I’d never heard of competitive dating simulators before I played Monster Prom, Beautiful Glitch’s new visual novel that has you competing for the heart of Monster High’s six most eligible bachelors and bachelorettes. There’s a reason for that: dating sims and visual novels usually let story take charge. Gameplay mechanics, including multiplayer functionality, don’t get much attention. Monster Prom tries to mesh the two styles of play in a zany, bright, and short game that’s fun, but doesn’t quite achieve what it promises.
Working towards that Promposal
In Monster Prom, you take control of one of four pre-made monsters. You can choose each one’s name, beginning stats, and – a first – pronouns. (I’ve never played a game that let me choose my character’s preferred pronouns before, and Monster Prom does it in an unobtrusive way during character creation. Why don’t more games do this?) You’re then set free in the halls of Monster High to romance one of the following six heartthrobs:
- Miranda, a charming, naïve, and genocidal mermaid princess
- Vera, a gorgon whose business sense is as sharp as her sense of style
- Damien, a fire demon who loves playing the bad boy
- Polly, a ghost whose thirst for partying hard is unquenchable
- Scott, a sweet, sporty, and clueless werewolf
- Liam, a vampire for whom the word “hipster” barely even scratches the surface
You spend your time polishing your stats – smarts, charm, boldness, fun, creativity, and money – in one of the school’s six locations, and at each one you have a run-in with one or more monsters. They’ll engage your lovable freak in conversation, and you choose a course of action. If you succeed on that stat check, you get a stat boost and make your crush a little weak in the knees. Fail and you’ll lose points on both your stats and your crush’s affection.
It’s a pretty simple system, and a fun one. It’s not fine-tuned, though as it is often unclear which conversation options lead to which stat checks. In one run, I selected what I thought was a bold conversational choice while sweet-talking Vera. It was actually a money check, though, and Vera shat all over my sweet ghost boy’s attempt at impressing her. That was it for Deadward Cullen, since Vera never showed up again during a random encounter.
Deadward Cullen looked cute as hell, though. That’s because Monster Prom has adorable, comic book-style illustrations that let each character’s personality shine through. They wear different outfits depending on the setting (I particularly love the costumes they wear during play practice in the auditorium). The bright, snappy visuals match Monster Prom’s irreverent tone perfectly. The chill, upbeat music’s fine, too, though nothing special. The credits song (“Fifteen Minutes” by Mike Krol) is perfect, however: it’s a shouty, drum-fueled nostalgia trip that took me right back to my own prom.
Scratching the Surface
Monster Prom bills itself as a well-written game, and it is, sometimes. Polly, who is constantly high on cocaine, drops funny, Millennial-inflected jokes left and right. Vera dissects the player character’s erotic dragon fanfiction with equal parts humor and academic rigor. Minor characters are fun, too: the witches of the Coven, a trio stolen shamelessly from Charmed, focus on saving the world while their classmates pick food fights and try to ask each other on dates.
But what sets a good dating sim apart is character depth, and Monster Prom’s writing is relentlessly one-note. The characters don’t have layers, and what you see is what you get. Every time Polly shows up, she trumpets that she’s high with all the subtlety of a vuvuzela. (We know, Polly. You like drugs.) Scott, a dumb jock, is never more than a dumb jock. Miranda is so sappy-sweet that I wished Vera would turn her to stone.
By the way, Polly is high!! Did you know that? Monster Prom wants to be very sure.
If you do manage to successfully ask a character to prom, there’s no story there, either. No run-down of your prom hijinks. No musings on the DJ’s playlist. Nothing about the people, the dancing, the food, the sparks that fly (or don’t fly) between you and your love. In other words, nothing about prom itself – and this is a game called Monster Prom! A better title would be Some Shenanigans Leading Up to Prom at a High School with Monsters (Prom Not Included).
Fortunately, the game’s multiplayer and Easter egg aspects are worth exploring. You can play Monster Prom with up to three other people, either all on the same device with friends (in which case you take turns controlling your monster) or with strangers. If playing with friends, the game decides turn order by making you answer silly questions and then arguing about which answer is the best.
I tried friendly multiplayer mode with my boyfriend, and at first I made us rush through the questions. “I’m always going to argue that my own answers are the best,” I said, ever the Slytherin (no wonder I love Vera the most).
“That’s no fun,” he said, so I gave in. In just a few minutes, I found myself agreeing that some of his answers were better. After all, it’s hard to say that fashionable scarves (my contribution) would make a better future currency than David Hasselhoff videos (my boyfriend’s contribution).
Monster Prom also features a host of secret endings and hidden characters. I was delighted when I figured out that I could (SLIGHT SPOILERS) date the shopkeeper, and she ended up having the best storyline of all. While replaying over and over to try to get different events started to feel old, unlocking new scenarios felt worth it.
The result? I wasn’t even sure if I liked Monster Prom when I finished my first run. Here I am five hours later, though, still trying to get the penguin mask, the kilo of guacamole, and the bag of marbles I’ll need to do the Reverse Romanian Wilkinson with Polly on prom night. (Yeah, it’s a sex thing.)
Monster Prom is a charming, fun game with some creative multiplayer features. While it lacks depth, it’s great for small hangouts or a laugh when you’re feeling down.