Monolith quietly launched on Steam after spending about four years in development. Combining shmup with rogue-like elements gives us a great combo that should only grow better from here.
In Monolith, you play a ship that is trying to reach a great power deep underground. Standing in your way is an army of machines and ghosts. Similar to The Binding of Isaac, Monolith’s levels are procedurally generated by putting together handmade rooms.
Each floor has constants that will spawn each time, along with some surprises. To reach the boss, you’ll have to find mini bosses to kill that will open up the boss door. If your health reaches zero, your run ends and you’ll be sent back to the start. After each run, you can use accumulated scrap to purchase new elements to appear in future runs.
Monolith’s design stays almost at a perfect balance between the rogue-like upgrades of The Binding of Isaac and the frantic style of a shmup.
Threading the Needle:
Anyone who has played a shmup knows how crazy bullet-filled screens can get, and Monolith is no slouch in this department.
Many enemies can fill the area with bullets of various shapes, speeds and trajectories, all designed to hit you. Bosses are pure shmup action; with screen-filling displays of power. Surviving Monolith will a careful eye towards dodging the waves of bullets coming at you. With that said, I haven’t seen the game hit the same level as many of the hardest examples of the genre.
The most interesting part of the game’s design is how new weapons are introduced. The different bullet types show up in shops and a one per floor treasure room. When you find a new weapon, it will be randomly modified by one or more different variables. You can find a laser that tracks enemies, lasers that shoot additional bullets and more.
You can also unlock more modifiers and weapons after each run. The weapon variety thanks to the modifiers greatly impacts your play.
One other positive I want to mention is how the game handles items. Every item in the game will only last as long as you’re in the same room with it, but even if you are full for that resource, it will provide some benefit. Picking up health will contribute towards a pool that will give you more max health as an example. This prevents any powerup from being wasted and was a nice touch by the developers.
While Monolith certainly has the foundation to become an amazing rogue-like, it doesn’t quite have the legs just yet.
A Short Fall:
Monolith’s biggest problem for me is content-based. The game is made up of five levels (with a sixth unlocked one). There just isn’t enough in terms of content or events to make the runs feel different. It wasn’t long before I started to see the same bosses and rooms show up. For expert shmup fans, Monolith may seem like a step down for them.
Like the Binding of Isaac, this is a game that definitely has room to grow. The only challenge left after beating the game is going for a perfect run, but that’s more about refining your skill and not adding new challenges.
Monolith is a great combination of genres. While it may not be the longest game to sport the “rogue-like” tag, what’s there is an excellent start. For more on the game, you can watch my plays of it over on the Game-Wisdom YouTube channel.