Developer: Pocketwatch Games
Publisher: Pocketwatch Games
Release Date: April 24, 2013 (PC)
I’ve played several cooperative and multiplayer games for Rogue’s Adventures over the years. From Saints Row 4 to Trine 2 and Risk of Rain, I’ve been able to enlist friends to enhance the single player experience exponentially. Most cooperative games are vastly improved with the addition of a friend (or three), but in the case of Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine, it’s damn near required.
Monaco resembles a top-down, pixelated arcade game. The emphasis is on stealth, however, as none of your intrepid criminals carry a weapon. Weapons and items can be found in extremely limited quantity, but your characters quickly go down in a fight, so stealthy maneuvering and strategical planning is the order of the day.
In the beginning you can play as one of four different characters, each with their own special ability. Later you unlock another four for a total of eight characters. It’s not unlike a cooperative board game where each player has a specific strength, and you’ll need to work together to overcome the challenge. The Lookout can see enemies on the map, the Mole can dig through walls to create new paths, while the Cleaner can temporarily knock out unsuspecting foes.
Without knowing the specific map that lies ahead, picking a class can be tricky. The initial levels have a smooth difficulty ramp as you are introduced to all its clever concepts through in-game text and examples. A strong sense of “show, don’t tell” is in effect here. Controls are brilliant, though I would definitely recommend playing with a controller for the twin-stick element.
Simply walking into an object interacts with it, including doors, computers, safes, etc. It’s easy to see exactly what a thing is with the simple iconography on the map, and the dynamic lighting system works amazingly well coupled with the way the map is displayed. Getting around a level is the entire point of the game as you’re tasked with grabbing various McGuffins scattered around before escaping.
Later levels include multiple stories (as many as four) to traverse, and the amount of security (both real guards and alarm systems) ratchets up to an insane degree. The first campaign, The Locksmith’s Story, is a fun journey that’s doable, but not nearly as fun, in single player. The second campaign remixes each level from the first and makes them much harder, adding in more of everything and making it damn near impossible and incredibly tedious in single player.
In single player you only get to play one character at a time, and it feels terribly crippling. Later levels especially feel geared towards a coordinated party working together, and I quickly abandoned any notion of trying to collect all the optional coins that lay scattered across a map.
Just focusing on the objective eventually caused me to brute force the levels. If you die in single-player you keep whatever you’ve picked up and just pick a new character, so making suicide runs is a sadly viable option.
If you can get a friendly cooperative game going, the action goes from frustrating to amazing in the blink of an eye. Multiple characters can coordinate their abilities to maximize efficiency and safety: “Okay, the Lookout lets us know when the guard approaches. When the guard comes around I’ll knock him out, then our Hacker can disable this alarm system.”
You don’t share vision, so constant communication becomes a key factor. If a player goes down the others can revive them, Left 4 Dead style. The entire game design is a thing of beauty in co-op, and the board game comparison becomes a fitting compliment. It’s a shame that the game just doesn’t balance for single-player at all.
I’ve written for awhile without mentioning the story. Like Gunpoint the story is told through simple text-based dialogue scenes. But where Gunpoint had clever, punchy writing, Monaco opts for short, one-line comments that roll out in rapid fire from our heavily pixelated crew.
Since you’ll hopefully be playing the game with friends, ain’t nobody got time to read through a story, so it’s probably the correct design choice. As a consequence, the rather cliché story of thieves and betrayal quickly gets lost, and I was only vaguely aware that the final mission let you play as only the original foursome.
Monaco‘s level designs and cooperative mechanics work incredibly well, and Austin Wintory’s (Journey, The Banner Saga) piano-jazz score helps sell the old-timey, carefree criminal theme. I especially loved how the music swelled and accelerated whenever you were discovered and had to flee. Unfortunately the action just isn’t well balanced, nor particularly enjoyable in single player, which is probably where the majority of players are coming from.
I’ll admit it was a tricky game to play in my schedule, as I was constantly begging friends to join me. If you’re not lucky enough to have friends that own the game, Monaco is a tricky one to recommend. With friends, however, it’s one of the more fun cooperative indie games I’ve played.
- Over 30 levels provide a wealth of content, from incredibly easy to insanely challenging
- Cooperative gameplay is brilliant and fun, reminding me of the best cooperative board game designs
- Brightly colored pixel art looks great
- Varied levels are well designed and fun to traverse and explore
- Fantastic soundtrack that’s well-integrated into the gameplay and theme
- Much less enjoyable in single-player, and a frustrating slog in later levels
- Story is bare-bones and forgettable