Monster Train PC Review

Monster Train; the deck building game where you strike back to reclaim Hell from the Angel legions that have destroyed and frozen your home and left you with the last remaining fragment of your pyre, the only thing that can reignite the flames of hell. All that stands in the way of your goal are three angels and their horde of minions including a variety of tricky mini bosses to stop you in your tracks. Commanding your train (aptly named The Boneshaker) with what little remains of your pyre, the assistance of a variety of allies and explosive spells you’ve drafted along the way, you make your way to the Heart of Hell to face the terrifying Seraph.

I have to give a lot of credit to this game. At the current rate that deck building games are being released onto Steam, it is now very easy for your game to fly under the radar and I think that it’s fair to say that Shiny Shoe have definitely taken some technical inspiration from Megacrit’s hit deck builder Slay the Spire. Monster Train, however, is so accessible and unique in its playstyle that it is very easy to fall in love with this dynamic game. I believe the individuality of Monster Train stems from its ambitious attempt to mix two genres being both a deck builder and a tower defence game making it feel like a new game instead of a clone of others.

Enemies start from the bottom and turn by turn make their way up the four stories and fight any monsters you placed on the same floor as them. The top floor of the train is your pyre room; when enemies get there they will attack it until either they die or the pyre expires which will result in a loss. Monster Train plays the same as most deck builders in that at the end of every battle you will draft cards. Upgrading cards can be done after battles if you choose to and you can even upgrade them twice. This is an interesting idea because unlike other deck builders, you can actually choose between a variety of different gems to attach to your card to make it unique to that specific run adding way more replayability to the game than it already has.

In Monster Train, when you start a run you will choose two clans from a total of five to play as, each with a unique deck and play style mixed together into your deck. Alongside your clan’s personalised deck, you also select one of three powerful Champion cards thus further increasing the playtime you can score in this game with the various different options available. I found that some clans were very basic yet enjoyable when compared to much more tricky decks that have new ideas that can take a bit of time to get your head around but are equally as rewarding to master. I think every deck is well balanced, however there are a few cards I’d never be likely to use in each clan but overall I think the balancing of the clans comes from their champions.

When reviewing the Champions themselves however, I do feel like some are a little overpowered compared to others. This isn’t by a gamebreakingly huge margin however most of the power difference between different runs will come from selecting the best Champion. In some cases I will always choose certain Champions and ignore others because of how powerful they are, how easily they scale into the late game or not requiring as much setting up. I do hope they balance the champions a little more, I believe all of them are great at the earlier covenants but as you get to the later levels it gets much harder to make some of them work in your favour and then others I just find underwhelming to play.

In terms of overall difficulty, the game starts off at a nice easy pace, ultimately bringing the covenant level up to raise the difficulty; despite this, I found that it never hits the difficulty spike that a lot of other deck builders do. One aspect I thought the developers handled well were the elite battles because there is only one track to take in this game. Their response was to add optional difficult challenges to give you more rewards for playing at a higher level. These challenges tell you exactly what they’re going to change adding a bit more fairness to the mix, however as a backfire to this it once again takes away from the difficulty. I do hope they add more covenant levels to the game because I miss that frustration you get when you are constantly losing and the ecstatic feeling when you finally beat it.

Repetitive games can be a challenge for developers who need to keep pulling their audience back in after they’ve cleared the highest difficulty levels. The developers over at Shiny Shoe have challenged this with the online mode called Hell Rush. In this mode, where you play simultaneously with other players, it’s always interesting to see what decks people have created alongside your own attempt at the run. They’ve also included daily challenges, which have become a must for recent roguelikes, to encourage you to check in every day to see what’s new, keeping the spark alive for that bit longer.

As with most things, Monster Train definitely has aspects that it can improve upon such as adding more bosses so you aren’t fighting the same three every time and adding a few more enemies so you get different visuals and tactics in the same fight. The difficulty is not that big of an issue early on because it brings in newer players but if they add more covenant ranks with effects like hiding what the challenges are going to change or providing fewer upgrades for your cards, I think it will keep the hardcore deck building fans happy for a long time.

I’ve found it hard to recommend deck builders recently because I’ve either thought they were clones of other games, not all that exciting or they have too much going on, however, in Monster Train they have managed to balance replayability and creativity. If you’re a fan of deck builders or are new to the genre, I feel comfortable saying you will love Shiny Shoe’s unique take. It brought back my love for deck builders, has a soundtrack that you will be humming daily, and a creative art style. It’s definitely, in my opinion, well deserving of the overwhelmingly positive review scores it has received on Steam.  If you need any more incentive to buy it then the developers have just released a new update introducing more end game content and card balancing to the mix. I’ve been very surprised at how well the two different game types fit together and it brings me hope to see more experimentation like this in the deck building genre. I can only hope that they announce a Nintendo Switch version very soon.

8 out of 10
DarkZero