Heroes of the Monkey Tavern is a dungeon-crawler in the vein of some old-school classics like Shining the Holy Ark, and more recently, Etrian Odyssey. Where Heroes of the Monkey Tavern differs from the classics of yesteryear is how much game there actually is to play; Monkey Tavern is really only a small portion of what should have been a much larger game, and that’s a shame.
There is no overworld to explore, no towns to visit, and no real story to enjoy in Heroes of the Monkey Tavern. This game is just the dungeon crawling, and that’s not even done particularly well. There are a handful of floors to stalk in the game’s single location: a generic, brick-filled underground maze. You’ll explore corridors in first-person view, but the controls are pretty muddled. The right stick lets you look around, but you have to use the triggers to actually turn in one of four directions to move and interact with objects. It doesn’t make any sense to put a view option that’s totally useless on the controller’s most accessible input method.
Your map will automatically track your movements, making the dungeon-crawling a little easier. There are plenty of dead-ends and loops, so constantly checking the map is a necessity. Monsters will appear every now and then to initiate the most annoying part of Heroes of the Monkey Tavern: its battles.
You get four party members — and there’s actually a pretty wide variety of classes and avatars to pick from — but you start off with no equipment. You have to find everything within the maze, and equipment is pretty rare. I routinely had to go up against these tough, great sword wielding foes with only daggers equipped on two of my party members. Running isn’t an option, either; your party members will take loads of flee damage if you try to run away, so you’re forced into a clunky battle where you have to hit ZR to switch between party members to initiate their attacks while they get wailed on by enemies.
There are some very simple puzzles throughout the mazes, like hitting a switch to open a wall or hitting a switch to pause spikes from poking out of the floor. The puzzles never stray from “hit a switch to do something.”
A lot of indie games take an archaic visual style and apply it to new game design ideas, and the end result — like in Elliot Quest or Shovel Knight — is charming and clever. Heroes of the Monkey Tavern, on the other hand, takes archaic game design and just slaps some modern visuals onto it.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for Heroes of the Monkey Tavern was provided by the developer for this Heroes of the Monkey Tavern review.