Remember the days when your biggest concerns were getting frosted goodies, spending time with your friends, playing cool video games and avoiding chores? For some of us, those days of childhood are pretty far behind, but every now and again there are games that manage to bring those feelings back, tapping into that little bit of nostalgia while at the same time having their own unique and interesting feel to them. Monster Ate My Birthday Cake is one of those games.
Trying to provide a new twist on the puzzle solving of classic Zelda titles, the people at Sleeping Ninja have crafted this game with quite a bit of care and attention to detail. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its issues, however, but we’ll get to that in due time.
At its whimsical core, Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake is a puzzle game made for PC and mobile devices, so you can imagine that it isn’t exactly focused on breaking the graphical barrier or having overly-complicated controls. That’s not to say that it does not have depth, though, far from it: this is a game that has a ton of content and a great storyline to accompany it. Don’t be fooled by the childish name either, as MAMBC has something for young and adult audiences alike.
As soon as you boot up the game, players will be greeted by the charming art style. Hand drawn characters fill up the screen and environments with an emphasis on simple, cute visuals welcome you with open arms. Moreover, the music is atmospheric, non-invasive and incredibly well done, never feeling out of place and always complimenting that universal feeling of adventure and wonder of exploration. Both of these work as excellent ways of pulling you into Monster Ate My Birthday Cake’s pixelated world, which is largely centered around how our main character, Niko, experiences his quest for the stolen cake.
As the title implies, the entire story starts when Niko wakes up on his birthday, hoping to eat some cake for breakfast (it is his birthday, after all) when he realizes that the pastry has been stolen. With with his pet dog Bazooka in tow, Niko decides to follow the crumbs and find the culprits. As he walks along the town he also realizes that the monsters have been stealing quite a bit of food from around his village. And though this may seem like nothing more than an ode to fairytales such as Hansel and Gretel, the narrative within Monster Ate My Birthday Cake begins to reveal a few secrets the further you progress.
In fact, what’s commendable about the story is that it branches off to some degree depending on player choice. For instance, you could miss some small details here and there by not talking to certain characters or by not rummaging around the village in true adventure game style. That said, the main storyline is strong and interesting enough to stand on its own without them. Either way, whichever path you do chose, just be sure to pack a few breadcrumbs.
As you progress, you’ll also find friendly monsters who will tag along with you in your journey. This is actually one of the key elements of Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake’s gameplay, as every character has abilities that you’ll need to use in order to solve specific puzzles. For example, some of these abilities include simple tackles to shooting a ray beam made out of rainbows from their mouth (and that is the single strangest phrase I have put to text so far).
Each of them have their own story as well as their own distinct personalities, which is impressive considering that some of these characters don’t even have spoken lines, but rather “speak” with their facial expressions.
These in-game personalities are a vital part of the story and the gameplay, as the variety that comes from controlling multiple characters on screen and having to balance all of their individual perks to solve puzzles is MAMBC‘s core mechanic. It’s a shame, then, that some of the characters have only one ability that feels very under-developed; such as Eek, a bat monster who uses her sonic screeches to destroy certain obstacles in the map.
One way that the developer circles around this issue is making Eek and other such characters have other type of obstacle — such as rivers or evil monsters — impede their movements, to which you will have to cleverly use other monsters from your party to allow them safe passage through to where they need to be.
Other abilities and quirks about the maps are slowly presented to you in a “experiment and learn” manner, rather than simply hitting you over the head with them. Although, this slowly dies down for more direct forms of tutorials by the very end, as the game continually gives you new characters and abilities to learn about throughout. It’s a small shame, but it’s understandable considering the difficulty of the later stages.
The puzzles themselves are usually very well crafted, slowly amping up the difficulty as you move along the 5 areas in the game, which all offer up a rich variety of color and setting. There are some puzzles that unfortunately break the flow, feeling more like a chore than a genuine conundrum, but thankfully, these are far and few between. When they do appear, however, it is a bit jarring.
Overall, the game is relatively short. It took me about 6 or so hours to finish the main storyline, and that’s including the time I spent experimenting with the side quests and supplementary puzzles. That being said, every bit of content here is very well crafted and a lot of fun to play through.
Despite some hitches here and there, Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake is an excellent game. It offers a perfect mix of challenging puzzles and a beautifully crafted world that’ll keep you busy for quite a while, trying to explore every nook and monstrous cranny.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which we were provided with.
Well designed with a quirky and interesting story to boot, Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake is the kind of game that you should not miss if you are a puzzle or indie game enthusiast, and its charm is something that both the younger target audience and adults can enjoy.