REVIEW: Super Monday Night Combat Invitational - This 8-Bit Life
I’ve recently had the chance to check out the invitational beta for Super Monday Night Combat thanks to a good friend and I must say that I am very impressed. I feel like this game has real potential to be one of the best Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) style games to release in a while due to its addictive mix of action, strategy and style. Over the course of more than 10 hours I have gone from getting my butt handed to me every few minutes to actually scoring a few kills occasionally, and I’ve loved every minute of it!
A Bit of History
Way back in 2010 a game was released for the Xbox 360 called Monday Night Combat. The game featured a mix of class-based shooter concepts and tower defense. Many would have argued that it tried very hard to emulate the style of the ultra-popular Team Fortress 2. Everything was there from the slightly cartoonish art style to the over-the-top announcer. The major differences being the inclusion of tower defense elements and the somewhat unique setting. Monday Night Combat was presented to the player as a sort of future sport where teams of ‘pros’ would battle it out in an arena for money. The end goal being for one team to breach the tower defenses of the other and attack that team’s “money-ball”. The game was a success for its developer Uber Entertainment but was soon plagued by people exploiting glitches in the game to ensure a win. The game was nearly unplayable for a few weeks and its XBLA community all but dried up after that. The game found a steady following after its release to Steam for the PC and eventually recovered some of its player base on Xbox as well thanks to much rigorous patching from the Uber team. Fast forward to today and Uber Entertainment is looking to take the MNC franchise to a new level with the second iteration – Super Monday Night Combat.
New Game, New Rules… Sort of.
Super Monday Night Combat is quite a bit different from its predecessor. To begin with we have a ton of new pros to choose from – characters like Captain Spark, a melee focused type that looks a lot like the Rocketeer, and Cheston, a ranged ‘heavy’ type who also happens to be a socially refined silverback gorilla. All told the new game contains eight new pros to play as with each bringing a well nuanced play style. This does a lot to freshen up the game and add to its already quirky flavor. Currently beta testers are limited to a rotating roster of characters to choose from unless they decide to use coins earned from playing matches to unlock a pro permanently. Players also have the option to purchase in-game currency to unlock characters. They can spend their real world money on boosts such as XP multipliers to help the steep climb of leveling as well.
This move to a free-to-play model should do well for Uber Entertainment as similar models have proven quite lucrative for many other developers. It should also make the game a bit more accessible and visible to gamers who might otherwise have simply glossed over SMNC. Along with making the game free-to-play the team at Uber also plans to regularly roll out new pros for players to purchase and learn. This will hopefully keep the game fresh and interesting for some time to come.
When you load up the beta you will notice that right from the word go this game looks and feels different from the original. The UI is very in-depth but in all honesty a bit overwrought in my opinion. Many sections just look like a cluttered and near incomprehensible mess until you’ve had time to explore them and learn your way around. I should note that as this is a beta it is very likely that the UI is nowhere near finalized and that the dev team is probably spending most of their time tweaking the gameplay. I have faith that the UI will be cleaned up by the time the game goes gold.
For the player that loves to tweak attributes and customize the hell out of a character this is your game. From the main menu you have access to the “Locker Room” and it is from here that you can create individual profiles for the different pros that you have available. These profiles contain your pro’s custom costumes, weapons, endorsements and products. Even better you can have multiple profiles for the same character type meaning you can try out various builds of the same pro between games! This is sure to satisfy the obsessive compulsive control freak in all of us.
The costumes I mentioned previously are pretty much self-explanatory. You have the option of unlocking costumes with in-game currency to decorate your pros. This is nothing particularly special but it’s a nice little addition. You will also be able to purchase new weapons that will presumably have improved stats over the stock options that your pro starts with. I say ‘will’ because I have not yet seen any new weapons available for purchase yet in the beta. I cannot wait to purchase some fancy doombringer of a hand-cannon though. Currently players can purchase stat upgrades for things like accuracy and critical hit rate in the form of endorsements however. This is a carry-over from the previous iteration and MNC veterans should find it ultimately familiar. You are presented with a grid of slots for placing active endorsements and each slot unlocks as you level up in the game. These configurations can be saved in their own right and applied to a profile as a set. This makes putting together a new build really quick and easy once you’ve spent the time to set everything up. Last but not least we have the products. As mentioned before these bestow a character with specific abilities such as dropping a health bomb when you die so that your untimely demise can benefit your team. You can have up to three products active at any time and of course you have the option of building different load-outs. I haven’t found any products yet that felt over-powered or any that felt terribly ineffective but I also have not earned enough cash to unlock them all yet.
Matchmaking is a pretty standard affair with options for building a game and inviting specific players either from your friends list and general chat or to simply play a quick match by selecting a region specific queue and waiting for enough people to join. As with most games of this type you are given about 30 seconds to select a class and a load-out. Once you’ve selected your choice you have the option to lock in that class so that other players can’t take it. Each team is limited to one player of each character type which really helps the balance of the game. After all, no one wants to go up against a team of 5 guys playing Gunners that are min-maxed for damage.
Is Something Missing?
Super Monday Night Combat has forsaken its tower defense roots and I’m still on the fence as to whether that is good or bad. Of course we still have the bots (creeps) and we still have towers as well but gone is the ability to upgrade or heal a tower. This is presumably intended to increase the player vs. player action and bring everything more in line with the MOBA style that the original was inspired by. I do miss being able to play as the Support class and focus on base defense while healing my team. This change has made even these characters play a bit more offensively by necessity. They are still integral to base defense but not to the degree that they used to be. Part of me really enjoys the more strategic and action based gameplay here but I have to admit that I have a thing for tower defense and MNC scratched that itch really well. Now turrets feel only like minor obstacles to advancement into a base.
