I don't have the best of times with these isometric titles, like Knight Lore and, here, Monster Max, but it's been a while since we've seen one, and this one is on the Game Boy, of all things. I've never heard of it, naturally, so we'll dive right in and see how far we get.
Music has been banned and our titular protagonist is a guitarist, so you can already see the conflict that will play out in this game, but how will we go about being able to play some tunes once more?
First of all, we've got to prove ourselves worthy of the challenge by progressing through a few tutorial stages and practice areas. Yes, this practice area is themed like a playschool or something. Yes, this is a rubber duck that allows you to crouch.
The Game Boy has two buttons and so Max will be able to carry two items. Some of these items will be almost literal stepping stones required to navigate the level, and others will give you abilities like jumping and crouching. You'll have to know when and where to abandon an object in favour of another in order to make your way through the levels.
I didn't get through too many levels. There are a few issues with Monster Max, but I know they can overcome in time.
Items can be picked up with either button and that button will then perform any associated action until the item is no longer in your possession. Makes sense. Jumping is tied to an item, and you can put that item into either slot. Get used to having it in the slot for the A button and then find you've ended up juggling it over to the B button, and now you can't jump until you remember that jump is now assigned to B, not A, until you juggle your items again. Not being able to jump at all and remembering that it was based on an item was another irksome moment.
Minor quibbles? Certainly. As is movement. Up on the d-pad is up-right on the screen. Left is up-left. Right is down-right. The isometric view will catch people out, and lining things up is critical, otherwise, you'll miss jumps, run into sharp obstacles, get caught by enemies and so on.
Health is limited and one hit is all it takes to lose a heart. Lose a heart on the same obstacle again and again, and you can see the opportunity for frustration to arise - and that's when you're not pressured by also having to time your movements with relation to whatever else is going on at the same time,
So yes, I was not having the greatest of times with Monster Max, but I think I'm safe in saying that this is one of the easiest to control games of its kind, despite my fumbles with the way everything works.
Perhaps cramming a game onto a Game Boy required the conventions of the genre to be fine-tuned to near perfection, perhaps I just prefer the Game Boy to the ZX Spectrum, I don't know. What I do know is that it - like most Game Boy titles - is worth a quick bash whether you think you'll like it or not. It's not like it'll take too much time to find out one way or another.
For me and Max, I'm going to have to concede defeat at getting good enough in any reasonable length of time and will watch his adventures at some point.
It is worth mentioning that despite music being banned in this world, the game is far from musically silent. Missed a trick there, guys. Who developed this anyway? Rare? Chuh, they should know better.
Released in 1994 but not sold in shops until a full year later, the game was only a big hit with critics.
Monster Max, developed by Rare, first released in 1994.
Version played: Game Boy, 1994, via emulation.
Version watched: Game Boy, 1994 (NintendoComplete)