Review | Monster Train First Class (Switch)
After releasing last year on PC and Xbox (May and December, respectively), developer Shiny Shoe’s hit game Monster Train shadowdropped on Nintendo Switch last week. Combining strategy, deck building, and rogue elements, Monster Train offers plenty of variety with no two runs being exactly the same. Even better, the Switch version, dubbed First Class, comes with the addition of The Last Divinity DLC. With that in mind, what’s it all about?
In short, Hell has frozen over and you control a gang of minions in a last ditch effort to keep the final flame alive. That final flame, the pyre, is located on the top floor of a train that you are tasked with protecting. You do so by placing units and casting spells on the three floors below in a turn based format. The game initially offers two clans with their basic units, but other clans and units are unlocked as you progress. Along with health management of the pyre, deck building, artifacts that offer random benefits, and upgradeable cards, the end result is a typical strategy game with some new concepts.
The concept that makes Monster Train unique right off the bat is that in general, you are not attacking your opponent. Rather, they attack you and you counterattack. Other than that, it feels in many ways similar to the ever addicting Slay the Spire. However, with Slay the Spire and other titles already out there, does Monster Train bring enough new elements to the table to stand out?
One of the best features of Monster Train is the optional risk/reward system before certain battles. Before the start of a non-boss battle, the game will offer a reward against a buffed enemy. These rewards can be gold, a random artifact, or even a new unit to add to your deck. This allows the player to choose how hard they want to push their luck, which can lead to a massive payoff. If it leads to an early death, no big deal since the run is only a few minutes in.
In general, the game does a lot to guide the player in the right direction and lead them to success. Put by a friend of over 20 years, “Monster Train is like someone holding your hand through a park. Slay the Spire is like someone pushing you down a flight of stairs after you almost got to the top.” While I don’t entirely agree with this (I think Slay the Spire pushes you down the stairs earlier than that), it’s a reasonable analogy. There are also lots of units, artifacts, clans, and other bonuses to unlock. This helps ease the burden of having a good run come up short, because now you can try again with a new strategy and possibly get further than before.
Monster Train doesn’t provide much visual variety with its overhead map and even less visual variety in its combat screens. This leads to the game feeling repetitive very quickly. Combine that with the audio being short and simplistic and the problem is compounded.
For the gameplay, the biggest issue is that most of the different strategies the game offers don’t synergize very well. With six different clans, their respective cards and abilities, and the randomness that a roguelite game offers, you expect more things to work well together. Additionally, a combination of the two starting clans is a top-tier combination, which is a little odd. It’s not enough to ruin the experience, but it does make someone question the design choices.
Monster Train is a good roguelite deckbuilder, but it doesn’t achieve top-tier status. With its rather monotonous appearance and gameplay, it doesn’t keep you coming back for more like the other great rogues. That being said, given its more forgiving nature, this could be a great starter for those that are new to the genre.
Final Score: 8 out of 10