Monomals is not only a great platforming game with a unique twist, it’s also a fully-featured music creation tool that expands as you move further in the game. Armed with a fishing rod with a headphone jack at the end of the line, you guide your Mono-plug through waters filled with baddies and obstacles to search for new Monomals, which are another name for the game’s musical fish, to catch and add to your collection.

You can switch between four DJs after you unlock them all, but you start as Retro Rabbit, and the music reflects his namesake: it’s all chiptune-styled music that plays during your runs. Other DJs also play music that fits their style, Funky Frog, Techno Tiger, and Rocky Rhino unleash different musical genres to play around within the music creation system.

Jack in and hold on

Once your Mono-plug is underwater, it actually plays like a puzzle platformer but with underwater physics. You’re not really as sluggish as you would expect and you can further amplify your speed with a boost, which also helps you solve a lot of the environmental puzzles. Need to break a block? Boost right through. How about destroying enemies? You guessed it: boost is the key.

This one-button approach simplifies the controls, which is great because although the controls themselves are very simple, the control of the plug is actually really fast and sometimes feels a bit unwieldy. As you move the control stick around, your plug rotates and starts moving in the direction you slide towards. This can take a bit of getting used to as you immediately start moving forward in that direction and have to deal with enemies and obstacles accordingly, so only having to worry about boost and actions that happen when your plug is jacked into an outlet of something to interact with makes it much more manageable.

Coins are littered all over each level and collecting them can be challenging at times, but they can be useful as they allow you to purchase new plugins for the music creation tools and larger, more hidden coins can be exchanged for custom items to decorate your DJ. There’s also a timer ticking in the corner that can lead to bonuses if you beat the level within a certain amount of time, but I found just playing the game at my own pace to be much more satisfying.

The fluidity of your plug makes for some frantic movements, but zipping along at a fast pace keeps the momentum going as well as the action and makes for a really fun time. It feels like a fresh mechanic that continues to improve as you continue through the batch of levels, and the speed of it all feels more like Sonic the Hedgehog than I ever expected it to. You’re not always in the water as some platforming segments use bouncing platforms to lift you skyward and even though you’ll flop about as you move through the air and boost to jump, it’s rarely a long stretch of gameplay and once you’re back in the water, your movements feel natural again.

Once you reach the end of the level, you’re tasked with taking down the level’s Monomal boss. This usually is a fairly simple to-do as you either chase them around an arena or solve a short series of puzzles to move them to the next room until they eventually are cornered, which finally allows you to plug into the aux port on their head and reel them in. It’s a bit repetitive, but the rewards towards the musical half of the game more than justify the battle.

A creative catch

The other half of the game is a fully-realized musical synthesiser called the Monomaker. In order to use this synth more efficiently, you’ll have to dive back into the game to collect more Monomals and, in turn, unlock more sounds. It’s a nice give and takes between the two, and it keeps progression fresh and fun.

Each Monomal fish has a sound and you pick them from the bottom of the screen to produce a specific sound. If you’re familiar with music production, imagine that they represent the different types of channels, such as saw, square, or noise. There are different categories of these living instruments, Leads, Bass, and Drums, and each one that falls into that category gives you a rough approximation of how it should fit in your song.

Once you pick your Monomal of choice, you drag it onto the arrangement and can slot them into one of the vertical rows, where each one represents a key on the keyboard that is conveniently placed on the left side of the screen for reference. Moving them left or right in the columns changes where it’s played in the song and while it takes a bit to get used to it, there’s a nice tutorial built in to get you going.

Once you construct a song, you can play it as the music during levels with a self-created playlist or you can upload your creation to compete with others on the “Hot 99” chart. It’s a really cool system and the fact that it offers you the means to customise your gameplay experience makes it that much neater to have within the game.

You might not even want to replace the songs in the game, however, as the soundtrack is a proper bop. The cheerful, poppy tunes will often have you banging your head along to the beat. These electronic jams perfectly complement the colourful, arcadey visuals and round out the whole experience, so feel free to turn the volume up and rock out.

Monomals Final Thoughts

There is so much to love here that it’s hard to pick a specific favourite part of the game for me. Between the amazing music tracks, the smart and slick controls, or even the creative use of gameplay that accelerates your ability to create your own tunes, each aspect of this game is such a well-crafted treat to experience, I just can’t help but love them all. I also am very much in love with the visual aesthetics of the game, and while Monomals certainly has a style of its own, if I had to pinpoint a stylistic frame of reference, I would suggest the punk stylings and the intensity of 90s fashion, which were essentially the entirety of my childhood in a nutshell.

The levels are gorgeous with multi-layered backgrounds that squeeze every detail out of their design, and the progression of each level offers an intelligently designed method of learning through play. I found myself quickly picking up new mechanics and getting to use them efficiently moments later, much to my surprise. Never did a level become too overwhelming to overcome and the pacing of the game feels just right. Each new area unlocked provides a new way to build on the excellence of what is already there and knowing that in the background that you’re unlocking new musical toys to test out in the music-making suite elicits joy in a way few things can.

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