Review – Heroes of the Monkey Tavern

Heroes of the Monkey Tavern doubles down on its old school approach to an old school dungeon crawler. This plays as if you just dug out an old cartridge from your mom’s attic and popped it in to see if it still runs. Take that for what it is, but Heroes of the Monkey Tavern looks and runs like an 80’s dungeon crawler, in both good and bad (and sometimes very bad) ways.

You are four travelers who have seen your share of adventure and treasure but have also spent your share as well. Drinking away your days at The Monkey Tavern, broke and in need, a man approaches you with a quest that might appeal to you. At this point, the setup and narrative are done away with and you jump right into creating your four character slots.

Right from the opening, the sound already felt aged. The narrator came off as an awkward college freshman giving his first verbal presentation to the class. This may or may not have been done on purpose to capture a yesteryear feel. Oddly enough, the sound quality improved drastically the moments they weren’t saying anything. The creek of the floor, the slither of an unseen snake, the crackling of a torch. And the soundtrack  really felt accomplished, working very well with the mood and feel of the game as I adventured through each level. Graphics, of course, are retro as well but it was that the character models never truly fit for me. Something just seemed off. Maybe that their modeling seemed to be not as purposely aged as the environment.

Not being certain how this plays on PC, the porting to ‘console controls’ is just awful. I mean, “Put the game down and walk away” bad. You don’t use the left thumb stick to move but rather use the directional tabs. That would be fine except the thumb stick is not useless. No, pushing up on the thumb stick is how you use your potions. I went through many a potion during my adventure simply because left thumb stick is engrained in my head as movement. Using the right thumb stick allows you to just glance left and right and the D-Pad allows you to strafe left and right. But to turn left and right; that you need to use the R and L buttons. Confused yet? Me too.

Another issue, I assume due to being a PC game ported to a handheld, is the UI for Heroes of the Monkey Tavern could use a lot of work, or at least to give a quick tutorial. I enjoy a game that doesn’t have to hold my hand but I need to understand your UI. Learning to do the simplest of tasks like swap between characters or even choosing a basic loadout was a chore. After a little bit of time, you figure it out but due to changing a mouse controlled PC game to console button layouts, it is anything but intuitive.

The good news is that all this hits you in the first 10 minutes of the game. Once you get past this, there is a solid dungeon crawler underneath. People might not like that it isn’t an upgraded version of a classic genre, but rather a classic take on that classic genre, but they do what they set their sights on and give you a solid four or five hours of dungeon crawling, map taking and fantasy questing.

Battles are in real time and have you managing the battle with the A, B, ZL and ZR buttons. Use ZL and ZR to switch between characters. Use A and B to use their primary or secondary weapon quickly. Once they start throwing more than one enemy at you, being indecisive with your attack can be a nightmare. My only issue here was certain weapons were difficult to see when they were available for me to use again, as weapons and spells need a cooldown period. The strange battle system did make it difficult but you do see progress in it with each hour and enemy giving you a feeling that you are mastering it.

Heroes of the Monkey Tavern is a difficult game to gauge, or to recommend. In the end, I enjoyed my time in it but unless you love Dungeon Crawlers, or more specifically: old school archaic Dungeon Crawlers you use to boot up on your Atari or Commodore 64, then I don’t know if this will give you what you want. But if you do yearn for that, then this game does deliver.


HotMT Score

Reviewed on Switch.
Also available on: PC, PSN
Copy of Heroes of the Monkey Tavern provided by publisher