Update 5/28/2014: Monster Monpiece is finally out in North America (Europe gets it next week), and the sentiment in this Japanese preview still holds: It's a great game, but damn that embarrassing girl-stroking mechanic.
In PlayStation Vita game Monster Monpiece, players increase the powers of collectible cards by vigorously rubbing pictures of young women until their clothes come off. This suggestive, borderline pornographic stroking mechanic is doing much more than revealing cartoon skin — it's obfuscating the highly entertaining card battles that make up the true heart of the game.
Note: There'll be some mildly NSFW stuff in here, so scroll slowly.
I've spent the past two weeks playing through a Japanese import copy of Compile Heart's Monster Monpiece, acquainting myself with the title prior to the announcement of a Western release. Until I had the game in my hands, all I knew about it was what I'd read here on Kotaku. Brian Ashcraft called it "The Most Inappropriate PS Vita Game Yet," nicknaming it "The PS Vita Wanking Game" for obvious reasons.
The focus on the vulgar motions instead of the game's card battles was not purposeful. This is how the game was presented in Japan, and the presentation seemed to work — the game's initial 27,000 copy print run sold out in days.
Even today, as Idea Factory International prepares to enter the North American market — a market with ideas about sexual content that differ greatly from Japan — that stroking motion is still the first thing that pops up in the game's trailer.
Within a day of Monster Monpiece being announced for North American release earlier this week, Idea Factory doled out a heaping helping of those cultural differences. Around 40 of its 350 cards were being pulled from the U.S. release due to "intense sexual imagery." Though the cards in the game are supposed to represent mythical creatures reimagined as young women, in the Western world we tend to focus on the young women bit.
The imagine below shows a selection of the card evolutions that will not be appearing in the North American and European versions of Monster Monpiece, for obvious reasons.
So yeah, even now, in an article that's technically dedicated to talking about the non-sexual side of the game, I've spent six paragraphs talking about the exact opposite. It's unavoidable — that's how the game was crafted.
It didn't have to be this way. The underlying game, a hybrid of collectible cards and lane defense genres, is more than compelling enough to carry a game of its own accord.
The game begins innocently enough. In the world of Yafanir a race of monster girls have learned to coexist with humans, who harness their allies beastly powers in card-based battles. Mei, Fia, Elsa and Karen are studying to become monster girl masters, but when Elsa becomes cursed, Mei must embark on a quest to save her friends and the world itself from a mysterious evil.
She does this the old fashioned way — opening card packs, building decks, and taking her card warriors into battle. I firmly believe all conflicts should be handled this way.
Opponents grab their decks, filled with pretty drawings from famous artists, and take turns summoning monsters on a 3-by-7 playfield. When placed, the monster girls take on 3D forms and slowly march across the field toward the enemy base. The goal is to knock the points from your opponent's base before they knock the points off of yours.
Cards come in various types, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Melee characters for instance, are close-range fighters, hard-hitting with enough hit points to absorb some real damage.
While buffers utilize special skills to enhance your on-board party's stats or lower the enemies'.
Monsters of the same type — there are Dragon, Demi-Human, Beast, Bird, Fairy, Nature, Undead and Hybrid types — can be fused together on the field to enhance their powers. Each card also has a certain colored aura, and summoning monster girls with the same aura consecutively grants special bonuses.
It's such a satisfying system, with much more depth than a traditional collectible card game allows, and plenty of room for strategy. I could spend hours building new decks and experimenting with fresh tactics. Hell, it's even got an online mode, with the potential for endless multiplayer card battles against human opponents.
But then there's the rub.
For two hours I played through the game's story without one sign of the infamous sexually-suggestive feature. I learned the ropes. I met the characters. I organized my cards.
But then the enemies started to get tougher, and I knew it was coming. Soon my untouched, virginal cards would no longer be up to the task.
Can't I please just turn it off? No? Dammit.
In order to level up Monster Monpiece cards, they must be stroked. There is no getting around it. For some reason Compile Heart felt this was a mechanic that simply had to be.
I am no prude. I have watched my fair share of hentai. I have played erotic visual novels. I once collected a comic called Bondage Fairies. That I still felt a bit creepy touching these images says a lot.
It's not "rub her arm" or "stroke her hair." It's "poke her breasts, then go for the crotch." The rubbing mechanic knows what it wants, and if that's to embarrass the peope playing, then it succeeds.
And here we are, back to where we started. I talked about the stellar card game for a bit, praised its complexity, explained its rules and lauded its entertainment value. Then a couple paragraphs and an image later, and we're back to sex.
That's the problem Monster Monpiece is going to face in North America and Europe when it releases on the PlayStation Vita this spring. There's an amazing little game here, but it's hard to see it through your shameful, digital ink-stained fingers. They've not just buried the lede — they've paved over it and put up a strip club.