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Monster Madness: Grave Danger
Score: 60%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Southpeak Interactive
Developer: Psyonix
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Action

Graphics & Sound:
Monster Madness: Grave Danger is a spruced-up re-release of Monster Madness: Battle for Suburbia, a game that wasn't well received when it was originally released on the Xbox 360. Although Grave Danger makes a few key adjustments, they aren't much of an improvement.

Grave Danger doesn't look great, but it has a great sense of style. Not every game needs to look like a Pixar movie, it just needs to have personality and a good design sense, and Grave Danger fits the bill. The entire game has a comic book sense of design that comes out during the comic book panels that tell the story. The voice acting is poor, but it kind of works with the game's sense of humor. Grave Danger manages to riff off everything from Star Trek to Homestar Runner and there's even a much appreciated Superman II reference. Not every joke is a home run, though you'll find something to laugh about.

For a game that doesn't push the visual envelope that much, the last thing you would expect is slowdown, however Grave Danger finds a way. Slowdown is only bad when the screen is filled with enemies; unfortunately that isn't a rare thing. There's also some noticeable screen tearing and even a few bouts of the jitters.

If anything, Monster Madness: Grave Danger is a great concept; it takes the frantic action of top-down games like Gauntlet and sticks it in a schlock-filled, B-rate horror film. The warrior, valkyrie, wizard and elf have been replaced with a cast of stereotypical teenagers. There's Zack, the nerd; Jennifer, the cheerleader; Andy, the skater; and Carrie, the Goth chick. They're not exactly the Breakfast Club, but for the mood that the game is aiming for, they are more than adequate. What isn't adequate, however, is the gameplay.

For the most part, the gameplay sticks to a top-down, zombie-whacking adventure. Hacking away at armies of undead with everything from hockey sticks to swords is fun for a short time, but Grave Danger manages to drag things on for longer than they probably should. The key difference between this and say, Gauntlet, is that there's a lack of variety. If you've trudged through one dungeon, you've trudged through them all. It wouldn't be so bad, but the game insists on dragging things out for a good ten hours. There are attempts to break up the tedium with vehicle sequences and fetch quests. Vehicle sequences are fun, but the fetch quests manage to somehow seem less interesting than the shooting sequences.

One of the better improvements to Grave Danger are the challenges, which are a better diversion from the main game. Challenges are, like the name implies, pretty challenging, even if a majority of them are little more than timed slaughters. Another addition is four-player Co-op. Even with four players, you're still dealing with the game's shortcomings, but it can be fun in a late night horror movie way.

Pacing and balance are major issues; neither delivers a deathblow, but they deliver maiming shots. There's no rhyme or reason for what the game throws at you; some levels are incredibly easy, while the next is inexplicably challenging. This was an issue with the first game, and it doesn't look like much was done to address the issue. Enemies are dumb, though their numbers more than compensate. On the bright side, enemies (including some bosses) tend to get stuck behind objects.

The unforgiving checkpoint system has been replaced with a respawn system. Rather than restarting at a checkpoint, you respawn in the place you died and are only charged a few tokens, which serves as the in-game currency. This removes most of the challenge from the game; instead of thinking through situations, you can charge into battles with no fear. Granted, the checkpoint system was a bad idea, but its replacement is like treating an ant bite with Chemo. The radiation will probably take care of the bite, but it's a bit much and isn't the ideal solution.

Game Mechanics:
The biggest and probably best improvement to Monster Madness: Grave Danger is the control scheme. Originally the left stick controlled movement, the right stick rotated your character and the right trigger attacked. The new scheme borrows from dual-stick shooters like Super Stardust; the left stick controls movement and the right controls your ranged weapon. Melee attacks are smartly mapped to the (O) button, which helps add some strategy to combat since you can switch between melee and ranged attacks easily.

Another welcome addition is character upgrades. During your adventure you'll run across Larry, a guy who sells weapons and stat upgrades from his trailer. Most of the weapons are fun, especially the ranged ones like the nail gun and though the stat upgrades aren't a major difference maker, they help to encourage you to play a little more carefully and save your tokens. However, tokens aren't that hard to come by, so hap-hazard play only delays any upgrades.

Even with the improvements, Monster Madness: Grave Danger still doesn't quite deliver on what is a promising and fun concept. If you can snag a copy for cheap and are guaranteed to have at least one or two people to play with, you'll manage to scratch out some fun, otherwise you should probably look elsewhere to get your zombie-killing fix.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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