I am conflicted about this shift because Uber really has created an different game here. The original and this new version play quite differently. I’m inclined to say that I like both MNC and SMNC equally for their respective play styles though. Realistically if I am just jonesing for some third-person shooter/tower defense action I can always go back and play the original and still enjoy it. I just won’t be getting the benefit of the more polished graphics, new pros or expanded endorsements. This is not necessarily a bad thing.
New Challengers Await
SMNC has brought eight new pros to the game. Some are updates to previous character types, others are hybrids and still others are completely new breeds. The roster feels really full and well-rounded already but to make things even more interesting the team at Uber intends to have regular releases of new pros for players to learn and master. Each new character brings with them their own play style and I think that some will present a fairly steep learning curve even for seasoned gamers.
So let’s take a look at what pros are available so far:
- Cheston – A well spoken Gorilla with a Tommy gun! He has a charge attack that I’ve honestly found to be nearly useless, a roar ability that can buff and heal nearby teammates, and an explosive barrel that he can roll at enemies to deal a nice chunk of damage. His secondary weapon is a club that seems to be really effective against bots.
- Gunslinger – A southern girl after my own heart with a rifle (lacking a scope) that increases in firing rate as she hits a target. She can shoot multiple enemies in the kneecap to slow them down, fire a cone of damage a short distance in front of her and buff herself with a double fire-rate for a short time. Her secondary weapon is a six-shooter that feels a bit weak.
- Combat Girl – A clone of the original game’s ‘Pit Girl’. She is essentially just a highly improved Support character. Her primary weapon is a multi-branched hurt/heal gun with a really slow rifle as a secondary. She can drop multiple little cat-bot turrets, buff all structures including her own turrets, and she can fire a laser about the size of her body at enemies. It almost feels like they just wanted to replace the Support character with her.
- Wascot – The Wascot is perhaps one of the oddest pros yet. He is sort of an evil doppelganger to the game’s mascot Bullseye that carries around a gun which fires exploding coins. He can debuff enemy accuracy, counter grapples and steal life, and sort of fling himself a long distance to get out of trouble. His secondary weapon is a studded leather paddle with a heart shaped hole that he spanks enemies to death with. I loved typing that sentence.
- Veteran – He is a fat luchadore character that fires homing eagle-head shaped energy blasts from a gauntlet. He has abilities like a grapple attack that pulls an enemy to him so he can do massive amounts of melee damage, a dash attack, and a throw that is particularly effective for ring outs. His secondary weapon is a spiked bar stool lined with nails that he swings like a war mace.
- Karl – A robot who seems to have some real self-loathing issues. He fires a semi-auto mini rail gun that has a decent fire-rate. His abilities include the Prop Hop which he uses to leap into the air dealing AoE damage to enemies, launching a proximity bomb robot called Junior and firing an electrical/explosive charge that explodes on contact. His secondary weapon is a four-shot semi-auto grenade launcher that does a good bit of damage.
- Captain Spark – An electric powered melee focused character that looks a hell of a lot like the Rocketeer. He uses an electric sword that hits twice per attack and deals a considerable amount of damage. He has the ability to teleport through walls, temporarily blind enemies with a flash attack, and grapple-throw enemies. His secondary weapon is a ray gun that does very minor damage and seems to really only be effective for harassment.
- Megabeth – She’s a roller derby blocker that favors area of denial attacks and explosives. Her primary weapon is an RPG launcher that obviously doles out the pain. Her abilities include a ranged disc that can ricochet off objects and stun enemies, a spin attack that damages all enemies in range, and a rocket skate ability that temporarily increases her speed.
I’ve really enjoyed playing with all of the new characters but I have definitely preferred the way that Cheston handles overall. I’m not normally a direct-combat oriented player in these games. I usually prefer the support classes as it’s what comes naturally to me but Cheston has a good combination of power and strategy that really appeals to me. With such distinct differences there should be a character for players of any sort.
A Fresh Coat of Paint
SMNC is running atop a new engine and it certainly shows. Character models pop with a lot more detail but still maintain that cartooned style of the original game. Levels are much more detailed, larger and less sterile than the previous iteration with many maps featuring outdoor locations and picturesque backdrops. The game is just plain pretty to look at already and I’m sure we’ll see some tightening up of the graphics as the game nears release.
The music is passable but then it was never really a focal point of the original either. The real meat of the sound in this game though lies in the voice acting. Each character still has a handful of sayings that they exclaim after a respawn or a kill. These are all pretty amusing and add a bit of flavor to what could otherwise be just a mute automaton. If there is one thing that MNC is known for though it has to be its enigmatic and oft distracted announcer, Mickey Cantor. Cantor calls the game from the sidelines and provides all of the ridiculous, unrelated and hilarious commentary that you could possibly want. He will randomly spout off advertisements for in-game products and remind the civilians watching from the stands that they are obligated to make it back home before their government mandated curfew. I have been hearing that the actor that voiced Cantor, Rodney Sherwood, may not be on hand to provide any new voice work for the game’s release however. It would be a shame if SMNC had to release with the same audio clips from the original.
Super Monday Night Combat is already getting a lot of things right here. The gameplay is fast paced and addictive, the art style is as fun to look at as ever and the roster of characters is varied enough to fit just about anyone’s tastes. They’ve done a really good job of balancing already though there are still a few seriously overpowered characters in the game (Megabeth I am staring directly at you!) but this is a beta after all and the point is to find what works and what doesn’t.
After putting in almost 10 hours in to this game I can certainly say that I’m hooked. I definitely miss some elements that were present in the previous game but the deeper I get into this new version the less I can fault it. It is very much its own game. Being a closed beta for the time being it may be difficult to get in but you can always try registering on Uber Entertainment’s website. I would highly recommend trying because this game achieves in beta what some games don’t even achieve in release; it’s just plain fun.