The pickles are attacking! Run! And while you're running, why not set up a few defensive towers to take out the Horripickles and Fisquitoes chasing you? In Monster Mash you must protect storybook villages and their people from evil fairy tale monsters. It's a tower defense game with artwork, characters and plot taken right out of a children's book, and it's every bit as surreal (yet fun) as you might think.
Tower defense games usually operate on the same basic rule set — monsters march along a specified path and you must place towers that will destroy them before they reach the end. Each enemy defeated earns you a bit of cash you can use to buy more units or upgrade existing towers to be stronger, faster, or have a wider range of attack. There's always a good variety of buildings at your disposal, each with a different strength and weakness to help stave off the hordes.
Monster Mash takes the now-familiar formula and gives it a child-like makeover. Not in terms of gameplay, mind you (although it is a bit pared-down compared to other tower defense games), but in the artwork and setting. Each round begins with a villager running out of the monster cave back to the village. Your lives are measured in people, and each runaway villager that returns to the town gives you another chance at success. Let a monster reach the end of the path, however, and expect to lose a few villagers. You don't want to kill the happy people of Curly Valley, do you?
Defeated monsters occasionally drop items that can be collected by sending villagers out onto the battlefield. Some items give you gold, while others speed up building time, slow the enemy's walking speed, or increase your towers' attack strength. There are even level-specific objects you can click on to aid your cause, such as the scarecrow that freezes enemies or the cannon that dispatches foes no matter where they are. Throw that in the pot with a handful of unique maps and you have the makings of an entertaining tower defense game.
Analysis: In a genre that's becoming more crowded as the weeks go by, Monster Mash has the good sense to set itself apart from the pack with a delightful artwork and story presentation. The gameplay itself is rather run-of-the-mill, but seeing zany monster after zany monster crawl out of the cave is a blast, and each one comes complete with a short biography.
Where Monster Mash falls a bit short is in long-term play. Each map you defend is almost completely cut-off from previous areas, as you don't carry gold between stages. Power-ups you nab are saved, but as far as an over-reaching drive to keep playing the game, there really isn't one. Also, the difficulty level is sharply increased after just a few levels, and it's quite a jarring experience.
Compared to other tower defense games (especially Garden Defense), the amount of items and towers doesn't quite stack up, leaving the experience a bit flat by comparison. But the creativity poured into the artwork and character stories more than makes up for that. It's a good tower defense game made even better thanks to a little imagination.