For the uninitiated, Monster High is a successful set of fashion dolls from Mattel that have been spun off into TV specials, DVD movies, a web series, miscellaneous merchandise, and of course, video games. The latest game is Monster High Skultimate Roller Maze, available on the Nintendo Wii, DS, and 3DS. For this review, we checked out the Wii version.
Monster High Skultimate Roller Maze is essentially a kart racer, though the participants are on roller skates instead of riding in cars. This gives it a bit of a roller derby feel, especially when racers are bumping each other for position. Other than that though, many of the kart racer tropes are here: three-lap races, course hazards, the Row Of Items (represented here by coffins) that give you powerups to either race faster or take out opponents, different classes of racer, and turbo hotspots.
There are a few modes to check out. Race is a bit of a misnomer as it’s actually a series of 4-6 races (depending on difficulty) with points awarded based on finish and most points at the end of the series wins. Relay is the same, except instead of switching racers on your team during the race, you choose them in order of what lap you want them to race, and they switch when their lap is over. Quick Race is your real one race option, and Timed is basically time trial mode. On the surface, this looks like a decent amount of game modes, though on closer examination this turns out to be deceiving.
There are some interesting ideas here, to be sure. Each character has a special ability that they can use when they fill their team’s special ability meter (accomplished by collecting coins on the course). Choosing three racers and having to switch between them (the main racing mode) while managing their items and energy adds a neat strategic element to the game, and the Relay mode where each racer completes a full lap is also an interesting wrinkle. It makes for a fresh take on traditional kart racing. So Monster High Skultimate Roller Maze gets points for trying something different, and in a vacuum, I liked these ideas.
Of course, innovation and fresh ideas are great, but it means nothing when the rest of the package is so subpar. The racing isn’t particularly exciting and doesn’t have a great sense of speed to it. The track designs have some interesting quirks to them, but the overall look and feel of them is quite lacklustre. On the easiest difficulty, races plod along. This picks up on the hardest difficulty, but that becomes an exercise in frustration as the game’s controls start to show their limitations.
Controls are clunky (whether using the Wii Remote on its own or adding the Nunchuk), and excuse me, but where the heck is my drifting? There seems to be no way to drift at all, and that’s pretty much a must-have in a kart racer. So, basically, I have to control my speed around corners with strategic breaking and deceleration? You do that in hardcore racing sims like Gran Tourismo, not kart racers. I don’t care if they’re on skates, you can still make this happen.[row][span2][/span2][span8][divider_1px]
The Family’s Perspective
This game is clearly aimed at Monster High fans, though I wonder if that segment is really into kart racers. Regardless, there’s also some skater-on-skater violence involved that my wife Tracy wasn’t all the comfortable with seeing. Racers will bump each other, and then there are the weapons. She felt it’s different when it happens to cars, but now we’re talking about people/monsters wiping out and getting hit. Owen wasn’t particularly impressed overall either, as he got frustrated by the controls. Other than that, it’s a typical kart racer in terms of appropriateness. I thought maybe it could have bordered on E10+ territory. [divider_1px][/span8][span2][/span2][/row]
Perhaps one of the most offensive parts of the game though, is the “multiplayer”. I should have known something was up when the box indicated support for three players, a number I’m not used to seeing. As it turns out, multiplayer isn’t really multiplayer at all. It involves you and two friends each choosing your own racer and then running a race (or races, depending on the mode you choose) as a team. Except only one of you ever races at a time. When your energy gauge gets low, or the situation calls for it, you can tag in one of your teammates who them continues racing. Yes, one person races while the other two sit there and watch. Seriously? Sure, it’s an interesting twist on the teamwork dynamic. You know what it also is? BORING! My wife and son Owen couldn’t believe it. I was surprised myself. No split screen, no competition against each other.
I hate to say it, but this game reeks of laziness. Whether it’s the developer rushing the game out in the last days of the Wii or the publisher rushing the developer, there are just too many strikes against it. No split-screen play. Only one active participant at a time. Only four skaters on course at a time. Huge hit boxes that result in brutal collision detection (getting even close to a wall makes you hit it). A lack of game modes. The “multiplayer” mode. Lack of visual polish. Only a small handful of tracks. I could go on, but I’d just get more depressed. There are too many other solid kart racers out there for this game to try to get away with what it does.
The GamerPops Recommendation
A couple of unique ideas and a license isn’t enough to make a good kart racer, or a good video game in general. While the content of the game has a spooky look to it, the only thing scary is that this game was made with such a perceived lack of effort. Making a licensed game aimed at a younger audience is no excuse to make a rushed, mediocre kart-style racer that doesn’t come close to measuring up to its peers. I certainly can’t recommend it to gaming families. I’m not even sure I want to recommend it to Monster High fans. I suppose fans will get a kick out of racing around with their favourite Monster High characters for a little while, but I don’t see enough staying power from the game itself once the novelty of that runs out.
A review copy was provided to GamerPops.
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ESRB Rating Summary
Rating Category: E for Everyone
Content Descriptors: Mild Cartoon Violence
Rating Summary: This is a racing game, based on characters from the Mattel Monster High franchise, in which players roller-skate around themed tracks. As players collect power-ups and avoid hazards, they can use certain objects to impede other characters’ progress (e.g., knocking racers down with books, sonic waves, oil slicks, or tidal waves); comical yelps and impact effects may occur when characters are hit.