The press releases speak of Here Be Monsters HD in the same light as Pokemon and World of Warcraft, but knowing that the title started off life as a Facebook game doesn’t exactly fill us with confidence that it will manage to fulfill those lofty marketing promises. In fact, this mis-selling probably does the game a disservice, as those who might actually enjoy its simple (albeit repetitive) pleasures might be put off by WoW comparisons.
Playing as an apprentice Trapper, your goal is to scour global locations for monsters and fantasy creatures inspired by actual folk tales and myths, which is a nice connection to the real-world, but something that never really reaches its potential. This involves setting up your own camp and workshop, wherein you can build specific traps to capture different monsters, grow the various bait necessary to attract your prey, and produce all of the consumable items you will need to travel the globe hunting monsters.
Rather than Pokemon, Here Be Monsters HD feels more similar to Harvest Moon or Animal Crossing: the theme of the title may be finding monsters, but the game is more often pre-occupied with performing basic fetch quests for NPC characters and farming or producing goods. The pace is very laid-back, and you are eased in slowly with an extended tutorial that actually takes a good few hours to work through. Even after this is complete, the game is largely driven by NPC quests, which means that there is always something to be doing, but not much sense of freedom.
The world is filled with other Trappers, but they are all stationary and one-dimensional, giving the game nonsense of life or activity. The writing is pretty uninspiring as well, and even when the game tries to liven up its cast with a touch of humour, it falls flat on the whole and it is more likely that you will quickly skip the conversations just to get onto the next quest. Nothing about the premise or action actually engages you to an extent where you really care what’s happening; you simply complete one task in order to get to the next one.
Despite having many quests and objectives to carry out, there is little on offer to actually challenge the gamer. All missions are fairly simple, requiring you to head back to your base and grow a plant, or search the active screen to scavenge resources. They are all relatively short, which does allow you to drop in and out in quite a casual manner – which probably stems from its web-based roots. Despite all the options and the busy HUD, Here Be Monsters is pretty shallow and can all be picked up very quickly.
By completing quests and the like, you earn coins, notes and energy. Your energy is finite, so you cannot constantly globe-trot at leisure. Thankfully though, this isn’t a case of needing to buy more energy or wait for two real time hours for your energy to re-fill. Instead, you simply harvest some of your crops, or pick some fruit from nearby trees, all of which fill your energy. There is also little emphasis on money, so despite there being options to upgrade your home or buy more powerful options using real-world currency, most of what you actually need to progress can be earned through natural gameplay progression. In a title that you would expect to be focused on in-app purchases, this makes a refreshing change.
What is sad though is that the touted MMO features are very shallow indeed. You can travel the world with another player from your friend list, meet up and trade items, but this makes no gameplay difference to the game. No other features are available with a friend and it seems very much like an afterthought. When you imagine an MMO, you think of hundreds or more player-controlled characters, playing in the same space at the same time, but this is certainly not the case here and the multiplayer aspects are very basic. Strangely though, whilst multiplayer is far from essential, the game as a whole can only be played when connected to the internet. This is baffling as Here Be Monsters is closer to a single-player game than anything else.
VERDICT: If you enjoy the simple pleasures found in more laconic titles such as Animal Crossing, or the life of farming and trading popularised in Harvest Moon, then Here Be Monsters HD may well hold some sort of hypnotic charm for you. The gameplay is thoroughly repetitive and uninspired, but this undemanding approach does allow you to enter a sort of Zen-like state of relaxation, while still feeling like you are completing quests and achieving something. For most however, there is very little in the way of an actual game on offer here. Its Facebook roots are still firmly exposed and despite its ambitious claims it is a thoroughly casual game, which sadly lacks enough character or charm to let it stand out against a swathe of similar titles.
AVERAGE. The epitome of a 50/50 game, this title will be unspectacular but inoffensive, charmless but amiable. We aren’t condemning a game by scoring it a 5, but we certainly aren’t championing it, either.