Review by Combat Crustacean
""I'm not having any fun, Bufo!" "Whatever kid, I'm a talking frog, figure it out yourself.""
Obscure titles are pretty cool, I have to say. There's something inherently rewarding about finding a fun, neat little game that few other people know about and enjoying it all to yourself. The thing is, though, that most of the really fun niche titles are eventually discovered and find themselves considerable cult followings. Some of the most recent examples I can think of are Disgaea, the Persona games and Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. All of them are quirky and wildly enjoyable games that started out small and unknown and ended up with an unexpected fanbase.
Juka and the Monophonic Menace is an obscure title that is not 'wildly enjoyable'. Sadly, it is not enjoyable at all. Its insignificance is due not only to a lack of press and word of mouth, but simply because there is little to be gleaned from playing the game. In order to reach cult-classic potential, a game has to be first and foremost FUN, which is JMM's fundamental failing.
The game actually starts out with a lot of promise; in fact, the reason JMM doesn't immediately earn itself a 1 is for the innovation the creators put in the game. It opens up with a brief but fascinating prologue introducing you to the land of Obla, establishing an audio-centric universe and a simple backdrop of a war long past. See, the Ancients of Obla ruled the land with the ambiguously purposed Sound Machines, which faded as quickly as their inventors did after the Settlers came to colonize the land. After discovering the technology, war erupted and the land now lives under a fragile peace. The sound theme is a recurring one throughout the game, as seen through your character's main method of attacking (the Sound Staff), the magical instruments you collect, and many plot-related devices.
After this, it immediately launches you into the gameplay, explaining the rudimentary elements of combat. Just like the rest of the game, it seems like a pretty interesting system at first. Your enemies (at least the mechanical ones) shoot random shapes at you, which you have to catch with your Sound Staff in a specific order. Once you get all of the desired shapes, you can shoot them back as an energy ball to slay your opponent. Innovative? To a point. But unfortunately, this quickly grows old as well.
Welcome to the negative part of Juka and the Monophonic Menace. The fighting is one of the most tedious combat systems I've ever had to endure in any game. Since the first few enemies of the game only take one hit to kill, and you only have to absorb one shape, it keeps things pretty fast-paced. Unfortunately, your foes eventually demand that you catch more shapes. Two. Then four. Then some of them grow shields, so you have a ridiculously small window of time in order to wait for them to turn around and then launch your noticeably slow energy ball. Some enemies take two hits to vanquish, which means you'll be absorbing up to eight shapes per battle. Consider also that these mechanized morons shoot the shapes completely out of order and this means you'll be spending about two or three minutes to kill each enemy. By the way, there can be as many as five on screen at the same time. And this is only two hours into the game.
If your opponents are not actually robots, then the affair becomes completely different and equally as dull. Humanoid enemies don't use sound blasts to take down dumb little Juka, so instead you're accosted by projectiles. Homing projectiles that move equally as fast as your character. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what's wrong here. Some of them steal the ingredients you need to make potions, and some drain your life, but all of them basically ruin your day. In order to put a stop to any of these dastardly foes, you have to go into your backpack, spend a minute brewing a Sleep Potion, and then whip it out to send your attacker into La-La Land. It takes less time than beating off the robotic foes, but since there are no rewards for combat you may as well just skip it entirely. Plus, organic enemies come back to life as soon as you re-enter the screen.
The agitating speed of JMM's fighting is merely a pace-setter for the rest of the game. Juka likes to take his time, I'll say that much. He walks slowwwwwwly across each of the game's sprawling maps, and without a run function it just seems to draw out the game even more excruciatingly. Each screen of each level is huge and looks exactly the same as the screen before it, so getting lost is a dangerous plausibility. Finally, there's a considerable lack of interaction with your terrain, except for shaking ingredients loose of trees; this sends the game into a near-catatonic state of boredom.
Perhaps the only real standout in Juka and the Monophonic Menace's gameplay is the ability to brew potions based on ingredients and recipes you find scattered around. Each of the potions you can make takes a different amount of the multi-colored reagants and can be employed for a wide variety of effects. Most of those effects, sadly, are plot-related and you really only have to make a potion when the time calls. Since you can only hold fifty ingredients of each color at a time, you'll often find yourself maxing out your space and wondering which equally useless potion you should brew. When you do get a potion you can use against an enemy, it travels so slow that you'll probably end up taking damage before he falls. Yet another broken system in JMM.
Orbital Media obviously had a lot of big intentions for Juka and the Monophonic Menace. Obla is bursting with so much character and life, and the game is so full of interesting ideas, that it is obviously an ambitious project for the developer. All of the ideas fell completely flat. Nothing translates out as it really should for the game; perhaps two of the greatest examples of this are the graphics and sound. JMM is possibly one of the most hideous games I've ever seen on the Game Boy Advance. The art style is markedly 'European Saturday Morning Cartoon', with the bright clashing colors and the surreal graphic design, but the fact is everything looks so ugly that you'll probably end up with a headache before long. Animation and scenery looks completely lackluster and eventually you'll have forgotten completely what the game looks like. The sound is decent, but in a world that revolves around it, it could really stand to be better. The tunes are unmemorable and blase and the sound effects are stock-standard at best.
In the right hands, ideas like those seen in Juka and the Monophonic Menace would have really panned out to something amazing. All I can see when I play this game is immense potential. Unfortunately, I could only crawl through two hours of the game in ten-minute stretches before I grew bored, and as a highly patient game-player this is absolutely dismal. It seems a little juvenile to pass judgment on a game after so little time playing it, but I wasn't having any fun at all on Juka's adventures and I certainly wouldn't be for the remaining ten hours. Normally I can recommend a title I don't enjoy to fans of the genre, but there's absolutely no reason to play this game. JMM is a huge waste of time and money, no matter what the sum of either is.
Reviewer's Rating: 1.0 - Terrible
Originally Posted: 08/14/06
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