Overly tacky at times
-Weak platforming elements
You don’t see many games take B-movies full on. Fallout’s Mr. Handys, giant ants, and Brainbots and Wolfenstein’s Nazis-in-space clearly show off influences but never go full on cheese – clearly something neither party was going for. Both serve as great examples of how self-aware, B-movie elements fed to players in small doses can lighten the mood and inject humor into an otherwise grim world. In contrast, ACE Team’s The Deadly Tower of Monsters is not one for subtlety; from the get-go, the Theremin infused score launches players into an unapologetic, 50s sci-fi crawl that does Plan 9 from Outer Space like no other. Neon claymation dinosaurs, plastic prop environments, and a chatty director’s commentary that constantly takes jabs at the game’s visuals and mechanics make for a light-hearted romp designed to amuse. At the same time, however, those very “over the top” B-movie elements kept me from truly getting into the game. This along with a weak loot system, questionable platforming segments, and a limited skill tree made it somewhat difficult to pick the title up for consecutive playthroughs. Still, The Deadly Tower of Monsters’ wit and cool genre-traversals alone will be enough to turn most players heads.
The 7-9-hour story is told completely as though players are watching an old, iconic B-movie on VHS with the director’s contemporary commentary: While conducting a space exploration mission, Dick Starspeed’s ship is shot down onto the planet Gravoria by “the Emperor,” losing all his equipment as well as his companion “the Robot” in the process. After surviving the crash unscathed, Dick meets Scarlet Nova who implores him to help her bring down the evil Emperor who sits atop the Tower of Deadly Monsters. The two quickly recover the Robot then set off, battling their way up the tower through hoards of monsters and obstacles.
Your entire journey is accompanied by a director’s commentary that provides tutorial and amusing asides but can at times seem like a touch too much. A few knocks that made me laugh out loud included the director complaining about a colleague obsessing over lens flares just before faint fingerprints appeared all over the screen and ramblings about how and allegedly cut “backstory” would explain why the gold Dick collected simply vanished upon contact and how he could carry an infinite amount of it. The commentary did, however, begin to eat away at me after my first hour of play; I began to zone out the voice over to focus on what I was doing.
The action plays out like an isometric hack-and-slash à la Diablo with a few unique 3D mechanics thrown in. Combat is functional and features a nice variety of weapons but lacks the satisfying punch that would make it great. Some enemies like fire breathing pterodactyls and mini UFOs ascend from lower levels on the tower to reach players. In these cases, players must use their vertical blaster to aim directly down length of the tower to take them out. I thought this was a really cool, genre-bending mechanic that basically allowed players to enter turret-like segments at their own discretion. Platforming segments are flimsy as I couldn’t always clearly assess where my character would land through the isometric perspective. Something as simple as a louder, consistent shadow or marker below characters probably could have remedied this issue.
What I found to be the most unique part of DTOM was the fact that the tower itself is open-air. Players can jump or fall off the tower at any time. While an accidental plunge can be remedied by a quick-teleporter that returns players to their previous location, like a fast-retry button of sorts, backtracking on the tower can be a matter of simply placing your landing then softening the fall with your jetpack. Interestingly, using the fast-retry does not eliminate progress, encouraging players to take advantage of their falls; all along the height of the tower are collectable bulls-eyes and rings whose acquisition goes toward fulfilling a side-mission.
Dick, Scarlet, and the Robot share stats but possess different abilities. The Robot can slow down time, Scarlet can run at an increased speed, and Dick can lay mines to clear barriers. Players can switch between them at stations found throughout the tower. A few hidden areas and upgrades are only accessible through character-specific abilities, giving you some incentive to revisit locations. Disappointingly, there isn’t what I’d call a “proper” looting system. New items and weapons can be found hovering over glowing pads all along the tower but aren’t ever dropped by enemies. This means no unique items, no equippable armor, or item sets. Sure, weapons can be given meaningful upgrades, boosting their stats and altering their appearance, but the lack of a loot system really killed my motivation to mine the world for more.
Gameplay itself doesn’t amount to much of a challenge. A few enemies and bosses with high damage output took me a few tries to defeat but most other circumstances saw me pummelling through enemies and simply soaking up the damage. This is somewhat balanced by the fact that enemy attacks interrupt those of the player, inspiring different strategies against different enemies, which is great. Still, I felt a little underwhelmed at the end of my runthrough, as though the game never pushed. Despite its competence and enthusiasm, DTOM never really got me excited. Thinking back, it might’ve been the surfeit of cheese.
On the surface, I find the idea of B-movies and monster flicks cool and particularly charming. Actually sitting through one, however, is often a different story; I don’t think I’ve ever made it through one without getting incredibly bored. Really, I think most people have a similar conception B-movies. What makes contemporary movies and games like Fallout, Wolfenstein, Pacific Rim, and The Thing (1982) work is how they utilize B-movie elements as highlights rather than foundation to their respective stories. DTOM’s world is exactly as ACE Team intended it to be – a zoo of monsters and tacky voice-overs, a zany tribute to the mad scientist; despite intention, the resulting world is unattractive, obnoxious, absurd, and too far removed for me to latch on. It all feels too much like a gag of a game. The characters of Dick, Scarlett, and the Robot work as one-note commentaries about the genre but aren’t inviting; a fish-out-of-water protagonist could’ve helped me connect much more so than these characters that are already “in it.”
Environments are dazzling. A variety of textures, colors, and visual effects make the tower look like a hobbled-together movie prop. Dinosaur and giant ant animations resemble claymation in a well-executed nod to early special effects. The protagonists’ chromey jumpsuits, however, look plain in comparison – again, this is where I really began to miss a proper loot system. The game is scored fantastically, evoking authentic classic sci-fi, odyssey, and fantasy vibes. Personally, I adored the shining theme that kicked in every time I performed a free fall from the tower. Truly, great work and implementation.
All in all, I had a good bit of fun with The Deadly Tower of Monsters. Its combat and platforming left me unfulfilled but, thanks to some great humor, weren’t enough to break the title. I actually completed my first run feeling rather positive. And although it wasn’t really “my thing,” I admit ACE Team did a great job of creating a world bursting at the seams with B-movie madness. If casual, light gameplay and an overabundance of cheese sounds like something you’re into, The Deadly Tower of Monsters just might deliver that bizarre weekend of fun you’re looking for.