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Juka and the Monophonic Menace Review

Developer: Orbital Media Publisher: SouthPeak Interactive
Release Date: October 18, 2006 Also On: None

Every once in a while, a company will try a different concept in one of their games. This doesn’t tend to happen too often because many games that are too different do not sell well, even those which do not deserve such a fate. Yet, Southpeak has chosen to release Juka and the Monophonic Menace for the GBA, a game that is, in many ways, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. But is it worth buying? Read on to find out.

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Graphically, Juka is animated quite nicely. The environments are bright and cheery, as are the characters and enemies, and the level of detail is among the high end of what can be found on the GBA in most areas. This isn’t your average slapped-together game graphically by a long shot, even if it is overshadowed by some of the best first-party titles of this generation. If Southpeak is a new company (a guess that I make only because I had never heard of them before playing this game), they have certainly learned fast.

The sound likewise is decent, although not as good as the graphics. Each area has its own melody, and there are also dedicated melodies for various types of battle situations (meaning when you’re in the same environment as an enemy). The music is good, but you tend to be in areas long enough that it can begin to get old. The sound effect system is different in some areas, but is good for what it is, and the differences are appropriate to the differences in the play style of the game. There is no voice acting of any type (even one-liners) in this game, but few third parties bother with that, so it isn’t a major gripe. Overall, I have no significant complaints here.

Juka and the Monophonic Menace plays unlike any game I have ever played that I can recall. The environments are isometric, which is normal enough, but the systems for battling and puzzle-solving are not traditional. The plot, however, is pretty standard fare, centering around an ancient evil force which has recently returned and must be stopped by the good guy, Juka.

Juka has many abilities. For battle with the bad guy’s robots, he absorbs the robots’ bullets using his sound staff’s dark and light shields. Any bullet he absorbs with the dark shield will heal his shield energy. But the light shield is the important one. You need to understand that, in this game, an enemy doesn’t shoot the same type of bullet over and over. There are many types of bullets distinguishable by shape and color that are shot randomly. Juka must gather bullets in his light shield in a precise order as shown on the bottom of the screen to gather enough energy to launch a sound shot at the enemy he is targeting, sometimes having to gather multiple patterns to make stronger shots. This is easier said than done, as either getting hit by a bullet or absorbing the wrong type of bullet with the light shield eliminates any work that has been done in gathering power for the shot and he’ll have to start over. This system may be a bit convoluted, and it does sometimes result in having to wait a while for the right kind of bullet, but it is certainly a novel and well-implemented idea.

Outside of such battle, many situations will be handled with potions. Juka can shake trees or perform other various actions to collect elements. As he collects elements, he can mix them to create potions, which have various effects from putting enemies to sleep to unlocking doors and levers, to many other things. Some non-robotic enemies can have some types of potions used on them, but the rest of the potions are used for solving puzzles. Most of the puzzles however revolve around “defeat all enemies in the current area and then use the right potion”, which can get a little old after a while, and yet, the system itself isn’t bad for the most part.

Beyond these mechanics, the game is basically a collect-a-thon. You’re trying to collect various instruments, jars that can hold different element types, pieces of a machine that Juka needs to build and keys to a specific door, and in order to do this you’ll need to collect other things and perform various tasks to learn to make new types of potions. All of this collected stuff will be displayed in a journal in case you forget any of it or need to know how to proceed. The mixer for the potions isn’t too hard to use, although sometimes, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself forgetting which button is used to activate potions and which one is used to look at the map and journal or mix a potion. Still, that’s not the game’s fault, and the game is slow-paced enough that such things aren’t going to kill you.

Speaking of killing, basically nothing’s going to kill you because, as your shield gets down, you can just use your dark shield to rejuvenate it by absorbing bullets. And, should your shield run out, you have a stamina bar beyond that which also needs to be depleted before you die. Granted, some types of enemies can attack the stamina directly, but that doesn’t make the game significantly challenging. Also, save points are fairly abundant, although there isn’t one in every area.

This game is pretty lengthy, although part of that lengthiness might be due to its slow pace. Still, even without the slow pace, the game would be fairly long, and some people enjoy slow-paced games. This is certainly one of the most creative games I have seen in a good long while also. The only thing missing that I can tell is a reason to play it again after you beat it, but it’s long enough that that’s hardly a problem. If you are a fan of slower-paced games with a good balance of battle and puzzles, this could very easily be the game for you. And if this is among Southpeak’s first releases, I look forward to seeing what they’ll be able to do in the future.

Graphics: 8
Sound: 7
Gameplay: 7
Creativity: 9
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 8.1
Written by Martin Review Guide