Monster Lab - WII - Preview
E3 2008 Preview
As a kid, I vaguely remember seeing commercials for toy monsters that could be built and/or customized by the user. They looked cool but slipped through my fingers; for over three straight years, my world was consumed by all things Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There were spurts of Darkwing Duck, a brief obsession with Spider-Man, and a six-month battle with LEGO abuse (I always used the instructions...I'm so ashamed!). Having such a busy childhood made it hard to work new toys into my schedule.
Those days are long gone, but the memories of monster-building madness -- or at least what could have been -- still linger in my head from time to time. That was especially true on the last day of E3 08, when Eidos demoed an intriguing Wii exclusive to GameZone: Monster Lab. As a new property, the developers were able to form the game's building blocks (those you'll use to create monsters) from scratch. But once a monster is built, you won't throw it on a shelf like some toy -- you take it out for a stroll in a dangerous, monster-filled world. That's because homemade beasts were created to defend against and overthrow the wayward monsters that inhabit the land.
Monster Lab is one part turn-based RPG, one part mini-game collection, and one part user creation tool. The latter element is very straightforward; monsters are broken down into four essential parts: torso, arms, legs, and head. Each of these can be applied by the player using any of the parts they find, earn (in battle) or create. These parts are not limited to mechanical elements -- as the game progresses you'll uncover parts that are, as the developers describe them, more biological. The mechanical parts have that somewhat metallic, big-and-bulky appearance you'd expect.
In creating a monster, players will use the thumbstick to decide where each body part should be placed. Push the stick left or right to select an arm for the monster. The items available aren't labeled Arm 1, Arm 2, etc., but if it's under the arm selection screen, you'll know you're in the right place.
The head and leg body parts are selected by pushing up and down on the thumbstick, respectively. By pushing in any of the four directions, you'll highlight a different part on the monster's body. While it might not seem necessary to have the menus set up this way, the developers wanted to have an ongoing control system. Some of the mini-games involve the thumbstick and object selection. To build a brand-new head, you need to pick the smartest head among a group of potential duds. To weed out the idiots, three monsters are shown holding up a symbol. That symbol needs to match the one on the bottom of the screen. No matter what, two of the monsters will pick the wrong one. They are the stupid ones and should be axed at once. You do this by pushing left or right (to select the monsters in either direction) or by leaving the thumbstick alone (to select the monster in the middle) and push the A button. Pick two monsters and they will be crushed into junkyard material. The remaining head goes toward creating the head you'll end up with at the end of this mini-game. Thus, you want to eliminate as many of the duds as possible, because if you pick the wrong one, that means the most intelligent head in that bunch will be destroyed.
Every finished monster becomes yours to command. Before sending it off into the world, be sure the monster can hold its own against any possible threats. As in most turn-based RPGs, combat takes place on a battle screen that's separate from everything else. What's different, however, is the way battles play out. Rather than form a party of three or more, it's just you and one enemy in a fight to the finish. Attacks are selected with the same thumbstick movements: push and hold it in any direction to bring up the four attack options available. Execute the attack by pointing the cursor toward the accept button on screen, click it, and watch the fireworks.
In the final version, players will be able to create up to 150 different parts across the game's 12 part construction mini-games. There are 10 environmental challenges (short and easy mini-games) and a field repair challenge where you'll spin the Wii remote very fast to heal/replenish a part of damaged monster.
With so much to examine, Monster Lab looks and sounds like it's going to be one of the deeper kid-targeted titles this Christmas while still providing the simplicity and interface usability an eight-year-old demands. Look for it this fall.