Monolith

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Team D-13 for PC and Linux, originally released in 2017.
Monolith mixes the shmup genre with arena-based twin stick shooting and a roguelike structure to create a fast-paced shooting experience mixed with equal parts dungeon crawling. The player pilots a speedy ship through a series of procedurally generated interconnected rooms, making his way through the confines of a dungeon, floor by floor. Some rooms are packed with enemies that require nimble shooting and dodging, while others offer weapon upgrades and passive buffs, and there are shops aplenty, allowing players to purchase weapons, stat boosts, ammo refills, and additional buffs.


Per roguelike conventions, each death returns the player to the lobby to try his hand at another run, with procedural generation changing the landscape, pickups, and weapons available on each run. Like many modern-day roguelikes, the player slowly unlocks the ability for new drops to appear within the dungeon, which may be purchased in the lobby from a charming cat-blob-thing named Kleines.


The game opens with a tutorial that explains the basic controls. The player moves freely around the room and aims independently of movement. The player’s default weapon has unlimited ammo and is supplemented by grenades that damage enemies and clear any onscreen projectiles, per shmup conventions. At the start of each run, the player is equipped with two grenades, but this can be increased to a maximum of six. Also borrowing from the shmup genre is a small hitbox at the center of the ship, allowing the player to dodge complex bullet patterns more easily.


Players the game with 10 units of health, with rare stat boosts that increase the maximum – and a few places where players can sacrifice their max health for upgrades – but health pickups are rare, so only the most skilled players will keep their health topped up throughout their runs. Players can also perform a short dash, allowing them to slide past projectiles and escape danger, but players are not invincible while dashing through enemies, although a teleport modifier is available that allows players to dash through any kind of danger without taking damage.


When exploring dungeons, there are many opportunities to pick up special limited-ammo weapons. These may be purchased in shops, found in treasure vaults, or selected as one of the random choices in an upgrade room. There are multiple weapon types, and dozens of possible modifiers for each of them, allowing for a huge array of possibilities. Often, the player has a choice to select between two or more weapons, requiring that they read the descriptions for each in order to make a selection that best suits their playstyle.


Projectile types include bullets, fireballs, lasers, and energy pulses, with modifiers that cause these projectiles to explode on contact, arc between enemies, hone in on enemies, slow enemy movement on contact, fire 2- or 3-way shots, pass through solid objects, bounce off walls, and more. These weapons are almost always better than the ship’s standard pea shooter (which has upgrades of its own), so players are encouraged to grab them as they become available, and their varied firing types offer a great deal of gameplay diversity from run to run.


Making proper use of this random arsenal can make a big difference when dealing with rooms full of enemies, minibosses, and end level bosses, as some are great at crowd control, some generate small amounts of damage over a wide area, and some offer concentrated blasts that make it easier to take down tougher foes while requiring the player to remain mobile and dodge small faster moving enemies.


For instance, with a 3-way fireball that explodes on contact and expels bouncing projectiles, the player can fire with wild abandon while destroying most weak enemies, whereas a homing laser allows the player to do heavy damage with a narrow focus while also sliding behind corners to dodge incoming fire. Ammo refills are fairly common, so it’s not too difficult to retain a favored weapon throughout one floor of the dungeon, although this ammo is often depleted during boss encounters.


The path to the boss of each floor is blocked at the outset, requiring the player to seek out one or more miniboss creatures to unlock the door to the level boss. Minibosses generally move quickly and can soak up a lot of damage, but they are noticeably easier than the final boss in each area. Proper bosses – selected from a pool of possible foes – have gigantic life bars, and many of them can spew huge numbers of projectiles, filling the screen and requiring that the player continuously dodge and fire. These bosses also have multiple attack types and can summon support enemies, making battles tougher for players who do not deliver damage quickly.


Once the player opens the way to the boss, he is free to begin the fight right away, or continue to explore the dungeon, risking the loss of health as he seeks out potentially greater rewards. A map shows all of the previously explored rooms and allows warping between visited points, and there is an upgrade that reveals additional rooms beyond what the player has encountered. Occasionally, a killed enemy will drop a key, which opens a vault door elsewhere in the level, often leading to some of the game’s best upgrades (or a huge cash reward for getting it to the next floor). Additionally, players can find rooms that grant a choice between three upgrades, including the aforementioned teleport dash, shop discounts, better equipment drops, partial immunity to electricity, and a drop of four weapons with four modifiers each, among others.


Throughout the experience, the player earns currency. Currency earned during a run can be spent in dungeon shops, and these items affect only the current run, whereas the player’s total currency is banked for use in Kleines’ shop in the lobby. New items are added to Kleines’ shop as the player completes runs and makes it further into the dungeon. Upgrades are expensive but can be acquired through raw playtime, and each of these items adds a new possible drop to the dungeon. Items include modifiers that allow increased damage against certain enemy types, bombs with additional properties like longer duration or the ability to freeze enemies, and the potential for a full health and ammo restoration drop. Currency can be earned more quickly by building up a multiplier, which increases as the player kills enemies, and decreases when he takes a hit.


Many roguelike games suffer from repetition as players continue to dive into similar environment and use similar tools from run to run, but this game continues to keep things lively with its speedy combat, a diverse array of enemies, meaningful weapon variety, a good deal of risk and reward from exploring dungeons versus powering through them, and even some level variety with certain areas containing unique hazards or elements, such as blue and orange warp portals, and an area that features fully- and partially-submerged rooms.


A post-release patch contains at least five new weapon types (there were seven in the original release), including electrical orbs and spinning drills, along with hundreds of new rooms, three new playable ships, and a Hard mode for players who have overcome the game's previous challenges.



2D CRED
Monolith was developed by Team D-13, a studio founded in 2015, with three members hailing from Germany, Canada, and Poland. Music for the game was composed by ArcOfDream. The game was developed using Game Maker Studio.

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