Monster Prom is one of the most frustrating games I've ever reviewed, for several reasons. On one hand, it's a gorgeously illustrated and colorful adventure that's centered around an energetic group of monsters. It's like that part was created specifically to tailor to me. On the other, it's rife with the same awful, cringe-inducing humor present in games like Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator and it feels like a random number generator that takes zero skill to master. I wanted to like it so badly for what it portrayed itself as and for the fact that it wasn't afraid to try something new. In the end, however, it left me feeling just as cold as one of the undead characters you can play as. It's true that its addictive nature makes it fun to replay several times to see which endings you come out with each time, but I'm just not sure if wincing at every single one of its attempts at "edgy" humor is worth it.
Walk Like A Zombie
Beautiful Glitch's take on the traditional dating sim features a few twists that you don't normally see in the genre. For one, it's based on a school full of monsters. Well, they're hardly monsters -- they look like them, but they're about as grisly as a collection of Monster High dolls. They're more like candy-colored humans, with some who rock snakes for hair or a ghostly presence. The main crew, or love interests you can be paired up with, consist of Ann Vera Oberlin, Polly Geist, Damien LaVey, Liam de Lioncourt, Scott Howl, and Miranda Vanderbilt.
Vera is a shrewd gorgon, Polly is a drug-addled ghost girl, Damien is a devil, Scott is a werewolf, Liam is a vampire, and Miranda is Starfire from Teen Titans if she were a psychopath. I'm sorry, I mean she's a mermaid. Out of everything Monster Prom has to offer, the monsters' designs were what stuck out at me the most, because they looked much like something you'd see in a cartoon for tweens, or something marketed to the "alternative" demographic, while still undoubtedly remaining husbando and waifu material. It's disappointing that none of them turned out appealing in any real way.
Your player character doesn't even get a real personality to speak of, and little social standing at Spooky High School. Unfortunately, you can only choose one premade player character out of four different models at the beginning of the game and name them to get started. It was a letdown to think I couldn't customize my own monster high school student and was instead forced to choose one of the four characters instead, none of which I was really enamored with at the onset.
Romance Is A Scream
Once you choose a character, it's time to get started. As the title implies, the premise is simple. You need to get someone to agree to attend the Monster Prom with you. That's about it. There aren't any real rules about what you need to do in order to achieve this goal, and the game isn't very helpful at explaining the prerequisites you need to achieve it, so you just kind of, well, get to clicking.
You'll start off by answering a few questions at the beginning of the game, which lampoons mainstream teen magazines and their "quiz" sections in a way that's gotten pretty tired by now. You'll answer three questions, with the first two acting as determinants for your beginning stats. The last one will have you choose an answer from six different options, and your answer will determine which prom date you'll be assigned. Yes, assigned.
This isn't something I picked up on immediately when I had my first playthrough, and the game doesn't explain it in terms that make it clear-cut. Your first few choices will let you know what stats you're boosting: "So bold!" or "So wealthy!" and so on. On the last question of the personality quiz, small character heads and plus signs will float up beside the choices you make, denoting which character is most aligned with them. From then on after the quiz, you'll be destined to run into the character chosen for you no matter what you do.
This is where things begin to crumble, unfortunately. Most dating sims let you carve out a path for yourself to meet all of the characters and get a feel for what they're like before you're forced to pursue them as a romantic interest. Assigning a character based on a personality quiz that you may not even be answering honestly (assuming you typically do that) locks you into getting the same character over and over. When I first started playing, I chose honestly and aligned with the options I would have really gone with in real life. This meant I ended up with Damien three times because I went with my gut. I closed my eyes and began choosing at random, and this got me different outcomes, but who wants to have their romantic routes preordained like that?
This means that whatever quiz answer you supplied the game with at the beginning of the game will cement your fate with a certain monster. If you answer a question with something boozy and dumb, you'll end up with Polly, most likely. Cutthroat and revenge-laden? Vera. If you don't know the characters very well, this can lead to some surprises, but once you've memorized their personalities, this devolves into a predictable game of fill in the blanks.
