Game Reviews

Monsters Invade: Oz

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Monsters Invade: Oz

This is a freemium game review, in which we give our impressions immediately after booting a game up, again after three days, and finally after seven days. That's what the strange sub-headings are all about. Click on the links to jump straight to day three or day seven.

It might sound like a tie-in with the new Oz movie, but Monsters Invade: Oz has absolutely nothing to do with Sam Raimi's recent prequel.

Instead, this new release from LittleBox is a monster-battler with a really simple, almost child-like visual style.

Will I come out the other side unscathed? Or will I want to find a yellow coloured road made of bricks as soon as I start playing? Let's find out.

First impressions

Sure, Monsters Invade: Oz is sort of a Pokemon clone, but it leaves one hell of a first impression.

To call it a weird mash up is selling it short, but that's fundamentally what this release is. It's a combination of the The Wizard of Oz, modern pop culture references, Pokemon, simple creature design, and a dubstep-influenced soundtrack.


And the oddness doesn't stop there. Your creature's health is represented visually in battles as a sort of liquid residing within it. When it gets hurt, you can see its life literally draining away.

You'll see this when you receive damage in the random battles that occur throughout the large map. Battles (so far) use a more active take on turn-based battling than the famous Nintendo franchise, in that you need to time swings on the power meter in order to earn special damage bonuses.

Finish a battle and you can continue with your current quest, made up of four smaller missions. The missions include such delights as finding a number of skulls that litter the landscape so that you can make soup from them. Along the way you'll see random penguins and Super Mario-esque mushrooms just hanging about in the scenery.

My current creature that I'm battling with is called Booyah, and I dread to think what he'll evolve into - though I'll find out in just a couple of levels' time.

As for the story itself - I've no idea what's going on. At all. I haven't seen any written narrative whatsoever.

I was so hooked from moment I fired it up that the only reason I've stopped playing is that my creature got knocked out twice in quick succession by something called a Candy Corny - a creature that looks like a paper cup you might find at a funfair - and a robot called Johnny 5.

I thought that was a good point to pause for reflection.

Day 3: Mr. Stabber

I absolutely love the music in Monsters Invade: Oz. The energetic, electronic, dub-influenced soundtrack is totally at odds with the cutesy visual design, but it feels oddly at home in this weird world.

Equally, the sound effects are top-drawer. The creatures you face, like their Pokemon inspiration, will howl out phrases when they launch into battle.

I swear that one of them shouts "Mr. Stabber!" when it leaps into the fray, which is equal parts disturbing and hilarious.

However, after three days some potential problems are beginning to surface.

The game would very much like you to give it some money for its premium currency, and though it doesn't shout about how you can buy more Gold Bars, or shove too much advertising in your face, it does make progress slow-going for those unwilling to invest cash.

Monsters Invade: Oz offers up the usual progression bonuses for dropping premium currency - a slower battle wheel, double XP drops, and so on - but it becomes detrimental to the experience at the point that you have to pay to revive your monsters. If one is knocked out, you can either wait several hours until you can use them again, or pay a fee.

You'll sometimes feel that a defeat is unfair because you can't see the mathematics behind the battles. Inevitably, this leads you to suspect that your loss has more to do with the developer's desire to get money out of you than with your own shortcomings.

You can reduce your chances of dying to some degree, but you'll need to spend your accumulated blue vials to regain health to do that.

You acquire these gradually as your dog Toto finds them for you. It's a cute addition, but using these vials doesn't guarantee that you won't get knocked out if you run into an altogether too powerful enemy for your level.

This has led me to develop that niggling thought in the back of my head: "I wish this was a premium game, and not a freemium one."

Day 7: A monster in my pocket

The more I play Monsters Invade: Oz the more disappointed I get. What started as an intriguing take on Pokemon has become a quirky but dirty experiment in freemium gameplay mechanics.

And that experiment is a failure.

Those vials I mentioned? They're Ink, and the game reminds you when you exit that you should pet Toto to increase production of said Ink. It's to keep you coming back every few hours, as you have to keep petting Toto to get the most Ink out of him, and therefore earn the most playing time.

Your Pokeball equivalent are Pages, which are used to capture an impressive bestiary of cartoon monsters. But since these cost premium currency to get more of - except when they're awarded as part of mini-missions - you're often left wondering whether your failure to capture a monster is the result of bad luck or unwillingness to pay.

In one instance, I was told I had a 79 per cent chance of capturing the monster in front of me, yet I tried four times in a row without success.

It could have been that I was simply unfortunate, but this is vanishingly unlikely because it happened on numerous occasions. The game is full of similar examples.

Take the spinning wheel that determines your attack strength. If you don't get the attack multiplier, and you're up against a creature that's a higher level than you, you're absolutely stuffed - they'll almost always inflict massive damage. So these special attacks become not so much special as necessary.

The spinning wheel also speeds up the longer you play over a session, pushing you towards buying the ability to slow it down for a battle. This is a game that has its eye on your wallet, and it never lets you forget that.

Monsters Invade: Oz is a neat take on the monster-battling genre, with superb presentation and creepily disjointed world design. But its payment structure fatally undermines these positive qualities. Pity.

How are you getting on with the game? You can tell us and the rest of the PG community about your experiences by leaving a comment in the box below.

Monsters Invade: Oz

Style over substance, thanks mostly to some ropey freemium nonsense, Monsters Invade: Oz is a lovely world to be a part of, but only if you have the money to spend while you're there
Peter Willington
Peter Willington
Die hard Suda 51 fan and professed Cherry Coke addict, freelancer Peter Willington was initially set for a career in showbiz, training for half a decade to walk the boards. Realising that there's no money in acting, he decided instead to make his fortune in writing about video games. Peter never learns from his mistakes.