Can a game be too cute?

Despite all the recent theft the townsfolk are in high spirits.

Despite all the recent theft the townsfolk are in high spirits.

The short answer? Nope… Not in a million years and this will become more and more apparent to you as you make your way through Cartoon Network’s and SleepNinja’s Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake. From the moment you boot up this game it hits you with a waterfall of cute characters, funny dialogue, and a cute-silly story. Underneath this veneer of adorability, however, rests the heart of a well designed puzzle game that will make you fervently hit the retry button as you try and hit the par time for its many stages. What sets this game apart from other puzzles games is the main character has a very real and relatable motivation to work toward the end.

The journal shows off all the important bits and hints at all the friends you'll be making!

The journal hints at all the friends you’ll be making!

The game starts off with a bit of nostalgia as Niko, our hero, wakes up on his birthday. His parents have left a note explaining that they had to leave but that he should enjoy his birthday cake. Unfortunately we find that the cake has been stolen and through a bit of dialogue with his dog, Bazooka, and the local townspeople, who are all missing things of their own, we find out that monsters known as Boogins are to blame. Niko decides that he must go out into the world of Gogapoe and find the cake himself but along the way he finds that he must enlist the help of friendly monsters who have been wronged by the terrible Boogin King. Yes, it really is that simple and it feels just right. All the dialogue between Niko, the townsfolk, the friend monsters, and even the Boogin King feel believable in the setting. The jokes hit upon nostalgia, childhood themes, and our hero’s attitude to persevere through the many puzzles that lie ahead make this story land just on the right side of silly. The puzzles are, after all, the meat of this game so lets talk about how the game introduces you to them.

Each area of the world feels unique and has its own obstacles to tackle.

Each area of the world feels unique and has its own obstacles to tackle.

As with most puzzle games Monsters starts you off small: a short little push and pull puzzle so you can get the feel and flow of the way puzzles in the game will work. At this point a puzzle game can do one of two things: introduce more complicated concepts immediately and ramp those up, or keep a nice gentle curve towards the complicated stuff later. Monsters takes the latter approach and it works perfectly. New mechanics are tied to specific characters that you meet throughout the game and the story progresses along with it. The puzzles that follow add more complication as these new characters come in and you can switch between them on the fly. On PC you use the number keys to switch between the predetermined “party members,” the arrow keys to move, and the spacebar to interact. Each monster has different moves and using them in the right order is usually the only way to make it through. Some charge and destroy things, other break crystals or stun enemies, another burrows underground, and still another can freeze enemies or water. The variety here is impressive and the way you use them to progress through each puzzle arena is a testament to the design sense behind this game. In fact the only gripes I can lobby against the developers is that the movement feels a little too slow to complete some of the puzzles under par and the hit boxes for the characters felt a little off to me as I got caught on geometry through the levels. Aside from these two minor complaints the game felt wonderful to play. In fact my early problem with the time limits being too strict can easily be avoided because of a simple mechanic they use for level progression. Anyone who has played the Mario games will be familiar with the star system. You get a set number of stars in each level based on meeting goals in said level and that total allows you to unlock later stages. In this game, when you pick up coins by completing quests for townsfolk, defeating enemies, breaking things, or finding treasure in the stages, you can use those at shops for new outfits, quest items, or even stars. This allows you to circumvent those goals you feel are out of your reach by buying the stars you missed. This removed what could have been an annoying limiter to the forward momentum of the game.

If there is one thing in Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake that gets your attention immediately it has to be the visual style of the game. The design of all the characters, monsters, and enemies feels like they all belong in this adorable world. The visual design of each puzzle adds to the atmosphere in each section of the game, the town, and side areas almost give the game a board game look. You could easily imagine these little figures moving through small board sets, interacting with objects in a 3D environment. The developer choice to keep the game 2D, while providing depth through actions like burrowing down into the ground and returning, adds to the storybook feel of the game. This, coupled with the story itself, makes this a world that yearns to be read to young children and the puzzle sections, which could feel superfluous, add even more to that feeling. Each character, monster or no, could be made into real life plushies and would sell ridiculously well. If that isn’t a testament to the level of cuteness the developers have achieved here I don’t know another visual metric to judge this game by. They are simple while having enough animation to display a wide range of emotions and when you pair this with the dialogue it does a fantastic job at keying you into the feelings of Niko and his friends throughout the game. This visual accomplishment sits in stark contrast with the sound in the game.

There is a lot to explore in your quest for cake!

There is a lot to explore in your quest for cake!

It’s sad that when it really comes down to it the sound in Monsters is by far its weakest component. Not because any of it is poorly made… no it’s the weakest element because there is so little of it. Each over-world section has its own music, there are cute sound effects when special moves are used and when you complete a level but there is no voice acting to speak of. I do my best to judge a game based on what is there and not what isn’t but with every element of the game so packed full of content this area felt lacking. It is a shame too because what is there is great and while you may not want to buy a soundtrack and listen to it while you go about your day the melodies were pleasant and never graded upon my ears while I played through the game. So, in the end I will give higher marks because what is there is great, I still wanted more. Maybe that is more of a compliment than a complaint?

Niko and Friends Monsters

Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake is itself much like a cake. The outside is deliciously adorably and visually arresting in just how cute everything is. Underneath lies layers upon layers of game-play that will test your appetite for puzzles all the while pushing you forward with a story about a boy trying to get back his scrumptious treat.  While I haven’t played the game on the mobile platforms I know that if you get the game on PC or Mac it will test your finger skills, your brain, and your tolerance for hug-able creatures and based on the amount of stages packed into this game it is worth every penny.

Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake is out now on Steam for $15 and mobile (iOS, Android) for $5. This review is based on a PC copy provided to the reviewer.

Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake Review
While the cute quotient for this game might be too much for some the addictive puzzle game underneath, along with a nice story, gives Monsters Ate My Birthday Cake enough meat to pull you all the way to the soft gooey end.
  • Adorable design makes every character huggable.
  • The level design for each puzzle makes you work for the solution.
  • The dialogue is just the right mix heartwarming and funny.
  • Repeatedly getting caught on the edge of a wall made a few hairs on my head fall out.
  • Some of the par times for stages seem unreasonably quick.
  • The “use” button should have been adaptable per character, not simply “on” or “off.”
8.5Overall Score
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About The Author

Jordan S

I'm Jordan or, on the internets, Truevalk. I play way too many games and love to write. I'm still learning to do one about the other but I hope I can bring good perspective to something I love doing.