Aug 30, 2012

iOS Game Review - NukoToys' Monsterology

Monsterology by NukoToys Inc
Version: 1.0.2 (Released August 24, 2012)
Reviewed on: iPod Touch 4th Gen
Suggested Age: 7+
Monsterology Website
Mosterology by NukoToys iPod Touch title screen
It's not your eyes or screen, the center is pixelated. Actual iPod screenshot
 A few months back, maybe during ToyFair 2012 coverage, I heard about a new game in the works from NukoToys Inc. called Monsterology. It was being based on the children's book of the same name.

You might be familiar with other -Ology books like Dragonology, Wizardology or, one of my favorites, Egyptology. I'm not exactly the target age range for these books but they are fantastic and even interactive to a degree. I was pretty excited after seeing the trailer but had forgotten about it until I saw the cards for sale in Target. Having been into monsters and mythology since I was a kid, I had to pick up a couple packs. Having a free game to go with them didn't hurt either.


The Cards

There are 100 cards to collect: 75 monsters and 25 traps/items. They're available at Apple stores, Toys R Us and select WalMart and Target stores. 3-card packs are $1.99 and 7-card packs are $3.99. I've heard there is a premium box of 28 cards for $19.99 as well. There are rarity levels to the cards but I'm not sure what the breakdown is per pack.

You can also buy packs virtually in the game. I understand the convenience, but I'm still a bit old school in that if I have the option, I will buy the physical cards. Plus, they're a lot easier to see than their virtual counterparts on the iPod Touch. Although there is a card viewer screen that lets you get closer, it's still not as large as an actual card. And you have the added bonus of being able to trade cards. I suppose you could actually borrow someone else's card and import it into your game to complete your virtual set.

Monsterology monster cards NukoToys

They have wonderful illustrations, just like the book, and a little fact about the subject. Each card has a cost to play and, if it's a monster, a Dangerosity Rating. There is also a colored icon on the bottom of the card which seems to be linked to its elemental type and/or attack type. The in game cards have game info on the back (below screenshot) that the physical cards don't. Would this info would be handy to have on the cards to help play the game? I can't say. It's also not clear if there's an advantage to using one elemental type vs another, such as water vs fire. You can't see this information on enemy creatures during the game so unless you have the card for that creature already, you have no way of knowing anyway.

Monsterology monster card

The magic of the physical cards is that you can tap them on the game screen to add them to your virtual library for use in the game. While researching, I found the cards have touch capacitive ink on both sides which allows you to tap either side of the card to the screen. More on that later.

The cards are great, even if they're cut in a weird shape. One thing that would have made them extra cool is to be able to play a game with them outside the video realm with another person. I suppose you could play a version of War with them, using their Dangerosity rating as the card's value. Trap cards would automatically trump any monster.

The Game

The basic story of the game has you joining the ranks of the Royal Society of Ologists (R.A.S.O.) to build an army of mythological monsters to start your battle against "the dark wizard Vidius Muldervane. Now, if you're wondering how they get RASO when there's no A-word in there, they often leave it out. It's actually the Royal and Arcane Society of Ologists. You are given three cards with the free download of the game.

Muldervane has his own army of creatures guarding each level. The goal is to capture the portal on the map to advance to the next occupied area. There are also treasure chests to open and towers to control that can grant special bonuses to your units. You start with a pool of Action Points (AP) that are used to play cards to the map and move your units. The stronger card a card is, the higher its AP cost.

Monsterology game play Yeti
Summoning a Yeti. More graphics pixelation!
When you get in range of an enemy monster, you tap on it to attack and they exchange a hit of poison spit, furry feet or whatever their preferred method of attack is. Initiating the attack can be important as the attacker strikes and damages first. If both monsters survive, they can fight again on the next turn or possibly run away. Monsters have varied movement rates and it will take time before you know which ones have a chance of out running others.

My Experience

I downloaded the previous version of the game last week. There was a message in the app store stating they would be addressing the issues with iPod Touch in the next release. I tried playing it anyway but it continually crashed before it could load a map. I was thrilled to see it updated recently to put a fix in place.

It still crashes on a fairly regular basis.

The app store says this is optimized for iPad and that seems obvious when trying to play it. I've played a lot of games on my iPod Touch but I've never felt the screen was too small to handle a game. As you can see from my screenshots, the graphics can be pixelated in places. This makes it difficult at best to read a card's stats when in game (see the bottom of above screenshot). Additionally, there is often a lag time of several seconds when touching an icon or monster and getting a reaction.

Importing the cards into the game has been frustrating for me. This is the screen for importing cards.

Monsterology tap a nuko screen

At first, I wasn't sure which side of the card I needed to tap to the screen. After several minutes of tapping both sides unsuccessfully, I went online. Fair warning: this is a pet peeve of mine with games. I don't feel I should have to leave the game to go to a website/forum to figure something out that should be obvious. The game is designed for ages 7 + up so you'd think someone that had been playing video games since Pong could get a handle on tapping a card to an iPod screen. It looks intuitive enough, they even give you an outline of where the card edge should be.

Turns out, they have a video to teach you! First thing: it will not work unless the card is flat on the screen, which means you have to remove any case. I don't know anyone that owns an iDevice that doesn't have it in a case 24/7, especially if a younger person is using it.  I've watched a few videos of this in action on an iPad and it works wonderfully and immediately, popping the creature/item right on the screen. Not so on the iPod Touch. I was able to get one creature imported last night, but again encountered lag between performing an action and getting results. I tried other cards and got the same confirmation sound, but no creature appeared.

The Verdict

Overall, I really want to like this game. The times I've been able to play I've enjoyed it. There's even some strategy involved. Unfortunately, you're not given enough information to make good choices. The only thing you have to go on is a monster's Dangerosity rating but even then sometimes you'll get beat down by a monster with the same Dangerosity as yours because you don't know how much damage it might do to your monster. Maybe it's the gamer in me but I just don't feel like they're presenting enough info to play the game the best I can.

The concept is a good one and I'll be interested to see if it's carried forward into games aimed at an older audience. Being able to buy cards in the app kind of makes the whole concept lose a little of its magic when you don't have to tap them into the game. And as mentioned before, being able to play with the cards in person would add a great value.

If you're an iPad owner and you like mythology and monsters, give it a try! If you're an iPod Touch owner, I would recommend on holding out for a possible update in the future to fix the crashing and trouble importing cards.
 
The game is free to download so you don't need to buy anything to check it out. But I can tell you, you'll be hard pressed to get beyond the second map without extra cards! NukoToys is even having a contest on their Facebook page now. If you send in a photo of the cards taken in a store, they will send you free cards. How cool is that?

If battling mythological monsters might be a bit much for your young one, NukoToys has another similar not-so-violent game called Animal Planet Wildlands. The cards represent various wild animals that you can use to explore the environment, race around and complete quests.

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