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The world isn’t lacking in Pokémon clones, but Monster Sanctuary sets itself apart by adding Metroidvania-style platforming to the mix. The main character is given a Spectral Familiar at the start of the game, and from there players collect over one hundred different monsters to fill out the party. In addition to combat, the monsters fill the exploration role of most platformers, granting abilities like cutting vines or pushing blocks. Players will find themselves searching every nook and cranny of the map trying to find monsters to fill out their team, and when they aren’t using their monster friends to explore, they’re using them for combat. Each battle in the game is challenging, so knowing the combo mechanics and how to stack buffs or debuffs is the key to victory.
While combat tests the player, the game incorporates many anti-frustration features to keep it welcoming for any player. Monsters always hatch at a few levels below the highest level monster, and the game gives out multiple level boosting items, eliminating the need for grinding. It is also easy to reset the skill tree of any monster if a player needs to re-think their combat tactics. All of this comes together to make a game that’s challenging to finish, but not tedious. Monster Sanctuary is a charm to play, and is worth checking out if you’re a fan of platforming or monster collecting.
Happy Ray Games’ Ikenfell is the queer magic school adventure that 2020 needed. The friendships that develop between the main characters are honest, cozy, and complicated by a relatable mix of magical and interpersonal threats. Although spending time with its students is Ikenfell’s greatest pleasure, the tactical combat and secret-filled grounds also give it some crunch. The soundtrack, which is defined by aivi & surasshu’s layered synths and boosted by guest collaborators, is emblematic of the whole shebang, evoking the nostalgic charm of yesteryear and powering it up with modern polish and heart.
There is such a deluge of indies that it’s difficult to stand out from the pack. Wintermoor Tactics Club succeeds by bringing generous amounts of heartfelt charm to the tactical RPG genre. With a cute story involving a series of snowball fights to save a tabletop gaming club from being shut down, the narrative shines as players slowly learn how the school’s clubs provide a place for each of the different groups in the school to belong. When combined with a fine tactical system, it makes for a welcome break from the overload of fantasy-based tactical RPGs.
by Kelley Ryan, Zach Welhouse, and Joshua Carpenter