Monster Farm Jump
Welcome to the first edition of From The Vault. Where I â no stranger to the murky realms of games long forgotten, nor to tracking footprints through the welcome mat of my sanity â trawl the vast backlog of electronic entertainment and shed new light on the overlooked titles of yesteryear. Not just classics and cult favourites, or the monstrosities that turned those unfortunate souls into bourbon-soaked shells of their former self, but any game I feel is suitably weird, innovative or just downright flashback-inducing. And for this installment, we’ve got one that qualifies on all three counts: Monster Farm Jump.
So, its a Monster Rancher game. That should mean all the usual beast raising, tournament winning, rival smacking gameplay that fueled so many years of poke-clone accusations, right? Not in this case. Monster Farm Jump borrows four of the cute and fuzzy (well, not in the case of Golem) critters for a game of high-stakes pogo pouncing. No RPG elements here, no HP or battling with anything except the inexorable pull of gravity.
So now that we have a premise, lets talk about the game itself.
At its heart, MFJ is a very basic arcade puzzle/plaftorm game. Guide your chosen avatar from the start to the end of each gap-strewn stage while avoiding the long trip down that comes when you take a swan dive off a mile high game board. The controls are about as simple as it gets, you could hook up a 2600 controller and still have all the buttons you need with one left over. The analog stick controls your pogo’ing pet over the levels. No fancy jump buttons or anything along those lines. Which fits with the overall stripped down feel of the game. The only obstacles on each stage are gravity and a handful of special item blocks that will bounce you around the area like a crack addled rabbit with ADD. I say its part puzzler due to the more cerebral approach it takes over speed platformers, no amount of reflexes or balls will replace the ability to see where you need to go ahead of time and plan your movements out. Its not deep, but then its an arcade game. Deep means a learning curve and a learning curve means frustrated players not dumping dollar coins into the slot. And with such a piss simple gameplay setup, its a lucky thing that the controls are tighter than a nuns slot. You won’t be blaming many fatal plunges on slippery physics or sudden camera turns (granted, the latter is because this game is solely fixed over the shoulder camera during gameplay).
Graphically, the whole game is kind of a mixed bag. On one hand, it has a stripped down aesthetic that matches the cartoon characters and basic level design. On the other, its an ugly late-PSX era game and I can’t shake the feeling that its emptiness and solidity is less a deliberate design choice akin to the cell shading of Fur Fighters or Wind Waker and more Tecmo just not caring to do more than the bare minimum for a cheap port of a licensed game. The limited music and oft repeated sound effects are in the same boat. You could call them artistic minimalism, but I’d be more tempted to call it ‘saving budget for the Music directors rampaging cocaine habit’.
I’d like to talk about the ideologically challenging and truly deep themes of the plot, but as befits a coin eating time waster it has neither plot nor storyline. There’s a monster, he’s three thousand feet up without a parachute and judging by the way he’s warped from peril to peril the gods personally hate his existence. Anything more than that is just what your twisted soul brings to the table. But what it lacks in plot it makes up for in breadth of items. Which, as we all know, are to arcade gaming what level grinding is to RPGs. In addition to the requisite instakill blocks (represented, of course, by a grinning skull) and extra lives, it sports an array of rebounding and bouncing blocks to make a pinball fiend grin. Add in a combo system that rewards you for hitting as few ‘regular’ spaces as possible and you’ve got the makings of replayability. All 70 levels of it. The game is light on difficulty scaling though. Despite ranging from an insultingly easy opener that can almost be won by taping the stick forward, to the sadistic Rube Goldberg designs of the Very Hard course, it tends to cluster its levels in sets with abrupt spikes between them.
So: Is it fun?
You’re a pogo-obsessed eyeball rampaging through airborne ruins at a thousand miles an hour, bouncing off everything in monocular sight. Damn right its fun. Just don’t look for depth, longevity or production values.