You could accuse the introduction to Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake of being a little deceptive.

You play as a little boy, and start the game by waking up in your house. It's the same way dozens of epic RPGs have started before.

And then you venture out into a small town, filled with people, shops, and intriguing secret areas that you can't reach just yet. The sense of adventure is palpable.

But then you venture north and suddenly the game cuts to a level select menu. This is not, you'll quickly discover, a vast, open-ended adventure like Zelda, Golden Sun, or Pokémon.

Monster mash

Instead, Monsters is a series of self-contained puzzle levels. Each has three stars, a set solution, and claustrophobic walls to stop you from exploring any farther.

They are very good puzzle levels, however. They're inventive, sufficiently challenging, and well-designed conundrums. Each stage almost feels like a very tiny dungeon from a Zelda game.

These missions put spikes, enemies, traps, and pressure sensitive buttons between young explorer Niko and his delicious birthday treat. Your job is to hunt down all the cake slices, but there are other optional goals to aim for as well.

Graveyard smash

As you advance you'll build a tag team of allied monsters who help out in different levels. There's Groggnar, who can smash tree trunks with a headbutt; Biff, who can turn water into ice; and Poot, whose toxic farts can make plants shrivel.

The characters are rolled out slowly so you can learn their moves inside and out. And they're juggled about between the different stages so you don't get bored of using the same team.

The only real downfall is the controls. Monsters employs a clever system where you draw out a path for Niko and co. But it tends to fail when you're trying to make precise movements, or manipulate two nearby heroes.

On the levels where you have to beat a certain time limit to win a star, the fiddly input will make you invent new swear words like "bumsticles".

Plus, everything moves so slowly that re-doing a flubbed level can be a tortuous prospect.

Caught on in a flash

While Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake sheds its Zelda ambitions within the first ten minutes, there's still a pervasive sense of mystery throughout the game.

There are weird items in shops, bizarre off-shoots on the map, areas you can't visit yet, and mysterious signs.

These enigmatic elements offer a nostalgic trip back to when we used to discuss secrets and trade solutions at school. And it's this stuff, rather than the puzzles themselves, that will keep you pressing forward through the game.

Plus, it's hard not to be charmed by the game's cute pastel art, irreverent Adventure Time-style humour, and the catchy soundtrack by Fez composer Disasterpiece.

All of this combines to make Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake impossible to dislike.

And while the initial comparisons to Zelda might fade away pretty quickly, this is still an engaging puzzler with a wicked enigmatic streak.