Gaming titles on the Nintendo Wii are light these days. There's not always a lot of quality titles out there and not very many games with a lot of depth. There are some excellent games, don't get me wrong. However, there has been little to grab my attention and hold on to it.
I stumbled across Atari's Monster Lab a week or so ago. With the initial perusal, the game appeared to be a conglomeration of sorts. Various RPG elements, some building elements, and most notably...some "Pokemon" elements. Another dirty little secret about myself, I love Pokemon on the Nintendo DS. It's a simple game, but the obsessive nature of collecting combined with another rabid fan in my household (that being the 8 year old daughter), it's easy to get caught up in. So, seeing as "Monster Lab" promised to have some similar elements, I decided to track it down.
Where "Pokemon" centers around capturing cute and fluffy little animals and forcing them to fight other fluffy animals a la Michael Vick, "Monster Lab" tweaks this formula. Here you are cast in the role of a mad scientist and you built your creatures instead of capturing them and forcing them to live in a small and cramped ball that you toss absentmindedly into your backpack. The core of the game is simple; you run various simple missions around the current stage for your mad doctor mentor Dr. Fuse and battle other monsters. These battles take place in the form of "Pokemon" style turned base action choosing various attacks. Where "Monster Lab" expands on this mechanic is that it is target based. Your attacks very depending on what limb you choose to attack with; pressing up on the nunchuck control stick selects the head which may give you the option of Optic Blasts or Chomp. Pressing the the right will choose right armed attacks varying on what weapons you've built into the appendage. There are specific attacks for each limb based on how you have put your monster together. In addition to this, each attack targets certain limbs on your opponent. To win a bout, you must target shots and either destroy your opponents torso, or knock off his limbs and head. Simple and addictive for the most part, the combat portion works well though it does become repetitive after a bit.
In addition to simple combat, another aspect of the game is item collection. In reward for winning fights, you obtain various bits and pieces from your opponent. This can range anywhere from an 'iron spring' to 'seaweed'. These items get deposited to your inventory and you continue to work on your objective in town fighting away. There are also various mini games sprinkled about town that use various wiimote waggling techniques to accomplish. These will give you additional parts as well. These parts how ever are where the fun begins.
After you complete your objectives you are called back to Dr. Fuse's castle. In here you are taken through the various labs he contains within, which in turn opens yet another facet of game play and allows the true fun and variation to shine. With your various parts in hand, you head to the labs and make new parts for your monster. There are any number of combinations to put together, each bringing about a different result. To combine these parts, each appendage is assigned a different mini game that you must play. Your score and time in these mini games will in turn effect the quality of the part your assembling. Do well, you main gain some extra powers to your new body part. Screw up, you main find some defects that hinder your performance. The various mini games are fun and add some spice to the repetitive battle action packed earlier in the game.
"Monster Lab" isn't the next killer app for the Wii, but it's still a lot of fun for a system that hasn't had a lot of high end titles in it's library. The game appeals to those obsessive collector gaming types, as well as those like me who get addicted to the never ending upgrade process! The graphics, as expected on the Wii, are not stellar. They are however good enough to be passable. With some good humor thrown in and some nice spooky yet cartoony atmosphere, "Monster Lab" is fun enough to recommend to kill some time while waiting for the next "Mario Galaxy" if nothing else.