There is something so wonderfully appealing about collection-based games, be it a monster-raising game like Pokémon, or Jade Cocoon, or a TCG like Yu-Gi-Oh, or Magic: the Gathering. It scratches that itch, that need to acquire and hoard, without the often hefty price tag that comes with such hobbies even if, admittedly, the digital format lacks the physical enjoyment, discovering something rare in a store, or the smell of new cards.
Monster Monpiece manages to satisfy the need to collect, with hundreds of different cards to obtain, but also succeeds in having quite solid combat. Indeed it has all the elements needed to be a great game, if it weren’t for the fact that the leveling system forces the whole game into a very specific niche.
You play as May, a student in a sort of monster-girl dueling academy with no real skill or confidence. Being a human means it is up to May to command legions of scantily-clad young monster-ladies, as long as she holds their card, to defend the realm from wild beast-girl attacks. While getting to know her school-assigned partner, a boisterous werewolf named Fia, the two are attacked by a mysterious enemy. When May's friend takes a blow meant for her and becomes possessed, the pair set out on a journey to save them. This story is nothing special, and the characters become indistinguishable personality-wise as the game progresses, serving as a backdrop for the game’s real star: the combat.
Combat takes place on the world map, as the player moves from city to city, by moving between nodes that dot the landscape. These nodes can be either empty, contain a reward such as cash or cards, or house an enemy for you to face. Combat itself takes place in a special arena composed of three lanes joining two buildings. The lanes are split into three segments, one red or blue coloured segment for each combatant, and one neutral grey zone. The point of the fight is to use cards to summon monster-girls into your coloured segment, the girls then move along the lanes towards the enemy building, also known as a HQ, where they inflict damage to it. The side which depletes their foe’s HQ of hit points first is the winner.
This premise is simple enough; regardless of how strong your cards are, each girl can only inflict one point of damage to a HQ, and once they have dealt damage to the building they vanish off the field. Of course your foes are summoning their own girls to the field, and with only three lanes, and the monsters only moving forward one square per turn, meeting in the middle is inevitable. This is where the depth comes into the combat. Cards are split into one of four types, the higher attack and higher HP melee cards, physically weaker ranged cards that can attack a few places ahead, buffers that empower the two attacking types, and magic cards that heal any friendly cards in front of them.
Each card also has a mana cost, so you not only have to decide which card is best suited for the situation, you also have to balance the weak cheaper cards with the more expensive powerhouses. Mana is regenerated a little at the start of your turn, with bonuses being accumulated depending on the cards you have summoned, and you can only summon one monster per turn. Despite this it's very easy to run low on mana if you don't plan your deck very well.
You can also fuse monsters on the battlefield, to give them a quick boost by overlaying creatures of the same species. Placing a dragon card on top of another dragon and it will receive a bonus to all stats, but only once. It adds an element of strategy to the skirmishes; do you risk sending out a magic type card and hope that they can catch up to your troops in time to heal them, or do you fuse your fighter to give them the edge? If these measures aren't enough to beat your opponents then you can always level up your cards. Once you have enough touch points earned from winning battles you can spend them on a mini game which, if successful, can make a card more powerful. The whole premise of the game is to poke and rub the cards’ artwork in order to find its sensitive zones, which explode in hearts when found. Continuing to touch these spots builds up a meter- fill this up before a timer expires and you will win the game and level up the card.
Here is where the game settles itself into its niche, as not only are the spots you have to poke largely erogenous areas, mainly breasts, genitals, and bottoms of the girls, but once leveled the artwork of each card changes, removing some of the clothes. The Steam version removes the censoring that the vita had, allowing you to remove an extra layer of clothing. Now, while some of the girls are drawn as adults, most of the artwork depicts the monsters as quite young, one in particular is dressed in a high school swimming costume. It's not unusual for the anime art style that is used here to depict girls as looking younger than they are, it's just not often you're asked to poke their underwear, in an effort to remove them, in what amounts to a mainstream game. Indeed some people may feel quite put off by this, especially with the younger-looking cards.
The PSP version was superceded by the Vita’s, where the touchpad saw players using their finger to rub and poke the cards. In the Steam release, however, the Vita’s touchpad is emulated by clicking and dragging the mouse. Laptop touchpads don't seem to work either, with Steam forum posts calling for their support and, despite claiming to support controller input, no controller worked without a third party program. The game feels like it's been stripped down from its handheld release, with multiplayer being removed, despite it being uncensored. Micro-transactions are still as prevalent in this release, allowing you to purchase in-game money, voice packs that change the sounds of your girls, and rare card boosters. There is an issue here though: all boosters bought here are saved to your system file, meaning that if you were to delete or lose this data all those cards are gone forever. There's no option to redownload the DLC -Which seems like a staggeringly poor decision.
Despite these issues the game is fun. It can get quite addictive while offering easy-to-grasp gameplay, and is quite long at around 40 hours. It can also get quite repetitive however, since there are no themed deck battles like in Yu-Gi-Oh, and each opponent can feel like a slightly stronger clone of the last. Not to mention the removal of multiplayer, lack of working controller support, and forcing players to partake in uncomfortable mini games may also be enough to put people off. If you can overlook these flaws then Monster Monpiece is certainly worth your time, a fun, if strange, addition to any card game fan’s collection.