Descending in the darkness of a long-abandoned facility, a lone ship searches for wealth, power and the scattered pieces of the past.
- Smooth, gracious, fast action gameplay, tailored to feel good to play.
- 7 different types of weapons with over 40 unique modifiers and a ludicrous number of combinations.
- A number of floors with their own layouts, traps and enemies.
- Intricate and energetic chiptune soundtrack to complement the beat of the action.
OS: Vista, 7, 8, 10
Processor: 2+ GHz
Memory: 1 GB RAM
DirectX: Version 9.0
Storage: 25 MB available space
5½ Hours to complete the story; 16 hours for 100% completion
June 7, 2017
Steam (PC, Linux, SteamOS)
Developer: Team D-13
Publisher: Team D-13
If you have a hankering for a Gradius roguelite, I humbly recommend to you, Monolith, a top-down shoot-em’-up (SHMUP) where you fight ghosts, constructs, and monsters as you descend a long-abandoned facility containing mysterious weapons and relics. Monolith was a passion project developed by Team D-13, a cross-country three-man team formed back in 2015. This gem was released back in 2017 and yet managed to pass under the radar for me until 2018. This game turned out to be a pleasant surprise and grabbed my attention almost as much as the gameplay loop in The Binding of Isaac did.
Note: I enjoyed BoI purely from a gameplay aspect but disagree with its execution of Biblical content and context. If you want to learn more, our editor, Maurice, posted his own extensive breakdown of BoI.
Ghosts, demons, and moving constructs make up the mix of enemies you encounter. Mystical and some Lovecraftian-inspired imagery are scattered throughout the rooms you may come across during any particular run. There is little to no context given to why the supernatural enemies are here.
Some enemies explode once you’ve done enough damage to them. Others will spurt red splashes upon death that indicate blood.
The reason why there is no current rating is because Monolith initially released as a Steam Greenlight title which does not require games to be rated according to ESRB or any other rating system in order to launch. This does not mean the game contains any material deemed too extreme for the public.
Roguelites are difficult games to latch onto. They usually focus on one type of gameplay while borrowing a few key features like procedural generation and permadeath. Roguelites are more accessible, but rarely offer an enticing permadeath loop that compels players to continue the game. However, roguelite features can apply to any genre and garner to a particular community, which is great for development creativity. Monolith appeals to me with its SHMUP properties and has one of the best replayable loops I’ve seen in roguelites for some time.
Monolith has you take control of a lone ship that finds an abandoned facility in search of something called The Power Eternal. Inside, you will fight mechanical constructs, terrifying demons, cute and not-so-cute ghosts, all of them bent on preventing from descending deeper into the facility. There’s also a nice cat who acts as your vendor.
Monolith takes you through a tutorial level to understand its controls, then drops you into the first level. You can play either with a controller or mouse and keyboard; I played with a controller. It operates as a twin-stick shooter: left analog for movement, right analog for shooting. There is also a dash button and a bomb button, as well as a map button which allows you to teleport to any room you have cleared the floor (Best Feature Ever, 10/10).
Monolith has gameplay aspects similar to BoI, like finding upgrades that give non-damaging buffs, some examples being extra health, an ability to scan rooms not visited on the floor yet or an ability to see enemy health. Shot upgrades have ammo which you can potentially replenish in chunks and range from a variety of basic shots like shotgun, revolver, vulcan; then there are some unique shots like a fireball, railgun, or a sword.
Yes, a sword that can slash and fire slashing bullets.
The enemy variety is well-balanced, but sends some enemies that may not operate the way you think they will. Whether it be ghosts, constructs, mechs, or various other creatures, they are all able to attack by rushing you or firing projectiles, mostly the latter since this IS mainly a SHMUP game. The bosses are where you’ll have the most difficulty, but also the most fun since they have the more interesting attack patterns compared to normal enemies. Many players will find a level of difficulty with Monolith because of the aggressive enemies and the often limited space to maneuver in each room.
I personally like that Monolith offers no story and lets you explore the abandoned facility as your skill improves. There’s this great sense of atmosphere given through the art of the level and enemy design, and the choices made with the soundtrack. The music gives this sense of adventure like you’re discovering something wonderful, yet all around, there are enemies that are out to destroy you. Specific rooms invoke a vibe of isolation or intrigue.
The strongest feature of Monolith is in its boss design. Each one has unique attack patterns and expand on the complexity of each enemy species type that you encounter in the game. Avoiding the bullet patterns almost becomes frenetic and are true tests of skill as you dodge layers and layers of overlapping bullet patterns while trying to get in as much damage as you possibly can. The best part is that you are able to take multiple hits (default HP is 10); you can make a few mistakes to learn more about the boss, so that the next time you face it, you are significantly more confident in defeating it without taking damage. The spawn pattern for each dungeon is different, so there is no staleness in fighting the same bosses within the same run.
A minor yet significant fault of the game is the selection of shot upgrades available. There is not enough weapon variety to make every run feel special, unless you are able to choose the “Artifact” upgrade, which will randomly spawn four powerful shot upgrades with multiple modifiers attached. If you are not a SHMUP enthusiast, it will feel like picking up the same weapon every time with no significant change to each run. Monolith relies more on the ability to outmaneuver the bullet patterns for survival as opposed to having a powerful shot upgrade to carry you through.
I think Monolith serves better as a gateway entry to the SHMUP genre if players ever became interested. The free movement, addictive replayable loop, and sense of accomplishment from becoming more skilled at avoiding enemy attacks establishes the core enjoyment hardcore SHMUP fans get out of perfecting their expertise as opposed to being rewarded for finishing a stage. The developer, Team D-13, continues to show interest in expanding the game, making me hopeful for the team’s future.
+ Classic SHMUP gameplay, reminiscent of Gradius.
+ Charming pixel art
+ Sound design and soundtrack enhances the solitary environment.
+ Addictive replayability loop
+ Developers continue to update the game
- Classic SHMUP gameplay means a particular skill level is required to make significant progress.
- Like most roguelites, poor pickups can ruin a run and sour your experience.