The Japanese monster catching hit comes to the West! No…not that one.

Where “gotta catch em’ all” used to be a slogan referring to just one set of adorable monsters, it’s long since taken on new significance. Arguably, it’s just as tough a job these days to catch all the monster-rearing games available. Well, completionists beware, because there’s a new kid on the block from the folks at Zynga: Montopia. Seriously, I want a game about where all these things are coming from.

In this case, luckily, we know at least part of the answer: Japan. Crafted by the social gaming giant’s Japanese studio, Montopia is an already established hit in several Asian territories. And while canine HQ has remained tight-lipped about any formal plans to localize the game, some late night snooping on the part of Gamezebo editor-in-chief Jim Squires has revealed a release on the Canadian App Store. Almost universally a proving ground for apps before they’re proliferated to a larger audience, the Canuck release means you’re headed for some monster wrangling very soon… Zynga style. 

And as an editor living in the Great White North, I’ve been able to get a handle on just what that style is. Very much like Mighty Monsters before it, Montopia is a monster catching simulator with feather-light RPG elements tied together with a time management foundation. The get go will of course be recognizable to anyone who booted up their GameBoy to speak to Professor Oak and set out on an epic journey; here you’re similarly charged with restoring the mythical Montopia to its former glory starting with the selection of a trusty fire, water, or leaf monster companion.

From there it’s up to you to wander the land, collect the rest, fuse some to make unforeseen creations, and fight big brawls. At least in theory. During “play,” not much actual moving around occurs, as exploration is accomplished through the pressing of the “explore” button in exchange for spent health points. Each step you make takes you though a unique background earning coins, opening chests, discovering new monsters, and fighting battles. The latter happens when you piece together each section’s special gem, the prize for which is advancement to the next zone and ownership over the monster represented by each unique stone. 

Of course, if it’s battles you’re after, you can select a dedicated tab from the main menu, tweak your party, and go into the fray over and over again for the chance of earning missing gem pieces without expending health points. Here, however, the risk is higher for loss of coins, downing of your party, and overall failure, as the opponents you’re facing are from the game’s selection of online trainers, many of whom were instantly out of my league. 

Montopia     Montopia

The good news? The game’s stable of creatures are all adorable, and even in moments where I felt I might be bored, I was motivated to keep playing to see what I could catch. Unfortunately, with a cursory playthrough, the bad news is pretty much everything else. The game uses the aesthetic shawl made popular by Pokemon to couch players inside a world driven almost entirely by the need to exchange energy for tasks. In this way, the thrill of a genuine search, or the triumphs and tribulations of training monsters, or even catching them, are all dumbed down to their most basic components. And as with all of Zynga’s titles, there’s a high degree of premeditation to ensure that the balance of energy to rewards always lies heavily the company’s favor. Even within the game’s extremely limited play confines, you’ll find yourself running out of opportunities to “explore” very frequently, giving you the “opportunity” to either pay real money for items that extend your fun, or wait for a cooldown time on your trainers’ energy. 

Worse still is the fact that even during optimal play conditions, battles are rushed, automated affairs dependent solely on statistics, and menus prove hard to navigate and obtrusive to immersion. This dampens the fun value of Montopia‘s more exciting elements like monster fusion, which can’t be navigated without miring yourself in menus with seemingly no escape. 

Montopia     Montopia

The prognosis isn’t final, and there’s certainly a lot of time to spruce things up before a worldwide release, but in its current state, Montopia is a Pokeclone for only the most die hard Zynga devotees. If the company’s tried and true style of cooldown economics is your bag, or your family’s bag for that matter, then this is a surefire hit for both kids and nostalgic parents. Otherwise, however, it seems curiously like a rushed effort on behalf of a company in trouble to stoke excitement about a property that’s doing well elsewhere.

Trouble. Now that’s something which Zynga seems to have caught all of lately.