ACE Team, developer of Deadly Tower of Monsters, have made a career out of the unorthodox, as perceived by the orthodoxy of the West; basing the seemingly extraterrestrial aesthetics of their previous games on the entirely terrestrial culture and landscape of their native Chile. Gameplay, also, has been steeped in seeming unorthodoxy, from The Dark Conjunction (a single-player mod, for the multiplayer Quake 3 Arena) to Zeno Clash (a beat ‘em up, in the first-person perspective). But with their last game, Abyss Odyssey, ACE Team turned in a slightly more orthodox direction; the aesthetic as much Gothic as extraterrestrial Chile, and the gameplay (though sharing many similarities with the mechanics of Zeno Clash II) made palatable by a change in perspective and reduction of half a dimension.
Deadly Tower of Monsters seems, at first, to be another step deeper in the direction of orthodoxy; what better way to present the unorthodox than as a B-movie pastiche? One may be abstruse, kitschy, vulgar and ugly because B-movies can be all of these things, while protecting one’s self with the Post-Modern Shield of Irony; thus having one’s Extragalactic Blancmange and eating it, too. But The Deadly Tower of Monster’s over-saturated, kaleidoscopic colours, the texture and tartness of its kitschy tunes, are not, in fact, far removed from the ochre-rich colours and futosudamerican music of Zeno Clash and its sequel.
Indeed, the B-movie aesthetic complements well, better perhaps than the Gothic did, ACE Team’s native unorthodoxy. And, as much as it parodies B-movies, it also reads like a love letter to them. The DVD-commentary duologue (think Bastion) eventually becomes something more akin to Mystery Science Theatre 3000, with one of the narrators now, at times, almost appreciating the “film” for what it is; although he’d never admit it. The awkward kitschiness also complements the collage-like composition of the gameplay, as it moves so swiftly, like a bad cut, from simple platforming (the forced 2.5D perspective eliminates most camera-induced confusions, except in some instances of awkward panning from one perspective to another; but when falls to certain death do occur, one may simply teleport mid-air back to the site of one’s untimely descent) to beat ‘em up combat and top-down perspective on-rails shooting.
Platforming and especially combat dominate, both starting simply but, as one unlocks more skills and climbs the seemingly endless tower higher and higher, one eventually encounters bosses and battles as mechanically interesting as one might expect from an ACE Team game, making use of varied enemy patterns and skills, weaknesses and strengths; the varied combination of which can change significantly the feel of individual battles. Platforming, meanwhile, requires progressively more complex timing, and eventually even a little thought; whereas early on one may as well have been climbing a ladder.
As one climbs the deadly tower higher and higher, one can still see all the way to the bottom; a spectacular way to illustrate the progression one has made—from the terrestrial to the extra. Certain obstacles preventing one’s progress can only be passed, in the vein of a Metroidvania, with the acquisition of new equipment. Although the structure of the deadly tower itself is not as interconnected and complex as one would normally find in a traditional Metroidvania, much of the equipment initially acquired for the purpose of physical progression proves to be useful in combat; giving the equipment a practical purpose beyond its arbitrary acquisition.
The gradually building momentum in the pacing and the sense of progression in the aesthetic in The Deadly Tower of Monsters, is something that ACE Team had not achieved in their previous titles which, while all mechanically and aesthetically engrossing, were flatly composed. Thus, The Deadly Tower of Monsters is as polished and complete a work as Abyss Odyssey (its flatness of composition complemented its Roguelike structure), but also more nuanced, though not as natural, in its aesthetic as Zeno Clash and its sequel.