July 29, 2022

Bass Monkey

 Bass Monkey is a 2D Hack-and-slash co-op platformer game developed by Jacob Weersing AKA YakobSoup. Initially released for free on Steam in early June 2022. The game features a fun and colorful pixel-art art style full of character and charm. It’s a very accessible game that lives up to its title as a ‘low-stress, musical platformer.’ as described on Steam. Bass Monkey has positive reviews on said platform and includes a few design decisions like a simplified control scheme and fast respawn mechanic that allow people of pretty much any skill level to jump right into the game and experience it, alone and with friends.

Bass Monkey doesn't have much of a story, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. This game doesn’t need a complicated narrative to be enjoyable. The setup is extremely simple; you play alone or with friends as either a monkey with a guitar or a bear with a bass, touring through the jungle. Or, at least, that was the initial plan. Unfortunately, you're in the jungle with a surprising number of hamsters. Like, a lot of hamsters. This would be less of a problem if these hamsters weren't also big fans of your band. It appears safety isn't their top priority, and they'll go to any length to get close to you and get your autograph, even if it means hurting you in the process. What's the only way out of this? Swinging your instruments at them wildly, of course. Don’t worry, the game’s intro says they love it.

Bass Monkey is designed for cooperative play, but you can fly solo if you prefer. There is a single-player mode in the game. Unlike many games that focus on co-op and have significantly unbalanced difficulty curves when playing solo, it works extremely well in Bass Monkey. It never felt unfair or unbalanced while playing through the campaign. Between each level there are short platforming segments designed to help teach you new mechanics and allow you to collect a ton of bananas which help add to your high score. Even though there are only two animals and two instruments to choose from when choosing your character, there is still some strategy involved. Choosing whether to play as a monkey or a bear has little effect on the gameplay experience, based on what I've seen while playing the game. Despite that, both the monkey and the bear have adjustable stats so that you can create a build that suits your playstyle. 

Your music seems to attract a wide variety of fans in Bass Monkey. Of course, they're all hamsters, but what I mean is that there are a few different enemy types you'll encounter in the game that help make the various stages feel more diverse and unique. When you first start you'll only face the basic hamster, which isn't a particularly formidable foe. They don't have much health and don't deal much damage, and they only attack at very predictable times. Their strength is in numbers. These hamsters are relatively weak, but in each stage you’ll find yourself being put up against hundreds of them, and if you aren’t careful, you’ll likely end up getting swarmed and taking a lot of damage. Other than the basic hamster there are also the ‘punk’ hamsters. These hamsters mean business, and they deal a lot more damage. I found myself dying to these guys more than any other hamster variant, although once you know how to fight them, it isn’t that bad. Moving on to the next level you’re introduced to the ‘Bowel Movement’ hamsters which are fairly round compared to the other types. Not only are they round, but they also tend to… explode, which is their main attack. Their explosions can both damage you and knock you back, so be careful. Other than these three unique hamsters, there are also the boss hamsters. They’re large, have a lot more health, and do more damage but are still very manageable, especially when playing with friends. There can be multiple boss monsters in a stage at once, so if you ignore them you might find yourself overwhelmed.

While Bass Monkey has many positive aspects, it also has some drawbacks, and some of these drawbacks have a significant impact on the overall experience of the game. For starters, the game's death mechanic feels like a last-minute decision at times. The idea is simple: if you lose all of your health, you will die and will be able to respawn at the point where you were killed in a very short amount of time. The problem is that there isn't much of an incentive to not die in the game, and there isn't much of a punishment for losing all of your health other than a measly 500-point deduction, which is honestly not that much considering how many points you'll rack up during one of the five main levels. Of course, this 'negative' is highly subjective, and some people may enjoy that system; it was something I felt needed to be addressed because it came up while playing with friends. 

Another design decision that detracts from the gameplay is how electricity is handled in the game. After the third stage, you're introduced to the concept of electricity, which is essentially just another obstacle type that you'll encounter throughout the levels. This includes lasers and, more importantly, electrified floors, which can injure the player. The lasers work fine, you have plenty of time to avoid them, and once you figure out the timing, they pose no real threat. In my playthrough, the floors, on the other hand, presented some unfair challenges. They work occasionally, but other times I found my character trapped on top of it, taking damage and unable to move, which became a bit frustrating. There is also a section in the game where you must choose between two holes to fall into. You can't see the bottom of either one, so you have to guess, and if you guess incorrectly, you'll be forced to take some damage, which is a design decision that I don't think is very appealing because it doesn't involve any strategy or planning, and whether or not you lose health on your first playthrough is simply luck.

Finally, there is an issue with the audio in the game. Overall, the music is fantastic; it's catchy and fits the tone of the levels perfectly. However, I believe some tunes could have benefited from a longer runtime, such as the main menu music, which is a very short tune that loops indefinitely. That was fine at first, but if you have to wait for a friend or sit on the main menu for a while, it can become a little tedious because there isn't any variety, just a short endless loop of a tune that quickly becomes monotonous. The sound effects in the game can also 'stack,' resulting in large audio spikes in some areas that can be a little uncomfortable when wearing headphones.

Overall, Bass Monkey is an indie game that clearly has a lot of heart behind it. The characters are entertaining, even if they don't have much personality aside from their instruments, and the game feels great as a hack-and-slash, with tons of hamsters flailing around as you swing your instruments to the beat of the music. However, there are some issues with the game that sadly detract from the overall experience. Overall I rate Bass Monkey a 7 out of 10. It’s a good game, and it has a solid foundation. But it’s a game that has a few glaring issues which I feel prevent it from being something I can see myself returning to after it’s done. I believe that with some work and possibly another chapter, it could be an incredible hack-and-slash game to play alone or with friends. I think this is a developer that has a lot of potential and I can’t wait to see what they decide to work on or create next.

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