Monsters and Monocles delivers solid, frantic twin-stick shooter action

Monsters and Monocles is a four-player twin-stick shooter wherein you blast your way through hordes of supernatural monsters in a Victorian steampunk world. It’s standard twin-stick shooter fare, but then this genre is generally one that gets by pretty well by sticking to the basics. It launched last week in Early Access, but even in this early stage, it’s still a plenty fun and solid game.

The premise is that the owner of a curiosities shop essentially opens Pandora’s Box (or vase, rather), unleashing all manner of horrors onto the world. Our heroes, flying through the skies aboard their airship, read about the incident in the newspaper and immediately leap into action. From there you’re given the choice of three locations: a mansion, Egyptian-style ruins, and the streets of a Victorian-era city. The full game will have three additional areas, which remain grayed out for the current Early Access build.

Each area contains two levels capped off with a boss fight. The levels are large and packed to the brim with monsters, such that your starting revolver doesn’t often feel adequate. Luckily it isn’t hard to obtain new firearms to more efficiently cut through the enemy hordes. Your arsenal ranges from the typical variety of shotguns and automatic rifles to the classics like stake launchers to ridiculous weapons like an oven that launches explosive pastries. It’s a little disappointing that there aren’t more silly firearms like that at the moment (or if there are, I haven’t seen them yet). They’re by far the most fun to use.

Getting through each level is difficult. Between the massive number of monsters roaming the field and the objectives that require you to clean out every corner of the map, finishing any one area is no easy task. The action quickly becomes intense. Between hardier foes like scorpions firing waves of projectiles or werewolves constantly lunging at you while smaller foes harass you, such as spider-like eyeballs spitting webs to slow you down, it never takes long to become overwhelmed. Escaping their clutches is thrilling, but more often than not, I ended up dying just before clearing the current wave of monsters I was dealing with. I always ran through most of my lives before reaching the boss, barely scraping by if I did somehow succeed. As it is, the game feels balanced with multiplayer in mind. Running solo is certainly feasible, but it’s also a much steeper uphill battle.

I haven’t yet been able to make a successful run through all three zones consecutively, but there doesn’t seem to be an overarching goal at the moment. The signposts outside the level select room on the airship merely says to complete all the levels to start the next loop and get better loot. Beyond that, it’s hard to say whether there’s an actual endgame. I suspect finishing all the levels technically counts as beating the game, with every subsequent loop afterward acting as a fresh new game plus cycle.

The pursuit for loot manifests primarily in the relics, incremental upgrades you can equip to your character. They range from things like boosting damage dealt with certain weapons to lessening the recovery time on your dash. Little things that make a big difference in the long run. They’re also the only items that carry over between playthroughs. Any weapons, armor, or items you find – which grant small bonuses in exchange for weakening you elsewhere (faster rate of fire at the cost of less effective knockback, for instance) – are lost upon a game over.

The developers say they plan to have the game finished within the next ten months. Given how most of the game’s systems seem to be in place, I’m curious to see how it’ll change in the coming months. Monsters and Monocles is available now on Steam Early Access for $14.99.

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