Powder Monkeys starts with the tale of a new ice age ravaging the Earth, wiping out almost all traces of civilization. Some animals manage to survive, with insects burrowing down into the warmth of the planet, while monkeys gather and keep each other warm… somehow. A golden tree emerges, leading to both sides evolving and forming sides, thus leading to conflict between insect and primate. From there, they take to the high seas on ships not unlike those used by pirates and other naval armies of the past, and battle for dominance.
It’s quite a bit of exposition just to get monkeys and bugs to shoot at each other, especially in a world where all it takes to make birds go kamikaze is to steal their eggs, but at least it gets to where they’re trying to go pretty quickly.
Before setting off for adventure, you are given your choice of a few different monkey templates, with others to be unlocked as you progress. You can also choose a name for your captain, either by accepting a random mix of first and last names, or by inputting your own. While we accepted the default monkey, we opted to select our own name, and before we knew it, Furious George was ready to set sail.
A little bit of friendly fire never hurt anyone, right?
The first play type you encounter is fighting against other ships. You start with four cannons, which sit parallel to four on the other ship, and your goal is to fire shots to damage their ship while protecting your own. Watermelons are the default ammunition, and can stop other watermelons. Umbrellas can stop multiple incoming rounds, but don’t do any damage. And fireworks cause more damage, but can be destroyed by any other rounds.
Oh, and then you have the nukes, which can help even up the score in a pinch. But even these can be foiled by power-ups, which include temporary enhancements for faster shots, faster reloading, or even an electro-magnetic pulse, which can pretty much screw over the opposing ship (and any nukes it has fired) royally.
You will encounter these ships on the map screen, and they are accompanied there by a scale of one to five, which gauges their difficulty. As for the difficulty itself, you must level up your own ship and purchase upgrades with money and materials, itself a long and daunting task. Otherwise, you’ll notice a significant drop in your own weapons’ speed when fighting a more formidable ship, which gives a not too subtle hint as to how helpless you are against such odds.
Stop monkeying around.
Defeating a ship lets loose a spray of booty to plunder, which you gather by touching it. Unfortunately, it feels as though a lot of this precious treasure slips through your fingers, especially when the sequence abruptly cuts off as bags of loot are still being launched.
The second gameplay style is a bit more simple, and for what it’s worth, a bit more fun. Provided you have managed to grind your way to the appropriate experience level to engage an island fortification, you’ll set off high-speed fireworks rounds from your ship at the island embankments. Instead of the four versus four set-up of the ship battles, you have one cannon to fire, but it will send rounds anywhere you touch. Unfortunately, there are also innocent ships traveling the seaway between you and your targets. Ideally, your goal is to avoid hitting the ships and pump their towers full of rounds.
In addition to these two main modes of play, you can also take on side missions, such as guiding your ship in the same fashion as on the map screen past the range of a series of rated-five ships as you navigate a series of channels to find and rescue some allies.
To the dojo!
Unfortunately, there were a few factors that hampered our enjoyment of the game. The first is that some of the elements are too close together; that is, attempting to quickly load the bottom cannon in the ship battle can result in accidentally tapping the power-ups button, which not only fails to equip and fire the cannon, but takes you away from your artillery to your other power-ups. Simply put, it can sometimes feel a little cluttered as you try to perform needed actions.
The other issue we had was the need for grinding to build up your ship’s experience level. Many bases require you to have reached a certain (high) level, and though finishing one side-mission reveals the next, you can’t access it until you’ve reached the required level. Buying options to enhance your ship also requires substantial resources.
Altogether, it leads to the feeling that there is much to do, but that you can only do a small portion of it. You can continue to challenge comparable ships across the map, but as we said before, we found fighting the island bases to be more fun, which makes it a bit of a shame that you cannot do more of that to build yourself up. Even upon completing a side-mission or destroying an island base, you won’t receive enough points to help you reach the level needed to take on the next mission or challenge.
Despite all this, Powder Monkeys isn’t a bad game, but it does require a lot of time and patience from its players before they are allowed to take on some of the really fun parts. If you want instant gratification, or if you don’t enjoy the process of grinding, then this game may not be for you. Otherwise, you’ll probably enjoy it.