In many ways, Monster Loves You! is a visual novel - a curiously static variety of interactive fiction that's big in Japan.
You need absolutely no dexterity to play it, and the game contains a minimum of what's traditionally considered gameplay. You make choices for the lead character, and those choices change the way the story unfurls.
Yet Monster Loves You! isn't committed enough to its visual novel elements. The narrative and characterisation simply aren't strong enough, resulting in a hollow and unsatisfactory exercise in wasted potential.
If the term "visual novel" left you scratching your head, then think back to your days playing choose-your-own-adventure games - the kind Tin Man Games has made a name for itself with. Monster Loves You! is effectively one of those, but with more emphasis placed on dialogue, and less on cheap deaths.
The writing is strong. It tells the story of a little blob that grows into a monster - the form of which is dictated by the choices you make - who grows up, learns about the world, and finds its place in it.
For a fantastical story such as this, the prose is suitably silly and humourous, containing a number of references to pop culture for the eagle-eyed.
They're well-placed references, never sacrificing narrative coherence for a dumb joke. The Slaughterhouse-Five and "Sexy Flanders" Simpsons nods are such that you'll either spot them immediately or they'll sail right past you.
The choices you make are presented in a light and breezy style, and the game experiments with the text it includes on the menu options for comedic effect. There's a point where your character falls a great distance, and the menu text is simply different verbal representations of screaming.
A Reckless Disregard for Gameplay
While Monster Loves You! is great at creating a world with its own atmosphere, what it's not good at is filling that world with fun things to do.
The monster designs are gross (in a good way), but they're also too simplistic. The backgrounds change to reflect the goings-on in the story, but there's no animation, and consequently it's a static world. The soundtrack proves a highlight though, with a delightfully odd Deadly Premonition lilt.
In the current build, there are major issues with the presentation of the words. You'll see the HTML governing the formatting of text multiple times, and on occasion you won't be able to read any of it due to a misplaced menu box. This is sloppy stuff, considering that the words are all this game actually has going for it.
Finally, we come to the most minimal part of the game: the gameplay. It really is as straightforward as making choices from a menu - there's no skill involved whatsoever.
The choices you make add or subtract points to five meters - Bravery, Cleverness, Ferocity, Honesty, and Kindness. At the end of your life you're tested (through a menu option and a dice roll) based on these numbers.
Some dialogue options are only open to you if you've attained a required number of points in a certain attribute, but otherwise the plot changes little. At the end of the game you'll receive a medal based on the options you chose, and I suppose if there's a collector's streak in you you might want to repeat the story and get them all.
You might. I didn't.
Monster Loves You! feels like a small experiment in language and storytelling in interactive fiction, rather than a fully fledged video game. It's worth a look if you're interested in the evolution of those things, but anyone looking for their next Gamebook fix will be better served elsewhere.