Since Pokemon captured the heart and soul of literally every child in the world back in the mid 90s, games developers seem to have had only one question on their minds: “How do we copy that?” Games in which players evolve and/or battle collectible monsters have become ubiquitous in casual gaming, to the point where you’re seen as well behind the curve (a dinosaur, if you’ll pardon the expression) if you have a monster game in which the beasts don’t change form. Monster Legends is not the first to attempt to crack the PokeCode, and it surely won’t be the last. But does it have what it takes to be the very best?
The short answer is: not a chance. While the best monster battling games tend to have some kind of story behind their carnage, Monster Legends just plops you on the middle of a field and tells you to start building things. You are under the tutelage of Pandalf, a fatter and fluffier version of Tolkien’s classic wizard, who wants to teach everyone to be an expert monster breeder like himself. You’ll then start building a series of habitats and farms to house and feed the dragons you breed. The cost of food and construction is represented by gold and diamonds, which can be earned by completing goals (“breed a Fire and Earth dragon”), battling other teams of monsters, or straight up buying them with cash. Let’s look at those one by one.
The main screen in Monster Legends is your base, or town, or whatever you want to call it. Here, you’ll build habitats and breed monsters and generally act like you would in any other God game. The controls are, as everywhere in the game, very easy to use, but sometimes hard not to use. I often found myself moving habitats around on my map when all I wanted to do was scroll around or zoom out. Your base gathers resources in a very basic way–monsters collect gold automatically, but you need to grow food (which is used to level up monsters) yourself at farms. Diamonds, the premium game currency, can only be obtained via various goals. I’ll get to those later, but the food growing portion was the first inkling I had that something was wrong. Growing more food not only takes longer but also costs more gold up front–a transparent ploy to keep people playing the game constantly, rather than doing, oh, anything else. Are the developers at Socialpoint really that worried people won’t come back?
If they are, they shouldn’t be, because the battling part of this game is actually pretty fun. Here’s where things go full-on Pokemon. You command teams of three monsters in each turn-based battle, all of which have up to four elemental attacks. Each attack has various effects, and every monster has its own moves. The monsters all have neat designs, if not especially original ones–I have one monster on my team who is just an Onix with a unicorn horn, and another that’s a straight ripoff of Kung Fu Panda. In higher levels, the strategy gets complicated and genuinely cerebral. Unfortunately, you have to figure out for yourself which types are strong or weak against one another, which sucks if you didn’t know a given matchup would be bad before beginning the match. Your monsters can have only five stamina at a time, meaning win or lose, they’re done after five battles. Then it’s time to wait until their stamina recharges, which takes about 10 minutes.
The good news is you may have something to do at your base in the meantime. The bad news is that whether you do will depend entirely on whether or not you have diamonds. As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, this is the pay-to-win component of Monster Legends. Without spending a few diamonds, hatching a new egg can take six or seven hours at minimum, and upgrading a building or habitat can take even more time. And certain breeds of monster are only available to those who lay out a pile of diamonds to get them. Connecting to Facebook will net you a cool 50 diamonds to start, which is just enough to upgrade your Hatchery to level 2 and nothing else.
If diamonds were available in any significant way outside of IAPs, there wouldn’t be a problem with any of this, but that’s not the case. Diamonds can only be scrounged one or two at a time from meeting goals or winning post-battle roulette spins. Otherwise, you’re SOL and will need to wait upwards of 10 hours waiting for your projects to complete.
There are occasional glimpses in this game of the unique experience Monster Legends could have provided. Sadly, what Socialpoint chose to push out was more of the same pay-to-win freemium nonsense that we hate, wrapped up in uninspired graphics and cloned gameplay. All the diamonds in the world can’t put a shine on this shoddy piece of work.