Zuko Monsters (iOS) review

Zuko Monsters is a new iOS game from Goodbeans GmbH. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store with additional in-app purchases of in-game currency available in bundles ranging from $1.99 to $99.99.

Zuko Monsters is another in the long line of mobile games attempting to ride the popularity of Nintendo’s incredibly popular Pokémon franchise, the latest instalments of which are due for release in October of this year. For the uninitiated, the basic format of Pokémon is that they are role-playing games, but instead of the player character engaging in combat, they unleash various collectible monsters, each of which has a particular “type,” and each of which also has types that they are strong and weak against. As the player levels up their monsters, they gain in strength and learn a variety of new abilities. There is a story to follow and the games can be “beaten,” but a large part of the experience is in collecting as many monsters as possible and battling against other human players.

All of the above is also true for Zuko Monsters, but the execution of the mobile game unfortunately lacks a significant proportion of the charm that has made Pokémon such a global sensation since its 1996 inception in Japan.

The biggest issue with Zuko Monsters is that the role-playing exploration side of gameplay — just as interesting a component of Nintendo’s titles as the monster raising and breeding — is dull, feels like an afterthought and more often than not is simply an excuse to put very artificial-seeming barriers in the way of the player. Unfolding from an isometric perspective, the player simply taps on “hotspots” around the area to interact with them, and their non-customizable (but renamable) avatar simply appears at the relevant location rather than actually walking or running around the area. Hotspots range from specific characters that can be battled against to locations where monsters can be assigned to complete passive “missions” to level them up without engaging in combat.

Progression is, more often than not, limited by a specific obstacle which requires a specific type of monster to overcome. Luckily, the monster required tends to be readily available in the conveniently-marked bushes around the area, and all it takes to be able to progress is to capture it by weakening it in battle and then using your “capture gauntlet” to add it to your arsenal. Some monsters require more than one “charge” of the capture gauntlet and thus the player must ensure that their team of monsters in the battle are not defeated in the meantime, but if they find themselves struggling all they need to do is go back to an earlier area and level-grind a little to power their monsters up — or simply buy some new ones.

Fortunately, the battle aspect of Zuko Monsters fares considerably better than the exploration part. Rather than taking the “hands off” approach to combat as seen in a frustrating number of mobile games, Zuko Monsters allows the player full control over their monsters’ abilities in a turn-based battle. Each monster has their own selection of actions that they can perform in battle, with each costing a particular amount of energy to perform. If the monster runs out of energy, the player must perform basic attacks to regain energy — these are not very powerful, but do deal a little damage and restore at least one point of energy with each hit. Special attacks, meanwhile, trigger a “quick-time event” where players must tap on several on-screen circles before they disappear to increase the power of the attack — the skill still triggers even if all are missed, but hitting all of them makes it considerably more effective, and the effectiveness is increased further if the attacking monster is of an opposing type to the defender. Players may also switch out monsters at the cost of a turn if their current one is not doing the job — this happens automatically (and does not waste a turn) if the current monster is incapacitated.