Launched to capitalise on the ever-growing ‘monster catching’ sub-genre of the RPG that has been popularised by the Pokémon series and started in the original Digital Devil Saga on the NES, Edgebee brings Critter Forge to in-browser gaming.
Unlike the bulk of Edgebee’s catalogue, which have encouraged playing in a shared world between their various titles with a comedy/fantasy aesthetic, Critter Forge uses a light science-fiction environment and in doing so sets itself apart from the other games in their library. It is plagued by the same connection issues that afflict all their games however, that being occasional drop-out and lags between actions as the server checks your still playing.
Visually, Critter Forge is a little different to the normal Edgebee games as well, it uses a different artist than the one illustrating ‘Sorcery Quest’ and ‘Card Monsters’ for its 2D assets and the change is immediately apparent. A more Asian influenced art style is prevalent in manga-style illustrations and characters that populate the world, and although many of the monsters are rather dull in their design in comparison to other monster-collection titles everything manages to feel interconnected as part of the same setting. The user interface is commendably slick on this title and the manner in which menus expand and retract out of the way again is handled extremely well.
Sound comes off rather poorly in this title and it’s clear that Edgebee were aiming for a specifically retro sound to liken the game to older titles such as Pokémon without realising that the music in those early games is largely terrible. Without the shackles of a handheld system to hold them back I’d have expected the music and sound to be of a better quality, instead we’re treated to a sub-par ‘Mega Man’ score and sound effects that could literally have been ripped from a Game Boy. Luckily some of these pieces time out rather than looping, making for an easier time.
As with most Edgebee titles, the game gives you a supporting cast and a goal, fleshing out the world significantly but no over-arching narrative. Instead you are encouraged to experiment and after a tutorial period are left to find your own way through the various challenges that the game presents to you. It can make Critter Forge a little dull at times, however the emphasis is squarely on careing for your pets rather than working your way through a bigger story.
Gameplay works as a fusion between the ‘Pokémon’ template and something more akin to a ‘Tamagotchi’. Upon receiving a monster to call your own you can name it and head straight to the stables where an NPC named Amy will run you through the basics. Essentially you’re looking after the monster’s wellbeing, which includes keeping it happy as well as well fed and trained. Taking care of these attributes has a direct effect on the games main theme, which is combat between monsters, and a pet with a low happiness score enters the battle at half its regular health total so you’re encouraged to keep your monster happy. Good treatment increases stats, and you can care for skills that are earned through levelling your monster in a jigsaw puzzle formula that isn’t adequately explained at the games start and requires some experimentation. Buying items from the store is always a good move when considering what to do however and most if not all of them have some positive benefit. Just remember that all your Edgebee games share a linked currency for in-game and premium tokens so you may end up shooting another title you’ve been playing in the foot without meaning to. Other locations include the Lab, Airport, Auction House and Downtown, but you’ll largely be visiting the Coliseum. Here you engage in automated battles where your monster shows off what it’s learned by pummelling another into the ground and gaining you cash and experience points with which to level up back at the Stables. The system works, however due to the way that the game is made you’ll do more losing than winning for a while before you’ve put a few levels under your belt and built a better monster. You’ll receive various quests and missions to achieve in-game and these largely correspond to finding a certain type of monster and extracting DNA from it. The whole thing reminds me a lot of ‘Monster Rancher’ on the Playstation, which used a similar train and release to fight unaided method but which also had an interesting hook where audio CDs in the home dictated what monsters you produced. Without a similar unique hook the game feels a little pedestrian.
When placed in context between ‘Card Monsters’ and ‘Sorcery Quest’, Critter Forge feels like the weak link in a significantly strong line-up. Whilst it’s not unplayable by any means it doesn’t offer anything that you couldn’t find elsewhere and in many cases done to a higher standard. Lacking in a distinct hook and not having the vibrant creature roster it needs to tempt a player to keep hacking away at it to collect them all, Critter Forge just isn’t a game you need to play.