‘More is good’ was the mantra I was typically under when it came to roguelikes; more unlocks, items, characters, choices, etc leads to a better time - So long as my memory is up to snuff and doesn’t require me to frequent a wiki. It turns out the opposite is true when done well, and Monolith does it very well even though it’s a small, quick game. Runs start, proceed and finish with such good pacing that the issue larger, more involved roguelikes tend to suffer from of the slow build up to a powerful position before ending in crushing defeat is avoided. Player decisions are limited in terms of weaponry, upgrades and plans of attack, but what’s available is so sharply focused that unlike other games, nothing feels useless or a ‘bad choice’ put in by developers to fill dead space.
Monolith is an overhead shooter with randomly generated floor layouts, each room being bite-sized and typically only needing less than a minute to clear. The danger in each room varies depending on what enemies spawn or what traps appear, ranging from a couple pea-shooting skulls to robo-wizards that take cover in electrical fields while firing screen-covering beams to harass you.This is a shooter mind you, so there’ll be plenty of bullets and contact damage to worry about, resulting in trying to clear rooms as soon as you enter to minimize damage. As enemies are defeated they drop debris, the currency used to buy from shops, but defeating enemies also increases a multiplier. A higher multiplier means more debris, but taking any damage will harshly lower it - Play quickly to defeat enemies before you’re overwhelmed, but play conservatively to avoid damage. All too often my desire to be quick and cool in my room clearing resulted in my multiplier spiraling down. In order to maximize a run with upgrades and survivability, pinching those pennies whenever possible to afford those purchases becomes important.
The number of strategies one can chase can be counted on two hands, but thanks to good ol’ roguelike RNG, whether or not those strategies can be followed won’t always be the case. Through unlockable purchases, ‘keywords’ can be obtained to modify dropped weapons’ traits, like homing shots or having greater effect versus an enemy type. Some keyword combinations work astronomically better than others (homing split lasers, anyone?), and while swapping weapons when one is already equipped leads to getting both debris and health, that does mean losing a very potent keyword combination to help in combat. Monolith doesn’t have any dead weight or filler choices to make as every upgrade, keyword and weapon has some noticeable benefit and effect on a run, and depending on their timing can be the difference between a failed or salvaged run. The game cuts so much fat out of decision making that the only real downtime is before and after runs.
Calling Monolith a ‘bullet hell’ is overestimating its difficulty. Attack patterns can get intense with the amount of incoming pressure, but said patterns are realistically able to be dodged and not require hours upon hours of precise maneuvering study. Monolith’s graphics and colors invoke an arcade-y feel which only benefits from its sharp ‘zippy’ controls, and though there are situations where the visual noise in the heat of things can camouflage a stray bullet, the game runs without any hitches. Monolith’s quick progression makes it one of the few roguelikes that doesn’t require a great time investment on runs to see them to their end, not to mention it being a shooter that doesn’t have a ninety degree learning curve. The lacking boatloads of unlocks and content may be seen as lesser staying power for some, but if you’re wanting a game more bite-sized and can run a few times in an hour, Monolith gets a hearty recommendation.