You can choose one place in the school to visit each turn, and after a brief scene that will bolster or force your stats to take a hit, you'll see the character you're paired with, no matter what, with the exception of the lunchroom. You can select which table you want to sit at here.
That doesn't mean you're always going to be lucky in love with who's chosen for you, but it does make it hard to have encounters with other monsters you decide you like better. You can purposefully try and guess who will like which answers you throw out, but when you reach the end of the set of turns in either the short or long game and choose a monster to ask to prom, it all seems pointless. If Liam is the date chosen for you and you fail all potential checks by giving him the wrong answers and choose Miranda, who you vibed better with, you could end up with Miranda. But you hardly get enough opportunities to interact with other characters to give you a viable option other than your match, which makes choosing your date at all feel like a joke.
Bring On The Booing
Aside from the game mechanics, which feel more like an afterthought than a legitimate attempt at a dating sim with depth, Monster Prom has some of the worst "humor" I've seen in a game in some time. It's not that it's objectively bad or that it's riddled with mistakes. It's just not funny. Now, I'll admit there were a few double entendres I found chuckle-worthy, but for the most part, the "jokes" were seemingly there for shock value. I'm no stranger to surreal or even stupid humor, so it's not that I can't appreciate it. It's just not humor.
It's just that it seemed like, rather than going for clever setups and punchlines, Monster Prom's writers felt that saying "fuck" and "bitch" and "motherfucker" all the time elevated the game from quirky to Adult, Edgy, and Hilarious. It's crass for the sake of being crass, "going there" to elicit shocked reactions from anyone who thinks it's TOTALLY RANDOM AND FUNNAY!!1!11 that a student at school might be selling a baggie of cocaine in the middle of the day. Drugs are so badass and cool, guys, and an obvious mark of adulthood. That's the message I felt the game really wanted me to come away with, most of all, as well as the fact that the cringiest parts of internet culture are slowly seeping into our daily lives a little too quicker than I'd have hoped.
I could go on for a few paragraphs about how out of touch the humor feels, which somehow can't even touch Adult Swim's Z-list celebrities' material, but just know this: If you think it's funny that a bunch of emus suddenly appear in a gym and beat your characters up, then you'll have a blast. If you think that all sounds like some nonsense from the writers of The Big Bang Theory, you'll probably want to find something else to play. It wouldn't be such a big deal if Monster Prom didn't rely so heavily on its humor as a crutch, but it does, and it's a real bummer.
I'll give Monster Prom the fact that it includes multiplayer options is a boon. You can play with up to four people, or even take your show online. If you play with someone else, you'll take turns going from area to area. Each turn is broken up with small party games, such as having all players choose a topic and then judging the "worst" or the "best" of said topic, such as who would make the worse ruler out of three players' suggestions or similar silly games. I appreciated the attempts at making things feel more special and inviting for groups to play, but these party game twists were hardly significant enough to actually take a step back and do before moving on with the game.
There's a lot to do if you plan on continuing to play after your first few times, too. In fact, it's meant to be replayed over and over. According to developer Beautiful Glitch, there are about 388 different situations that you can encounter throughout your game, and over 1000 outcomes. These are impressive numbers to be sure, but given that the actual prom date endings aren't actually all that special, there's not really much incentive to keep striving to see them all...unless you're cackling at the jokes, which seems highly unlikely. I will say that in my 12+ first experimental playthroughs, I made some wildly different decisions, however, and saw plenty of scenes repeat themselves.
Dead On Arrival
Monster Prom had so much potential and so much to offer that I couldn't wait to tear into it. And on a superficial level, it's an interesting experiment that I thought I would love. Unfortunately, just like the monsters you're courting, once you get to know it it's only a great-looking shell with some fairly rotten insides. I'd like to see updates come down the line to open up new romance options, additional things to do, more purpose for the stats, and improved writing. Until then, I'll be sticking to the dating sims that don't try and court me with "shocking" writing that's tamer than what comes out of my mouth on a daily basis.
This review is based on the PC edition of Monster Prom. The game key was provided by the publisher. Monster Prom was released on April 27, 2018.