Monster Train First Class Review (Switch)
Train ticket please?
Available on: Switch/Steam
Genre: Roguelike Deckbuilder
Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment
To be honest, I didn’t pay this game that much attention when it originally released. I’m all for picking up card games despite being terrible at building decks, but it was during a time that I was getting burnt out on roguelike/roguelites (there are just so many). Granted, I didn’t check out any gameplay footage anyway. It wasn’t until a friend of mine was playing it, and asked if I wanted to watch a couple of his runs, before I saw what exactly it was and how it played. Despite not really knowing anything about how it’s played, it looked pretty interesting and fun. So I decided to keep my eye on it and coincidentally it wasn’t that long after that the new of it coming to the Switch was announced (which, to be honest, I was hoping it would). So of course I had to pick it up and finally try it out for myself.
While the story obviously won’t be the focus of a roguelike deck building game, we do get some to give us some context on why and who you’re attacking. You are actually on the side of Hell, which has recently been frozen over after Seraph broke the Covenant (a peace pact between Heaven and Hell) and extinguished their Pyre. But you, the player, are the key to turn the tides. Luckily, a railway was built connecting the highest of Heaven and the deepest depths of Hell and while that may have caused Seraph to have an easier time attacking, this means that you have an easy path to take on your train, the Boneshaker. Which, of course, has the last Pyre chunk that is still lit and is Hell’s last hope in taking back their home. And while Seraph has sent his followers to stop you and shatter the train’s Pyre, the Champions of Hell won’t make it easy for them.
There is also some more lore within the flavor texts of the artifacts and cards, as well as the lines enemies and your units say every so often to flesh out the world a but more without pushing it too much for those that just want to play a card game.
Before you start your run, you’ll have to determine what you’ll be working with that run. Your deck, and the decks you’ll pull from to add new cards to your deck, depends on the clans you select. You have a primary clan, which determines what Champion you’ll be working with (and thus, who you’ll try to build your deck around) and an allied clan that will give their starter deck cards and let you grab cards from their deck to add to yours. There are 6 clans, counting the DLC clan, and they all do play differently from each other as they put focus in different aspects. Which also means that some clan combinations work better than other combinations. Like for example Awoken is focused on healing, spikes, and having tanks in the front lines, while Stygian is focused on spells and frostbite.
You start all the way up in Limbo and make your way to the heart of Hell, which will have you going through 8 battles. Every battle takes place on the train you’re currently traveling on and it is stacked with 4 floors, with the top floor housing the Pyre you must protect. Enemies will come in on the bottom floor in waves and will go up one if they weren’t killed that turn. And, of course, as you travel through each ring, different and stronger enemies will start to show up. The way you’ll be defending your train is with your deck as it will be a mix of your own units and spells (which have their own sub categories that aren’t outright told to you). As long as you have enough Ember (or energy) to play your cards, you can place your units on any floor. However, each floor has its own capacity, with each unit showing how much room they’ll take up, so you can’t exactly place all of them on the first floor. Not to mention that it is important to think about how you’re placing them as you can’t alter which placement they’ll have (the first placed unit will stay as the front unit) unless you have a spell card that pushes a unit. You’ll also be able to play spells, which can let you damage enemies, debuff your enemies or buff your units, or even heal your units. You’ll know when you reach the last wave when a sort-of mini-boss comes in. Juggling between the 3 floors is difficult, but it’s really fun.
Boss battles play out a bit differently. You’ll only be facing 3 bosses each run and they have the usual enemies come in from the bottom in waves. The only difference is that the boss is right there from the beginning flying outside of the train carriage. The first 2 boss encounters will have a chance of you facing 4 different bosses, which in turn have 3 different battle effects. While the majority of them won’t attack you for a handful of waves, they’ll switch between floors and most likely placing a special unit or even buffs to try and ruin your day. That is, until they get tired of waiting, start on the bottom floor, and will attack your units until they are all dead before freezing that floor and moving up (the mini-bosses does the same thing on the other rings as well). The last boss you’ll be going up against will always be the traitor Seraph, but will have 3 different forms that you may want to try to build your deck against.
The top floor only has the capacity for the Pyre, so you can’t put any of your units there just in case the enemy gets there. Luckily, it isn’t entirely over (most of the time) if the enemies make their way to the Pyre floor, as the Pyre does have its own health bar and can attack back with a sweep attack. And the Pyre does get more health and damage upon defeating a boss and some artifacts does focus on the Pyre. Though, you should still try to stop enemies from getting up there as you only get a couple chances of replenishing the Pyre’s health and you really will be toeing the line of it just being one attack away.
When you successfully kill all of your enemies, you’ll be given a chance to add 2 cards (one from each clan) to add to your deck. And, if you’re not on the Seraph battle, you’ll return to the map and you’ll be asked to choose between going down one of two paths. Each path will offer you a couple of benefits for going down it and its up to you to decide which one is best in that moment. You’ll be able to go to shops to add upgrades to your cards, get artifacts so you can have a passive bonus, restore your Pyre’s health, get an event in the Concealed Caverns, and even add or remove cards from your deck. And once you do everything you wanted, you can proceed to the next battle.
Once you win your first run, you’ll unlock Covenant Ranks, which basically gives you an option to have the runs be more challenging and it will unlock the next rank if you win at your highest unlocked rank. With the most difficult being 25. You can also add mutators to make that run harder or easier, but it won’t count towards most unlocks. Outside of the standard runs, you can also look into challenges which you can do challenges the community built (or build your own for others to do), do a daily challenge and see how you rank against others, or do a Hell Rush which is a multiplayer mode where both of you are timed for each round (which includes how much time you take on the map) and aim to have the highest score. I surprisingly found Hell Rush pretty fun despite it being intimidating to me at first.
The Switch release comes packaged with the DLC, which is enabled by default and you can disable it if you want to. The DLC, The Last Divinity, adds a new clan called the Wurmkin (unlocked once you win a Covenant Rank 1 run), the usual added cards, artifacts, Concealed Cavern events, and challenges; adds Pact Shards which you can gain to get helpful upgrades but the more you have the stronger enemies will get, and a new last boss that is only unlocked if you get 100 Pact Shards. I’d say this is mainly for those that want more of a challenge as this does bring in a big difficulty spike. Especially when you first get into Covenant Rank 1 (playing into the Pact Shards without knowing the full extent of what they did got me barely getting to Ring 3 after a couple tries while having zero Pact Shards got me to almost completing Ring 7 first try).
Performance wise, Monster Train plays pretty well on the Switch. I didn’t notice any slow downs even on the fastest action setting (granted, I haven’t any crazy builds that I’ve seen online) and the loading times aren’t terrible. Though, sometimes the arrow pointing to where the card effect will be applied to will cover up a unit’s info and I do wish this did have touch controls.
Monster Train looks fun to play just watching it and I can safely say that it’s fun playing as well. It takes a roguelike card game structure and giving it an interesting spin of you working with and managing several floors and having you summon other units to help you rather than having just your Champion out attacking. Not to mention that it is interesting getting into different clans, having them allied with another, and finding out how to play each clan’s style so you can make a deck that will defeat Seraph. It’s pretty fun and addictive and I recommend picking it up if you’re into roguelike deckbuilding card games (whether you’re a master at them or someone that doesn’t do too well but still enjoy the genre). And while I know this has been compared to Slay the Spire like a million times, but if you liked that game, there is a high chance you’ll like Monster Train as well (I know I did).