Out today on the Nintendo Switch, A Monster’s Expedition is an open-world puzzler where inquisitive monsters find out about hoomans by pushing down trees. No forests were harmed in the making of this title.
What kind of person from Englandland talks more about review scores than they do of the weather? Me. I don’t like review scores, but the punters want ’em. I’d prefer they read the words in context, as a score doesn’t mean that much, in my opinion.
Why the disclaimer? Well, here we have A Monster’s Expedition review – another high-scoring game for many reasons other than the parameters I mark: it’s one of the best puzzle games I’ve played on the Nintendo Switch. Is that enticing enough to read on?
A Monster’s Expedition Review
Triple-A titles, games from a genre you’re a fan of, or simply something you’ve been following from the outset garner enough hype that there’s room for elation or disappointment come release date. There wasn’t much time to think about it with this game from Draknek & Friends as I only recently heard of it, and by the time I’d finished wondering what it’d be like to play, it was on my playlist.
You play a nameless monster on an expedition (it’s in the title) to learn about hoomans. Cue a museum-like utopia of open-air exhibitions and more logs than a dirty joke book – A Monster’s Expedition is two cups of discovery, two cups of problem-solving, and the remainder is bliss.
It’s fair to surmise that the time spent on this game was to get a review done in time for the release date and subsequent free update that includes another 100+ puzzles. It could be assumed that it was easy and a game that could be finished over a few cups of tea. Yes, I wanted to get this review ready for the release date. Yes, the game was incredibly intuitive, not easy, but there was something ingenious about the puzzles – how they flowed and later would connect in some way or another.
But the real reason is A Monster’s Expedition is currently my favourite puzzle game.
Back to the monster. Arriving on a small island, it’s not long before you encounter the schematics for the game: topple a log to grant access to the next island, then rinse and repeat. Every so often, your reward will be an installation related to the people of Englandland and the shenanigans they got up to. This adventure set in the future depicts facts that are so inaccurate; they’re diabolical, probably in the same way we collate our own historical accounts, but with a bit more absurdity. The plaques you read on these exhibits are hilarious.
Besides these entries, the rewards are often the feelings you get from solving a puzzle. For the most part, they’re often resolved quite quickly – again, emphasis on intuition. Still, there will be some head-scratching, but through the process of elimination, it can usually be rectified, or you can veer off to another path and try another puzzle. Said trees which become logs, can be pushed over in four directions, depending on the environment. If your monster can’t get to one side – i.e. there’s water or obstruction, then your options are restricted.
When a log falls, pushing on the horizontal side will cause it to roll in the direction you push. This can mean straight into the water to form a bridge or floating with no purpose, into another parallel log to create a raft, or bounce into another object, opening up the options for pushing into another direction. If you push from the vertical ends, the log won’t roll but stand upright, then on its side, depending on the space you have to work with.
The bog-standard solution is laying a log (wahey!) in a straight line. The points need to be in a straight line from end to end as walking across the horizontal end will cause a comical ‘run on the spot’ scenario – you ain’t going anywhere. If you make a mistake, you can undo each move step-by-step or do an island reset where all the trees return to their roots (ha!). With the rafts, you don’t have agency on where they go, but as long as you have two pieces together next to dark rock, you can push yourself to a new location, clearing the fog of a humongous world map.
On the first reflection, the size of this game can be off-putting – especially as you oh-so-slowly chip away at the fog to reveal new areas, almost like biomes. However, in true Blighty fashion, there are fast travel points in the form of a postbox that will teleport you to any other postbox you’ve uncovered. This is great should you get stuck or want to take a breather on a tricky puzzle. It also puts the challenge in perspective at just how big A Monster’s Expedition really is.
I predominantly played this in handheld mode, found a quiet space and switched off to the outside world. This game is so engaging – such escapism for a puzzle game that even with the harder puzzles, it never felt so perplexing that it spoiled the mood or had me kicking the dog in frustration. I don’t do that. I kick the kids. Scratch that; I don’t want Social Services here based on another poor joke. I usually cry over a big bowl of Shreddies.
If you watch the trailers, A Monster’s Expedition looks quite simplistic, like there’s not much to it. In reality, that’s quite true, but that’s what makes this so good. The visuals are soft with a vibrant colour palette and still looked great in docked mode when luring the family to help me in my endeavours. Even the monster, a featureless backpack-sporting… thing, is so undeniably cute (especially when you sit on the edge of an island or stump when thinking things through), that I feel the other alphas would mock me for that sentiment. I’m not remotely an alpha; I’m sure you can tell.
My only beef with the game is a pathetic one: I’d like to have seen something in the menu that said my progress – like how much of the installations I’d uncovered/have to find. Still, viewing the map can clear that up, and due to this minimalist approach with no health bars, time limits or collectables to chip away at, A Monster’s Expedition more or less defines the chill genre. If it’s not clear, I love this game.
One little extra for those that read the reviews rather than just the summary, A Monster’s Expedition gets an update at the same time as the Nintendo Switch release – 100+ new puzzles in all. It comes with the Switch version, but for those who already own this gem on PC or Apple Arcade, you’ll get the content absolutely free.