Review: Monster Prom

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Despite carefully skipping around the edges of the visual novel genre, I’ve found a lot to like in the ones I’ve played. It’s certainly because my experiences are with titles like Long Live the Queen and Monster Loves You!, titles that are about as big on game mechanics as they are on evocative writing. Monster Prom is snuggled right in with this crowd, a bold explosion of colorful characters and preposterous prose. It’s built for a lot of things most visual novels aren’t, mainly short sessions and multiplayer, and while I can’t tell you much about the latter I’m definitely a fan of the former. Ah, if only the drama of my actual prom experiences could fit into an hour or less…

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The school year is winding down at Spooky High, the premier learning institution for late adolescents, and Monster Prom looms large on the horizon. You, in the form of one of four adorably spooky monsters, must use these waning weeks to woo the being of your dreams and make that final night one to remember. A lot can happen in just a few weeks though, and you’ll need to find solutions that favor your skills to overcome transformative spells, demonic raves, and fatal benders to name a few. If you play your cards right you’ll win the attentions of your boo for the big night, and if you go the extra mile you might just get a little more for your trouble.

Monster Prom opens with you selecting your avatar from the likes of a chill zombie, quiet shadow boy, and Frankestinian prep girl, and then taking one of those idiot magazine quizzes about yourself. Here you may have to explain how to handle an awkward situation, who your hero is, or what kind of animal you’d choose to have sex with. These questions determine your starting stats, evocative figures like Smarts and Boldness, which can also be raised or sapped as you make decisions like sticking your butt in a plate of lasagna, doing lines of cocaine not fully grounded in this reality, and dancing hard enough to turn into a sentient cloud of locusts.

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If I’ve got your attention now, I’d like to assure you that I’ve never played another game that was so relentlessly wild with its writing without tipping over into being cringeworthy. Every week gives you the chance to visit two locations on campus, each helping to grow your base stats, and then facing you with an absurd situation at that location. Maybe the party ghost and the jock werewolf are trying to come up with an extinction-level prank. Maybe the hipster vampire and rich girl gorgon want to rip someone’s fashion, literally. Whatever it is, it’s going to be raunchy, hilarious, and perfect for a game about hooking up with merpeople and demons. You even get to pick what tables to eat lunch at, and can sit with the weirdo coven or space prince if you want.

The goal is to impress the object of your affection by the time prom hits, and while the game gives you plenty of chances (it’s good at noticing who you like), those chances are going to be like coin tosses until you understand how the game works. Some binary choices are simply between supporting two characters and winning the affections of one. But others are between two options with hidden stat checks, and you might not have the Charm or Fun to pull them off. Failure can sap your stats further, and set back even the best plans. Beyond scoring your nightmare date there are also secret endings that involve solving a sort of side quest (and picking up items from the shop, requiring both precious time and money), and failing any part of that chain can end that aspiration in a hurry.

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But Monster Prom is very much the kind of game that rewards success, failure, or random clicking with loads of absurdity and surprises. There are literally hundreds of events and thousands of outcomes to your adventures, and you can experience it all in short games of 30 minutes or longer runs of an hour or so. It’s all presented in gorgeous, detailed art that oozes personality and a bangin’ soundtrack of homages to garage rock and oldies, as well as some cute voiceover work for all the main characters. And this isn’t even touching the multiplayer component, where you can fight with your friends over the affections of mermaid princesses. There’s more than enough here for fans of hilarious misadventures, but really, who doesn’t want the chance to experience prom again with a ghost or a gorgon?

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