Yet this is all part of the fun. Strategy goes out of the window in favour of feverish stylus swipes as you desperately round up a large enough group to swamp bosses with windmilling fists or fast-moving cameramen, whose recordings can alert SWAT teams, giving you a short time to finish off the remaining survivors before said men with guns take down your cranium-cracking crew. Meanwhile, the presents you pick up contain seeds which can be planted in your farm hub, growing items that improve the strength and speed of the zombies that eat them. See, PopCap? They can be friends.
The art style is simple but cute - a news report adorably refers to the infected as 'blue masks' - while the sprinkling of English text and judicious use of arrows and icons for objectives makes it far more accessible than most kanji-heavy Japanese titles. It barely qualifies as a strategy game, but what it lacks in tactical depth, it more than makes up for with charm, humour and an enjoyably frenzied pace.
This cheerful platform-adventure comes from DreamRift, the studio formed by a team of developers who worked on Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure, a fact which becomes obvious once you start playing. Monster's Tale similarly asks players to watch both screens at once, though rather than a match-three puzzler supplementing the overground action, it's more of a virtual Tamagotchi.
On the top screen, you control blue-haired moppet named Ellie, who finds herself in a world ruled by malevolent kids and their monstrous pets. The bottom screen is reserved for Chomp, a friendly creature who decides to help Ellie to escape. The pair must work together to overcome etc. etc.
Chomp is small and cute when you meet him, but he soon proves handy in combat, happily slapping enemies around without prompting. His energy meter gradually depletes from every action, however, so you'll need to send him to his home on the bottom screen to recuperate. Any items you find from slain enemies, shops or chests can be used to train Chomp, with food giving him vital EXP and weapons firing projectiles up to the top screen. His evolution is dependent on the items he consumes, whether he's munching on a cookie or reading a book. As with Pokémon, much of the excitement comes in the anticipation of his next transformation.
Not that you'll really need him too often, because Ellie herself is no shrinking violet, able to shoot powerful bolts from her magical bracelet and smash thin walls and enemies with her satchel of freakishly impressive destructive abilities. For the most part, Chomp will hover ineffectually underneath the action, waiting for treats to fall his way, prodding the odd switch to release a barrier blocking Ellie's path, or tackling enemies that occasionally venture into his realm. You'll bring him back up whenever a new form or ability is available, just to see how it looks, but a few screens later he'll be relegated to the bottom screen once more.
Still, Chomp's sporadic mutations make the backtracking more fun. Monster Tale has a 'Metroidvania' approach to exploration, with new areas opening up as Ellie learns new skills. But while the respawning enemies are weak, they're still a bit of an annoyance when you're trekking back across the same section of map for the third time. Boss battles fare rather better, making more inventive use of both screens, and it's here that Chomp's various abilities come into their own.
It might not make the most of its central idea, but Monster Tale is a colourful and breezily enjoyable adventure that's impossible to dislike. Hopefully DreamRift will get the opportunity to work on a sequel that really does the concept justice.