Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake is made of happiness. It’s like a pure joy enema delivered by baby pandas wearing diapers. We’re allowed to make that metaphor because it’s also packed with poop jokes. In a game which does everything with charming perfection, including projectile rainbow vomit, it works.
This joysplosion begins on protagonist Niko’s birthday, when he awakens to find his birthday cake missing and a trail of crumbs leading outside of town. His initial suspect, a cycloptic fuchsia monster named Groggnar, explains that monsterkind prefers berries to sweets and the real culprit must be the shadowy Boogins. The Boogins’ influence has been spreading across the island rapidly, destroying fruit trees and doing other generally evil things, so Groggnar and Niko team up in hopes of saving both their favorite foods and life as we know it.
For a tale that starts with pilfered Funfetti, MAMBC grows to be surprisingly deep and expansive. This is thanks in large part to the detailed lore and backstories that litter the world and your encyclopedic “Biblio Monstrum.” Groggnar is a temper-prone Muckwic, while bunny-eared Claude is a Chipnippin, which highly reveres the subterranean Wigglebole. Unihorns come from a separate realm accessible only via the clouds and are harmlessly insane. Details like this are dropped into conversation occasionally, but they also exist without needing explanation—this world was fully populated and alive before we arrived.
This is also true for the characters you meet along the way, both human and monster. MAMBC features some lite RPG elements through trade-up fetch quests that are available for almost everyone you encounter. A lone Poe wants a pair of wheely-shoes; a wanna-be pirate needs honey to make her sick badger throw up; a braniac child is looking for any trace of his long-lost scientist parents. Everyone has a story or interest, and they’re all presented through ridiculously hilarious, endearing dialogue and character animations that make every interaction a treat. One monster speaks only in emoticons, another in an HK-47 from KOTOR style of statement suffixing: “Hmmm. Overacted, drawn-out consideration.” The badger specifically says things like “badger noise,” because of course she does.
All of this is merely the bursting-at-the-seams personality of MAMBC. The gameplay itself is just as flawless, focusing on a primarily Sokoban-meets-The Lost Vikings style of puzzle solving. Every level pits Niko and up to three monster pals against a segmented stage littered with obstacles, treasure, and pieces of cake. Everyone has a specific talent they can use to interact with the world, for instance: Niko can push or pull blocks, Groggnar can dash into and break certain objects, and Claude can dig into soft dirt to travel underground. There are seven different abilities available, and every stage is meticulously designed to be solved by a specific set of characters. Because of this, you don’t select who enters a stage with you—they are pre-assigned to ensure you can actually finish the level.
Your main goal on each stage is to collect the pieces of cake dropped by the Boogins, which allows you to progress to the next point on the map. There are also additional challenges that award stars and are often beneficial in and of themselves: collect all the coins, pick up the treasure, defeat all the Boogins in the level, etc. These stars are used to open alternate paths to more levels, while the coins and treasure help you complete the aforementioned fetch quests that eventually lead to talent-bestowing costumes for Niko (for instance, while wearing the badger costume, Niko gains Claude’s digging ability) or additional monsters (which are alternate replacements for their same-ability counterpart).
Actually completing these goals requires utilizing all of your abilities to move monsters around the map while avoiding Boogin threats. Niko may need to push a block onto a button to open a gate that allows Groggnar to pass. Groggnar can dash into a Boogin to kill him and open up a path for Eek. Eek then shrieks to break a crystal that allows Niko access to a piece of cake. There are different strategies for each level, and optional timed challenges prove that there are often “best” ways to complete a stage—usually involving the fact that monsters will continue along the path you drew for them even if you take control of someone else, saving crucial seconds of time. You won’t have access to every monster right away—new friends continue to join up through the final world—so the challenges presented constantly expand to fit your current capabilities.
These challenges are perfectly balanced in difficulty, presenting a real possibility of death—from Boogin, spike trap, or otherwise—but without the frustration that usually comes with failure. For one, most stages require no more than a couple minutes to complete, meaning even a restart doesn’t lose too much committed time. For another, everything you’ve collected before dying is saved—so if you made it to the hard-to-reach treasure chest but then fell off a mushroom, the chest remains open. Finally, every stage is entirely puzzle- and pre-planning based: there are no special purchasable items or power-ups to whizz through a tight spot. You’re always able to beat a level with the monsters provided, and the gameplay is designed to allow you to do so with a little brain grease.
When you’re not greasing your way around puzzle stages, you’re free to travel back to town and hobnob with the locals, visit the random and bizarre monsters living around the world, complete item requests, or replay any stages you’d like for challenges and extra coins. There’s an exploratory freedom to Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake that elevates it beyond a simple stage-based puzzle game into a full-fledged adventure. An adventure lined with missing left shoes, wrestling addicts, bi-dimensionsal spirits, an occasional Archer quote, and cheese-infused fart-monsters.
In short, it’s a gas. Victory pose.