Like many fields, video games have always had their fads. There has always been, and in every generation, a predominant genre of game on the market. However, if today’s open-world action adventure game takes precedence, the market has never been so vast in terms of what the medium has to offer (especially thanks to the independent scene). So much so that we can still discover in 2021 games claiming to be from older genres.
This is the case of Monkey Barrels, an heir to shoot’em up, an ancestral genre of the video game medium. And if he is qualified as an heir, it is because he is not so anchored in the genre as long as in another derivative of the shoot’emp up, the dual-stick shooter (ou twin-stick shooter).
As a reminder, this style is quite similar to its predecessor, except that it does not follow a horizontal or vertical scrolling, but leaves the player free to move in a level. Then, and this is where it takes its name, you control the character with the left stick, when the right is used to aim. So much for the formula of the genre.
A formula that the Good Feel studio has applied to the letter with Monkey Barrels. Giving it a solid foundation but lacking in innovation. Perhaps this is the reason why it was very little talked about when it was released on Switch in November 2019. Fortunately, its arrival on PC offers us a second chance to find out.
(Monkey Barrels test on PC made from code provided by the publisher)
But before talking about the game itself, it’s interesting to take a look at the studio that developed it, the Good Feel studio. Founded in 2005, it cut its teeth for a few years by producing educational games. Then will come a partnership with Nintendo which will have given us some of the most kawaii titles of the Japanese giant, namely Kirby: Over the Great Adventure and Yoshi’s Woolly World. Games that will bring to the Good Feel studio a certain recognition from the press and the public.
It is therefore quite logical that Monkey Barrels, being their first self-published production, attracts attention. And the least we can say is that the teams at studio Good Feel have infused their game with something very Nintendo. Here, immediately fun arcade gameplay in a colorful and cute setting.
Monkey Barrels takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where all of the world’s household appliances were turned into killing machines by the terrible company Crabbenworld Electro. Humanity having been decimated, only anthropomorphic apes remain living in the rubble of cities. This is the case of Masaru, Hanako and Kotetsu who are living their best lives in a ruined Tokyo. Until the day when poor Kotestu is kidnapped by the machines of Crabbenworld. Neither one nor two of his friends comes to his rescue.
We are therefore closer to the scenario of the first Super Mario Bros. than that of a Final Fantasy. Besides, apart from a little twist at the end of the game, the storyline is clearly just an excuse for this arcade-oriented title.
Peach Kotetsu got kidnapped and you go to his rescue, period.
Finding Kotestsu will require crossing 22 levels divided into 5 zones, presenting post-apocalyptic versions of iconic places in Japan (Tokyo, Mount Fuji, Osaka, etc.). Once the introductory sequence and the tutorial level have been passed, we meet at “camp”. It is a kind of hub that we return to after each level and which allows us several things. It is among other things that we will select who of Masaru or from Hanako one wishes to embody. By the way, nothing apart from the boy / girl distinction differentiates the characters from one another.
The differentiation in terms of gameplay will come only from the weapons. Their purchase and selection from the inventory also takes place in the camp, and only in the camp. Impossible indeed to change character and weapons once a level launched. The camp is still equipped with a training ground in order to test the toys in our possession before launching an assault on the killer TVs.
Speaking of toys, it is possible to carry two main weapons, in addition to two “secondary” weapons (grenades, mines, turrets). We will therefore have to choose our equipment according to the type of enemies that we will meet in order to hope to reach the next level. These levels are generally a succession of corridors and rooms asking us to destroy everything that moves in order to move forward. In their wake, defeated enemies will drop various resources. Starting with bolts, necessary for the purchase of weapons at the camp store.
We will also find bananas to restore our health, energy drinks making grow a bar of “Wild Power” which once full increases our power tenfold for a limited time, not to mention ammunition. Because if the main weapons have unlimited ammunition, secondary weapons are limited and require looting ammunition packs to be reloaded.
From there, not much changes, we chain the levels by exploding cathode-ray televisions and other hi-fi devices until the boss at the end of the level, then at the end of the zone. History to break a little inerrant repetitiveness, some levels put us in control of vehicles. We therefore find ourselves either driving a tank in levels similar to those on foot, or riding a bike in very classic shoot’em up levels. Note that the choice of weapons becomes totally unnecessary in these levels, the vehicles having their own assigned weapons. A frustrating chouillat, especially as we find in looting unnecessary ammunition.
On the whole classic, Monkey Barrels nevertheless works very well. Our ape heroes are easy to handle and the different weapons are fun to play, even if the wackiest of them, and therefore fun, are rarely the most effective. So much so that after a few experiments we find ourselves returning to the good old machine gun and potato launcher combo. But after all, it also depends on how each person plays.
Regarding its difficulty, Monkey Barrels does not suggest selecting any. On the other hand, two elements help to overcome the peaks of difficulty that the game presents to us. The first of these elements comes directly from the base gameplay. It is possible to roll which acts both as a jump to reach certain places in the level, but also as a dash allowing, if executed at the right time, to dodge enemies and their projectiles.
A good way to get out of crossfire that would have signed the game over. The second element appears, just after several repeated game over and simply offers to try again with more life points, in fact alleviating the difficulty.
98 reasons to play
So, the 22 levels that make up the story are completed in 5-6 hours on average. We can obviously return to the previous levels at will. Whether it’s to complete each level 100%, get a higher score or beat the clock by finishing the level as fast as possible.
Alas, only completing the level to 100% seems to unlock a reward, this being the right to buy new weapons in the camp store. Not very engaging in terms of replayability. Honestly, we relaunch the levels a lot more to try out the entire gargantuan arsenal of 98 different weapons that we build up as the game progresses.
An arsenal that can also be unleashed against other players via the online mode. Accessible in the camp, this mode offers confrontations of 4 to 6 players where the life bars are replaced by bananas. Like Sonic’s rings, bananas are thrown to the ground when a player gets hit. From there the goal is simple, to finish the game with a maximum of these fruits. Quite pleasing during the first parts, this mode bears the same scars as the rest of the game. Very classic and presenting no innovation, it inevitably ends up boring.
Monkey Barrels made in the arcade game that goes straight ahead. It’s instant fun that isn’t meant to be enjoyed over the long haul. An inheritance of the games of the times of the smoky rooms and that is also felt in its packaging. With its 3D pixel-art graphics and modernized 8-bit music, the title of Good Feel has a real taste of refreshed retro that is definitely appreciable.
Finally, although we have not compared this PC version to the Switch version with the controller in hand, we will still note a pleasant addition. The ability to configure the keys as you wish on a joystick and keyboard / mouse, for optimal comfort. As well as a frequency of 60 frames per second and support for several resolutions, just to take advantage of the fluidity of the title and its graphics.
Good Feel has clearly played it safe with this first self-published title. Monkey Barrels is a solid dual-shooter with tried and tested mechanics that work, but on the other hand don’t add anything special. However, although classic, it remains a fully satisfying experience if you only have an hour of play in front of you. Especially since it is offered on the Epic Games Store at the low price of 7.19 € until February 9, when it will return to its initial price of 11.99 €
The fluid and dynamic gameplay, accompanied by the 3D pixel-art graphics, easily pushes to progress in the game. As are the many, many weapons, all quite varied and fun to learn. It will also be the main reason for replayability, buying them and trying them out being the main reason that pushes to redo old levels.
Without being the best, Monkey Barrels remains good, even very good in its genre. Taking up a well-known formula, it will surely never be enthroned among the great works of the medium. And that’s okay. It’s the kind of game that we play between two big titles that will take us a hundred hours each. It’s a little treat that is instantly delicious, but you wouldn’t eat tons of it.