Review – Monster Rancher 1 + 2 DX
Wow, 1997 and 1999. That’s how long it’s been since the two Monster Rancher games that everyone remembers. I remember as a young lad going over to my friend’s place with a stack of CDs (he had a PlayStation while I had a Nintendo 64) and trying to generate the best monsters we could. Swapping out the disk to summon different monsters was a unique concept back then, even more so now when everything is digital. Even to this day, I can’t think of any games that have done anything quite like the Monster Rancher titles. Unless you want to include the annoyance of swapping back and forth between disks in Mass Effect; if the mission you wanted to do was on disk one, but you were on disk two of the story.
So that’s pretty much the main concept of Monster Rancher. You swap out disks to summon various monsters, then train them, make them work, power them up, and fight in tournaments. This time though, we are looking at a digital release on the Switch. As a result, you do lose the joy of swapping out CDs to see what you would end up getting. It’s also the age of the Internet, so if you really want to, there’s probably a website out there which catalogued every outcome with every CD available through the game. This time around, you simply type in an album name, or the artist, and the game will give you a list of everything available. Weirdly, a lot of underground metal bands have more albums listed than a band like Iron Maiden, whose career spans forty years and countless albums, remasters, singles, etc. Not a game breaker, but an oddity worth mentioning.
After all is said and done, and you’ve finally decided what album will make your monster of choice, it’s time to train it up. Everything works on a weekly schedule. Work takes a week and a tournament takes a week. Every month your monster needs food, which costs varying amounts depending on its quality, which will determine how much it can increase your monster’s stats. Money is earned from working menial jobs or winning tournaments, so the game encourages you to get your monster out there in the job market.
Working also helps to boost stats even further, making it crucial to its development. However, your monster can fail to complete its job and waste a week, which you can then scold if you’re a cold-hearted bast… nevermind, I’m getting off topic. All this stuff will make anyone tired, so when your monster is feeling tired, you need to let it rest. Which takes an extra week. The outcome of not letting it rest? A trip to the hospital, for even more weeks at a time.
Tournaments are pretty simple to understand: your monster has different attacks that can be used based on distance from your opponent. Your goal is to either knock out your opponent, or deal the most damage to them before the time runs out. If you want to take the easy way out, you can even let your monster fight on their own, with minimal interference or input.
Your monster’s loyalty also plays a factor on how fights go, as disloyal monsters will tend to not listen to what your have to say when you tell it to attack. Kind of like when your friend trades you their level 100 starter in Pokémon to battle the first gym: Charizard won’t give you the time of day, as you would eventually find out in the worst of ways. Tournaments consist of four monsters in a group stage, akin to the World Cup. Everyone fights each other once and the winner is whoever has the most wins at the end of it all.
If you’re heartless (like me, I didn’t like my original monster), you can also dump your monster and go back for a new one whenever you wish. Same rules apply, just search for an artist or album name and take your pick. It’s surprising how up to date this list is, with a ton of albums released after 1999. Unfortunately though, just because all these albums are named in the game, that doesn’t save the game’s soundtrack.
As far as I can recall, the music is the same as the one featured in the original games, which was fine for the time, but not today. The music from the 90s PlayStation era can certainly do with a touch up though. Even if you are releasing it on the Switch, a system where you can occasionally ignore some sound issues due to its portable nature, these games deserve better than that late and aggressive 90s PS1 era compression.
The weird thing about these games is how similar they are. Save for a few small details on how things are done between the two, like taking on jobs happening at the ranch vs jobs you can take when visiting a town, they are very much the same game. Especially in the modern age, where they have the exact same CD list, so the idea of upgrading doesn’t really apply here to make it work with more recent CDs.
Another interesting choice is to keep the presentation the exact same as it was back in the day. I do appreciate that the screen wasn’t simply stretched to make it fit the Switch’s 16:9 aspect ratio, but at the very least I would have liked a small graphical improvement to make the animations less strained and dated as they do right now. Not to mention the aforementioned issue with the in-game soundtrack and sound effects.
If you’re looking for some childhood nostalgia, look no further than Monster Rancher 1 + 2 DX. If you have never played these games before, this will probably do absolutely nothing for you because, to be honest, these games are much more sluggish than they ever felt back around release. Welcome to the joys of the evolution of gaming. Some games can withstand the test of time, others can not. Monster Rancher is unfortunately a game that should be returned to solely for nostalgia’s sake.
If there is anything in Monster Rancher that could have used a bit of polish, it was the graphics. No matter what you remember, the 90s was not a pretty time for gaming and this just helps to prove that point. At least they didn’t try to stretch out the screen; there’s just a lot of dead space instead.
Nostalgia let me remember these games were a lot of fun. Nostalgia forgot what these games actually were. A lot of sitting around and watching the screen. The most interactive part of the game is the tournaments, and those don’t even have to be played by you.
The music and sound effects are still compressed to all hell in these Monster Rancher games. Using any monster that’s meant to let out a growl sounds painful.
Returning to Monster Rancher is something that should really only be done if you’re craving for some childhood nostalgia, or proving a point to the younger generation of the games we grew up with.
Final Verdict: 5.0
Monster Rancher 1 + 2 DX is available now on Nintendo Switch, PC.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Monster Rancher 1 + 2 DX was provided by the publisher.