The Monster High series has branched out into all sorts of multimedia from web shorts to TV series and now video games. For those unfamiliar, the franchise is a Mattel doll line that takes on a slightly ghoulish and gothic aesthetic. The latest game in the franchise, Skultimate Roller Maze, takes a different approach with the franchise opting for a rollerblading racing title.
The core single player component comprises of six races which all must be played through consecutively. Players begin by selecting a team of three bladers who they can switch between on the fly during the race. Characters are divided into three weight classes that mainly affect their strength and speed as you would expect. Lighter characters can build up speed quicker but can be knocked around easier while heavier racers can take the punishment but take their time reaching their maximum speed.
Tracks are generally fairly large and empty and with there only being 4 racers on the track it can be quite easy to forget that you’re in fact supposed to be trying to come first. Obstacles are always easy to see coming and rarely require any real skill to avoid. The only real challenge comes from avoiding the other racers as they have a habit of just pushing you into the wall. For a portable title however the tracks are simply too long and with the lack of variety within each track it soon becomes tedious trying to reach the finish line.
As with many mascot racers there are various power-ups to be found in coffins scattered across the tracks at various points. The super skates provide a speed boost and a dummy coffin will swallow an opponent and keep them behind for several seconds. There are also projectiles and other obstacles that can be placed behind the player. Scattered along the tracks are spirit coins which can be collected to fill up the player’s spirit metre. When full they can activate a special technique exclusive to each player. Usually they will unleash an attack that gives them invincibility and a speed boost in a similar fashion to the Super Star in a Mario Kart title although some do fire off projectile attacks.
The controls generally feel quite loose throughout races. Even the nimbler characters don’t seem to feel any more responsive than the hulking slowpokes they’re supposed to be able to out manoeuvre easily. The lack of any contextual animations also makes it quite difficult to gauge what can be done to avoid a situation. At the start of races you’ll often find an opponent endlessly bashing into you thanks to the giant hitboxes on every character.
Much of the game is actually locked away until you complete various tasks such as placing first on a particular track on the hardest difficulty. As a result of so little of the game being available in the shorter game modes it will feel quite barebones as a package if your portable gaming sessions don’t allow for the time to grind through the primary races. Having to unlock content in games like this should ideally be something extra from the main experience but the fact that in order to gain the content that’s advertised on the packaging is quite irksome. Fortunately the tracks on the highest difficulty aren’t too difficult so most of the unlocks can be gotten quite easily.
The main single player mode races you through all six tracks at once and when you complete the hardest difficulty you will be able to access every track on each of the other bite-sized modes. Quick Race allows you to select a single track to race through, Relay Race limits your team to one member per lap and Timed Race is a race against the clock. The modes don’t really add much variety to the core gameplay and are simply items to add to the features list on the back of the box.
Quite puzzling is the lack of any multiplayer component to the game, not even a local one. The single player component may not be of the highest quality but friends who are fans of the franchise would probably have at least appreciated an option to select their favourite characters and race together. With its sparse content the game doesn’t exactly invite too much replayability once all of the characters and tracks are unlocked.
Being a downport of the Wii version the game doesn’t look too bad for a DS game. The texture work is quite blocky but the environments do generally look decent. Characters are smoothly animated but having said that they are quite static as they glide along the tracks. The music and sound effects are generally fine but never capitalise on the slightly gothic atmosphere of the visuals.
Monster High: Skultimate Roller Maze is a overall a very shallow game although I wouldn’t really have expected anything else from a game made to cash in on the latest line of dolls. Younger fans of the franchise may have a limited amount of fun initially playing as the various characters but beyond that I’m not entirely sure why they’d feel the need to continue playing when there are far more interesting mascot racers available for the DS.