A More Tactical Take on the Deck Building Roguelike That Shines Thanks to Excellent Diversity in How You Tackle the Goal of Re-igniting the Flames of Hell
Slay the Spire with Added Complexity and Choice
Monster Train is a deck-building rogue-like from developer Good Shephard Entertainment that was shadow dropped onto Xbox One/Series X|S and Game Pass on December 17th, 2020. Originally released earlier in the year on PC, it was a pleasant surprise to see it not only land on the Xbox platform but immediately being accessible on Game Pass. I am a huge fan of Slay the Spire and watching the trailer for Monster Train reminded me heavily of one of the best games in the genre. At times it feels almost too similar, but the added diversity to your decks and more strategic elements helped to make it even more satisfying for me personally.
You are on a mission to reignite the flames of Hell with the final Pyre that is stored on the 4th level of your train. Choice comes in the form of two paths per “floor” as you work your way down the levels of Hell. Each stop offers up a variety of shops and destinations where you can choose what random elements you want to add to your deck. The artifact system is similar to Slay the Spire’s as you obtain items that powerfully customize how the cards in your deck work. There are fewer of them per run so the power of each is substantial in nature.
Greater Deck Variety Leads to Massive Replayability
Your decks are tied to a series of neutral cards and then your choice of a main and support clan of hell. There are 5 clans in total, each with its own distinct advantages in either the main or support roles. You start with a clearly defined damage clan and healing and buff focused clan at your disposal. Unlocking new cards, second champions, and new clans are tied to an easy to earn experience system. Everything you do earns you experience and you will quickly have every card, artifact, and clan unlocked if you find the game as engaging as I did.
Champions are “free” 0 energy cards, around which you will build your entire deck. They have the most potential and must be protected if you are to have any chance of winning each fight. The energy system is a basic one where each card has an “Ember” count and you start with 3 Embers. Card energy costs and your base energy amounts can vary wildly based on Artifacts, Champions, and cards that you obtain through your run.
Combat takes place on 3 main levels and one Pyre level at the top of your train. Enemies typically enter through the first floor, but modifiers can place them anywhere at times to start a fight. I typically would place my Champion on the bottom floor and use Buff or Summon Cards to protect them as they powered up in each fight. The various clans, artifacts, and random buffs you encounter each run can lead to wildly different strategies.
You must keep an eye on each floor and make sure defenses are in place—as any enemies not defeated move up a floor after each turn. Once they reach the Pyre, they will attack until the Pyre’s attacks can take them out. Once your Pyre’s HP is down to 0, the run is over and gaining back HP for the Pyre means losing out on making your deck stronger as your run progresses.
The Clans of Hell
There are five clans in total including the two starters mentioned previously. First of these are the Hellhorned, who are a damage focused group that use huge health and damage pools to outlast their foes. Next are the Awoken, a group of nature-focused healers and buff givers. There is more of an emphasis on buffs powering up their summons when they are the main clan chosen. Your first unlock is the Stygian Guard, who are far more complex than the previous clans. They offer a greater focus on spells and final blows being the main source for empowering their summons. The Umbra are an odd but incredibly powerful clan that I use as my main support. They offer up a variety of “Morsels” that are summons with low HP and no attack. Their purpose is to be eaten by your summons to empower them with extra HP and damage. Finally, the Melting Remnant are a parafin wax-based clan that are the glass-cannons of the bunch. High damage and short lives are their main strategy—and with the right relics you can take out an entire floor of enemies in a few hits.
Each clan has two champions that offer up clean, varied ways to tackle each run. An example with the Hellhorned is the initial champion named the Hornbreaker Prince. His runs center around getting him as many hits in as possible as quickly as possible as he will gain massive damage and armor buffs every time he attacks an enemy. The second champion for the Hellhorned is the Shardtail Queen whose focus is mainly on imp summons which she uses to deal massive damage to groups of enemies.
Each clan has 10 levels to unlock, with the unlocks bringing a variety of new cards and artifacts with each one. In all, there are over 250 cards in the game and 88 artifacts in total.
Good Looks and Good Tunes
Monster Train uses a similar 2D look to Slay the Spire, but on the whole, I found it of higher quality with a better diversity to its enemy and hero types. The looks are not spectacular but they help sell the setting of a frozen-over hell. The ability to increase combat speed to ludicrously fast levels (so that you do not have to watch the same animations playout for the 500th time) is also a welcome one.
The music is well done and I never felt the need to mute it. It stays in the background well enough that even after listening to the same thing for 25 hours, I never grew tired of listening to it. Each boss has their own custom music track as well. This goes a long way towards making each encounter a more memorable experience.
Racing to Save Hell First
The multiplayer HELL RUSH mode is one I spent a lot more time in than I normally do in this type of title. Eight players all race to finish a run with the exact same deck, modifiers, and choices available to them. It becomes a battle of who can make the best decisions the quickest and the exhilaration of a close win feels incredible.
The Daily Challenge is similar in concept but without the real-time aspect. Instead, it is leaderboard-focused with an asymmetrical take. This has been the mode I have played the most and after beating a run with each champion, it has provided me with a nice change of pace due to the modifiers in use.
There are “new game plus” style difficultly levels in the main game known as Covenant Levels and they are no joke—just one difficulty level up felt far more difficult until I had fully unlocked my main clan. It adds greatly to the longevity of the title alongside the MP features.
Monster Train is an excellent title that shamelessly apes from my previous favorite in the genre: Slay the Spire. If you liked the Game Pass title at all, then know that this one is even better in every single facet. It features some of the best diversity in the genre to date and is worth giving a try even if you are not normally a rogue-like deck-building fan. With its turn-based nature, Monster Train is my go-to xCloud phone streaming game. It is available now on Xbox One, Series X|S, xCloud for Android, and Windows 10.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X