Monsters Invade: Oz channels The Wizard of Oz and Pokémon but strips away the depth of both.
Monsters Invade: Oz drops our Dorothy-like protagonist into a dubstep remix of the classic L. Frank Baum story. The charmingly cartoonish graphics, powerful pulsating music, and constant supply of quests provide immediate appeal to this Pokémon-inspired experience. Unfortunately, overly simple mechanics and dependence on in-app purchases create a shallow trip that requires more waiting around than skipping down the Yellow Brick Road.
Dorothy’s trouble with twisters continues in Monsters Invade: Oz. This time, it’s knocked both Dorothy and her menagerie of monster plushies into an open copy of The Wizard of Oz, overrunning the storybook with adorable-yet-dangerous creatures. Dorothy must capture and battle monsters via turn-based, random encounters while making her way down the Yellow Brick Road toward home.
While these battles imitate the classic RPG experience via health, attack, and defense ratings for each monster, their primary focus is on accurately timed taps reminiscent of Bread Kittens. Attacking an opponent causes a fluctuating meter to appear that contains a small green zone in the center. Tapping when the pointer is within this zone will count as a successful hit, bringing up another meter with a faster gauge. If you manage to hit the green zone on three increasingly challenging meters, a numbered wheel will pop up and provide a damage multiplier to your attack. Missing the green zone at any time will either cause you to hit for less damage, or whiff entirely.
As you whittle away an enemy’s health, the chance to capture it increases and is signified by a percentage chance on the battle’s capture book. Battles end once a monster has been captured or defeated, with experience doled out per successful hit instead of completed kill. In the meantime, your opponent is pounding right back, forcing you to heal with “ink” at the start of each turn as needed.
While this “quick time event” fighting style is engaging at first, battles in Monsters Invade: Oz quickly become tedious efforts in repetitive frustration. Your monsters have only one attack available, and no special abilities. The third tier gauge moves so quickly that it feels like spinning a slot machine rather than timing an attack. Enemies’ attacks never miss and there’s no gauge for defending against an incoming onslaught. All of these add up to the same result each battle: attack, heal, attack, heal, continued ad nauseam.
When not engaged in an endless barrage of monster beat-downs, you’ll be guiding Dorothy around the linear world of Oz. Each of the six regions of Oz is barricaded by four quest requirements that Dorothy must complete before moving forward. Although these vary from capturing a certain number of monsters to walking near a specific landmark, the majority request that Dorothy collect glowing items that are scattered in very obvious locations—usually in a simple, straight path—around the area. Completing quests opens the path to the next region and also awards negligible bonuses of ink, books, or gold to our homesick heroine.
It’s these bonuses, which are the three in-game currencies, that confirm Monsters Invade: Oz is more Wicked Witch than Glenda. Each currency is critical to completing quests and moving forward in the game. Ink is used to heal your monsters in battle, the only place and way they can be healed. Books are used to capture monsters for your team, which also becomes a focus of quests about mid-game. Gold bars, the “premium currency” you can purchase with real cash, are used for everything else: reviving monsters from death, running away from battles, “training” monsters so they are actually usable, upgrading your “belt” so you can take more than one monster into battle, increasing monsters’ stats, purchasing in-battle power-ups, and evolving monsters into different—but not even better—versions of themselves.
The double-dipping greed of Monsters Invade: Oz is that not only is the game completely reliant on all three of these currencies, but it’s unforgivably stingy in doling them out. Your faithful pet Toto sniffs out ink automatically, but he only naturally finds 0.8 pieces of ink per minute. Not even a whole piece of ink, while a single in-battle heal usually costs over 100 ink alone. Monsters that have died in battle or are “training” before being usable have a wait time and cost equivalent to their level—so a level 8 monster will need 8 hours to revive, or 8 gold to skip this wait. The list of debits is endless, and the list of credits minimal. A “good” quest will earn you a single piece of gold, while a prize of 50 ink is much more common.
Even the areas of Monsters Invade: Oz that aren’t hidden behind a pay wall feel designed to frustrate. The revive timer on incapacitated monsters can only be viewed from within battles, so you can track a monster’s availability only by dragging their useless corpse into a fight. Evolved monsters do not count towards the “100 monster total” and have no advantages over their non-evolved counterparts besides a different appearance. In fact, monster types have no variation in abilities or stats; all same-level monsters, whether a cat-like “Pinky” or evolved “Meemo Blitz” have the same health, attack, and defense. Requests to log in to Facebook are frequent and cannot be turned off, only told “maybe later.”
“Maybe later” is what the majority of Monsters Invade: Oz boils down to for anyone not wanting to spend real cash. Maybe later your monster will be ready to fight, maybe later you’ll have enough ink to heal, maybe later Toto will get out of bed for less than 25 gold bars. The beauty of digital downloads and the freemium model is that these “maybe laters” could definitely come to fruition in future updates. Until they do, however, Monsters Invade: Oz will merely be a work of adorable potential hidden behind gold-plated barriers.