The idea of a creature-collecting metroid-vania seemed impossible, but then in 2019, Moi Rai Games released Monster Sanctuary. In this game, players platform their way through various labyrinths with powerful monsters at their side. Contacting a wild monster initiates a turn-based battle where your party of monsters takes on the enemy. Monsters level up and spend skill points to upgrade their elemental attacks, support their teammates by healing or inflicting status conditions, and utilize elemental weaknesses and resistances to their advantage.
Monsters each have skill trees that can be slowly unlocked with skill points as they level up, making each monster highly customizable throughout the game. But don’t worry, it’s not difficult to re-invest those skill points if something doesn’t end up working out. Perhaps one of the most unique mechanics of this game is how you add monsters to your team. Rather than capturing them in a ball, when a monster is defeated it has a chance to drop an egg. Hatching the egg will add your own version of that monster to your team. The monster hatches at a similar level to the level of your current team members, so there is no grinding to bring new recruits to the current level.
Evolution is not as common in Monster Sanctuary as it is in some of the other games on this list. Of the 111 monsters that can be found, only a few dozen can evolve. Also, evolution isn’t inherently an improvement, it’s just different. For example, Magmapillar can evolve into a Magmamoth, but it just changes from being a defensive monster that can buff allies into more of an offensive powerhouse that focuses on doing damage itself. The monsters in Monster Sanctuary also affect gameplay, as they can be mounts for dashing across the land, help a player swim underwater, or even help them fly a short distance. So the monsters on your team not only help with battles, but they also upgrade your ability to explore. Monster Sanctuary is available on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC via Steam. Also if you are reading this before February 12th, 2024, it’s currently on sale for 75% off on Steam.
In September 2023, Studio Supersoft released Moonstone Island, a game combining creature-collecting with cozy life-sim mechanics and deck-building battles. Exploring the one hundred procedurally generated floating islands of this game is supplemented by maintaining a farm, romancing NPCs, taking on dungeons, and of course, finding the sixty-six strange spirits and adding them to your team.
Moonstone Island may not have as many collectible creatures as some of the other games on this list, but it certainly brings a unique combination of genres to the table. This is perhaps one of the closest to Palworld’s survival mechanics with farming and item crafting being optional features. Thankfully, if the idea of gathering materials and maintaining a field of crops doesn’t sound appealing to you, Moonstone Island doesn’t force the player to focus on any one mechanic for long. Sure, there will be a certain required amount, but it’s not enough to bog anyone down.
One of the ways that this game really shines is the depth of its deck-building, turn-based spirit battles. Each spirit has its own deck of cards and finding the synergy between a team, as well as a deck strategy that works best for you, can be a fun and engaging challenge. The utterly charming and stylish pixel graphics and freedom to explore further and further as you progress make Moonstone Island worth checking out, even if some of these features don’t sound like the right style for you. Moonstone Island is available on PC via Steam, and will be coming to Nintendo Switch sometime this Spring!
Now if the farming aspect of a game is more interesting to you, Ooblets, from developer Glumberland, might be just the game for you. The creatures that you collect in this game are actually grown on the farm rather than captured in some other way. Finding an Ooblet in the wild and convincing it to take on your team in a dance battle (yes, dance battle) is how to obtain a seed of that creature, that you can then plant in your garden.
Ooblets is a very cute and wacky game, where battles never get any more violent than awesome dance moves. The flow of battle is also determined by each Ooblet’s deck of cards that can be added to over time as the game progresses. But each little creature also has unique cards that are specific to their deck. While the battle mechanics are not the most in-depth, there are still synergies and strategies to discover.
This game about tiny dancing creatures has less of a huge world to explore and is more about accomplishing small tasks for NPCs and building up a cozy home base for you and your collection of little monsters. It would be easy to imagine certain players getting endlessly lost in the gameplay loop of tasks for hours on end. So if that’s the kind of player you are, you have been warned. Ooblets is available on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PC via Steam.
Digimon has always been in the shadow of Pokémon, and never really found its footing in the video game landscape. However, back in 2022, developer Hyde, Inc. released Digimon Survive, which completely changed the way Digimon was presented. The game itself featured tactical battles between long bouts of choice-driven narrative storytelling. The name “Survive” does live up to certain expectations, as the choices players make in trying to survive the digital world will quite literally determine life and death for certain characters.
This is not a game for the faint of heart, and I would be hesitant to immediately recommend this game to anyone who is a fan of the usual creature-collecting games. But, if a player is looking for something more high-stakes and mature, and they don’t mind sitting through a lot of dialogue, then this could be the perfect choice for them.
As far as creature collecting goes, each of the main characters has their single partner Digimon, but you can also add wild Digimon to your team. Rather than throwing a device to trap them, Digimon willingly join your team if you befriend them by correctly answering a series of questions. Partner Digimon will all be able to evolve, but the choices that the player makes will determine what each evolves into. Digimon Survive is a dark, twisted take on the Digimon franchise, and creature-collecting in general, but it also stands out as one of the most daring and effective Digimon games to date. Digimon Survive is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC via Steam.
A Few Honorable Mentions
There are a handful of games that are still great in the monster-catching / creature-collecting genre but already have a well-established fanbase. For example, Shin Megami Tensei, the series famous for being what the Persona series spun off from, involves convincing various monsters to join your team and fight for you. Shin Megami Tensei V was released in 2021 and remains the most recent addition to the series. It’s not exactly what people think of when thinking of monster-catching, but that is part of what makes it stand out.
Then there is the spin-off from the Monster Hunter series, Monster Hunter Stories, with Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin being the most recent addition to the series in 2021. Rather than hunting and defeating monsters, this game is all about teaming up with monsters instead. As someone who enjoyed the monster designs from Monster Hunter, fighting alongside the monsters rather than against them is a great change of pace.
Finally, there are a few more additions to the genre that have yet to be released but look promising. Beastieball from developer Wishes Ultd. has the collected creatures face off on the volleyball court rather than in actual physical combat. Flock from developer Hollow Ponds and Richard Hogg is all about convincing creatures to follow you around by temporarily joining your flock. Both of those games do not have release dates yet other than sometime in 2024, but both also have free demos available on Steam. Dicefolk, from developers LEAP Game Studios and Tiny Ghoul, combines creature collecting with rogue-like, deck-building, and dice. Dicefolk also has a demo available now on Steam, and a release date is set for February 27th, 2024. The last one I’ll mention is LumenTale: Memories of Trey from developer Beehive Studios. This game combines 2D sprites and a 3D world and looks to have a great sense of humor. There isn’t much information about when it is expected to be released but hopefully, the wait won’t be long.
So that’s the list! Hopefully there were at least a few interesting titles that caught your eye and showed what this genre can be. But feel free to let us know your thoughts in the comments! Anything that looked really interesting and you want to know more about? Any games you’ve played or heard of that you think deserve a spot on this list? Let us know!
Matt Buckley | Gamepressure.com