I absolutely adored Slay the Spire on Nintendo Switch, the game a constant black hole when it came to my free time, sucking in hour after hour throughout the entire second half of 2019. As far as deck-building games go though, nothing has managed to sink its hooks into me quite like that game did… until now. Monster Train: First Class is another shining example of the genre and one where I can easily see lightning striking twice. So long free time!
Hell has frozen over with only a single burning pyre left able to restore the underworld back to its former fire-blazing glory. Aboard a train, you’ll attempt to transport the pyre safely through the nine Rings of Hell to reignite its Frozen Heart (that’s right you’re trying to save Hell!). Along the way, you’ll encounter forces of heaven as they do their utmost to stop you and destroy the pyre. How can you possibly counter such powerful armies? With cards of course!
Like Slay the Spire before it, Monster Hunter: First Class takes deck-building and injects a healthy dose of roguelike into the mix. Each run you attempt will see you taking part in a series of increasingly difficult turn-based battles with an opportunity to improve your chances between them through upgrades and other handy aids. Fail to keep your pyre safe in a fight and it’s back to the beginning for you. Before your adventure starts, you’ll choose a primary and allied clan to play as, each one with its own unique set of cards. Who you choose will have a major impact on how you approach battles. The Hellhorned clan for example are your more straightforward monsters, their focus on dealing damage through minion to minion fighting and raising combat-specific stats. Awoken, on the other hand, take a more defensive approach leaning more toward healing abilities. Playing as each clan is hugely fun each bringing something new to the table. Better still, the more you play as a clan the more you’ll unlock including new champions (essentially you’re leader and card you’ll always start a fight with) and cards.
The battles themselves take place within your train (Boneshaker) split across four floors, the top housing your pyre. Enemies infiltrate from the bottom floor any survivors after a round of attacks moving up a level and one step closer to your precious pyre. With every turn you’ll find yourself dealt a hand of cards, each requiring ember to use and only a finite amount to go around. Unit cards are essentially your monsters, able to be placed on any floor in the train and primed to attack every turn while other cards in your deck can offer their own effects such as healing, direct attacks or applying statuses on yourself or the enemy.
After dealing with a number of waves of enemies, you’ll finish things off against an even more powerful boss. By this point, how well you’ve managed to organise your three floors and the monsters defending them can be the difference between victory and failure. In fact, raising your numbers be it simple attack power, armour or even statuses like poison plays a big role in Monster Train: First Class’ combat. Where initially you’ll be dealing damage in the tens but by the close of a run those numbers will need to reach the hundreds in order to stand a chance. It’s a hugely satisfying feeling watching a boss’ health chip away attack by attack in the closing stages. Succeed in battle and you’ll be rewarded with new cards to boost your deck, another important consideration especially as you face off against latter forces.
The constant juggling act of having to manage three floors of action can at first seem like a rather daunting task. With practice though, this emphasis on multitasking proves to be a real highlight of Monster Train: First Class and one that sets it apart from other deck-builders.
Between bouts and as you continue on your journey, you’ll be given the choice of two routes, each one peppered with a random assortment of events and useful locations. Each will aid you in your quest through means like upgrading your cards, replenishing your pyre’s health or grabbing some extra coins or artefacts. These moments of pondering prove just as exciting and enjoyable as the combat itself, offering ample chance to plan and experiment with new combinations of cards and artefacts.
The artwork on the cards is brilliant and I particularly like the way they very subtly animate too. I also enjoy the fact the monsters of each clan have a very different style between them. Melting Remnant is a rather peculiar clan with monsters essentially made of melting wax (complete with wick) while the aforementioned Hellhorned clan opt for a more Hell-ish vibe. The overall presentation is decent, although things can get a little too busy especially in handheld mode. Another area of disappointment is how the game ignores the touch screen capabilities of the Switch entirely – something these types of games can benefit massively from.
Monster Train: First Class is a hugely fun roguelike deck-builder whose ideas and mechanics remain satisfying and exciting whether you’re one hour in or thirty. This is one train ride you won’t want to miss.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Good Shepherd