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Zuko Monsters

For: iPhone   Also on: iPad

Spectral drag on

Product: Zuko Monsters | Developer: Goodbeans | Publisher: Goodbeans | Format: iPhone | Genre: Adventure, Multiplayer, RPG | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (adhoc), wireless (network) | Version: Europe | App version: 1.5
Zuko Monsters iPhone, thumbnail 1
This is a freemium game review, in which we give our impressions immediately after booting a game up, again after three days, and finally after seven days. That's what the strange sub-headings are all about.

Because I'm a total hipster, I didn't come to the monster-battling genre via the Pokemon games. I was first introduced to it by a friend who loaned me his copy of Jade Cocoon. The Studio Ghibli visuals, the 3D worlds, the breeding, the collecting - what a game.

When I finally got Pokemon Blue, it was initially a disappointing step down.

But since then Game Freak's JRPG-lite has sunk its furry, yellow, electric-charged claws into me, and I've kept up with the Pokemon series. I'm a big fan of the Pocket Monsters, so I'm excited to be playing Zuko Monsters for the next seven days, and reporting back to you on my experiences.

Which is exactly what you'll find below.

First Impressions

Zuko Monsters doesn't seem like much of an adventure - not in the traditional sense of wandering around the wilds of an area freely, meeting new people and engaging in battles with other trainers and wild creatures. You know, like in Pokemon.

IAPs explained
Credits are the premium currency, with 1000 Credits costing £1.49. To give you an example of what you can buy with that, 7 Capture Bolts cost 792 Credits. So that's about £1 for the chance to capture a decent monster or two.

You can also buy rare monsters, such as the Spectral Dragons, which at the top end will set you back a whopping 120,000 Credits, which is approximately £120 if you were to take advantage of buying Credits in bulk.
Which is exactly the sort of spirit the game is trying to evoke, admittedly with a slightly darker, cooler edge. You start the game by bumping into a man who has been forcibly knocked back by a battle, and who then chucks you a gizmo that allows you to control a monster.

Entering a battle with a clearly villainous sort, you easily defeat him by selecting a couple of attacks, while defending yourself against your opponent's moves. From there on, you're presented with a map screen where you're on a beach and can move about between locations by selecting them.

There's no exploration, no sense of freedom - you just tap to go where you like, search the location, and either win a battle or speak with an NPC. The map feels cluttered and overly busy, though the majority of it comprises unmoving characters against static backgrounds. There are so many icons, colours, and people that just looking around can be a tad overwhelming on the senses.

The battles are much better-looking, though, with little incidental animations from monsters, elemental effects from attacks popping out of the screen, and the teeny-tiny size of the monsters emphasised by towering buckets and spades in the background.

I won't be throwing away my copy of Pokemon Black just yet, but Zuko Monsters certainly has my attention after a day of play.

Day 3: Pocket monsters

I'm certainly missing the exploration you get in the Pokemon games. There's little sense of freedom, no secrets to find, no hidden paths to explore. It's not entirely linear - you can search different areas for new monsters in whatever order you like - but you have to clear certain objectives to progress.

One of these is having access to a specific monster to cross a bridge. So you set about capturing one of the little blighters using Capture Bolts - the game's Pokeball equivalent. You're only awarded a set number of these every couple of hours, so knowing when to use them (after chipping away at your opponent's health) is crucial for speedy progress.

When you have the required monster, you then need one of them to be at a high enough level to move onward, so it's into battles you go. Normal attacks help to build up a charge, which you can then use for special moves, which in turn starts a mini-game in which you have to tap circles that appear on-screen in time, or else the move is less effective.

The usual water-beats-fire, fire-beats-grass system is here, but - unlike in the Pokemon games - if your monster is a couple of levels higher than your opponent's you don't need to worry about this too much.

After a few encounters you'll need to heal your squad, which takes time and puts them out of commission for a while. This means that, should you have enough monsters in your team, you can keep playing for longer.

Alternatively, you can tap on areas with a small sealed 'letter' icon, which assigns your monster to that location for a set period of time. They won't take damage there, and they still gain experience, but this takes much longer than a standard encounter. Whichever method of levelling you prefer, once they do pass each XP threshold your monsters are awarded stat bonuses and new attacks.

Day 7: Zuko Monsters used "delay". It's super effective

The biggest issue I've experienced so far with this game is that progress is extremely slow-going. Each action you wish to take - out of battles, that is - takes a few too many minutes to complete, and once you have, another timer takes its place, stopping you from repeating that action immediately.

It has the effect of forcing you to go back and repeat low XP areas (with equally low wait times), so that you can grind them for experience.

The same is true of locations in which you're actively involved with the battle, too. The cool-down period after tough, experience-rich battles is so high that you quickly find yourself repeating the same two or three areas.

In essence, Zuko Monsters replaces the wombling around grassy areas for random battles of Pokemon with incessant tapping on the screen, or waiting patiently until you can access high-tier areas again.

As the clock counts down regardless of whether you're in the main mode or not, you can spend this time taking on other players in both local and online multiplayer. It's not fleshed out particuarly well - there's no experience to be found here, and it's usually just a case of whoever has the highest level monster wins - but it's a welcome addition nonetheless.

Zuko Monsters is a fully featured but plodding creature-battling experience. Monster animations are rich and lend a degree of believability to the otherwise fantastical creature designs, and there's a good chunk of the depth found in the Pokemon games here too.

The rewards for playing are too infrequent, though, and while you'll want to see more the game artificially hampers your progress for just a little too long, a little too often.

How are you getting on with the game? You can tell us and the rest of the PG community about your experiences by leaving a comment in the box below.
Zuko Monsters
Reviewer photo
Peter Willington | 12 February 2013
If you don't own a Nintendo handheld and want a decent enough Pokemon substitute, then this could well be it. Just prepare to be patient. Very patient
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