Occasionally a game comes out that makes me question my game knowledge. My Singing Monsters is a well-loved, record-breaking franchise that has been around since 2012. The first game killed it on iOS, Android, Vita and PC, before blossoming out into other titles like My Singing Monsters: Composer, My Singing Monsters: Dawn of Fire, Funcorn’s Jelly Dreams and too many others to list here.
I am ashamed to say that I have never heard of My Singing Monsters. If you are a fan of the series, I would first like to apologise, and secondly say that this review will not come from a place of investment in the franchise. We’re going to be reviewing it from the perspective of someone who likes the idea of monsters who like to bash out a tune or two, and we had a couple of children who liked that idea too.
But wait a minute: singing is precisely what doesn’t happen in My Singing Monsters Playground. By all accounts, this will surprise fans of the franchise too, as all the previous games have focused on singing (and breeding singing monsters). The monsters sing to each other on podiums, but there’s no rhythm action or melody-making here. Which is a bit of a mis-labelling, really. In franchise terms, this is a game that simply leverages the characters from the series.
What My Singing Monsters Playground is, instead, is a collection of party games. If you’ve played Mario Party or Carnival Games, you know exactly what is on offer. This is a game that’s best played with friends on the sofa, as you take part in four-player minigames that split you up into all-against-all, 2-vs-2 and 1-vs-3 match-ups. If you don’t have four friends, computer players will make up the shortfall.
You start by choosing your monster, and there are eight from across the series. We were fans of Pompom (tall, broom-like monster with pompoms for hands) and Pango (ice-beaked penguin), but they are all characterful and well-modelled, looking like Muppet cast-offs (in a positive way). If you have a younger family and are worried that this will scare your tykes, then worry not. We are firmly in Monsters Inc territory.
You’re then wandering about a hub where you can choose what you play, and we were a little saddened that only player one had control. If you’ve got a four-player game and a wide area to explore, you want to let everyone have a go. But regardless, the hub lets you choose how to play: Free Play, which lets you choose your minigame, Tournament, which offers a sequence of 10, 15 or 20 minigames, and a Solo Gauntlet, which is effectively a survival mode where you keep playing minigames until you lose.
There tend to be two types of party game collections. One attaches the minigames to a board, as is the case with Mario Party, and you’re rolling dice in a kind of meta-game that spans everything. My Singing Monsters Playground is in a second group, where the minigames are just played one after the other. We’re not convinced that one approach is better: Mario Party-style collections tend to feel more substantial and can lead to fun moments, but they can also feel obstructive. Sometimes you just want to play the games. Here, you can just hop straight in.
My Singing Monsters Playground does borrow something that Mario Party successfully pioneered, however. Before a minigame starts, you are put into a kind of lobby, where you can practice. The rules and controls are also presented clearly as you give the game a go. This was invaluable, and it’s to My Singing Monsters Playground’s credit that it adds this. For our little ones, their fear went out of the window when they could play the minigame, risk-free, before it really mattered.
We should warn that it’s not perfect: some games are elimination-based, so you can be kicked out early and have nothing to do. Since the practice is basically a mirror of the minigame, it’s very possible to be eliminated before you have learned what the game is doing. Our six-year old would find herself eliminated and then sucked into the minigame proper, frustrated doubly because she has now failed twice. It would have been great if My Singing Monsters Playground allowed you to reset the practice match. Generally though, it’s a fantastic inclusion.
Then you’re into the minigames. We’ve played our fair share of this kind of game, from Mario Party to Cake Bash to Carnival Games and others, and we can say with confidence that the games are well into the upper tiers of quality.
The secret sauce for the games in My Singing Monsters Playground is that they’re simple but emphatic. You’re never doing anything complicated, and you are always doing things that are fun. We all like hitting things with giant hammers. So, Dipster Bop has you wandering an arena playing whack-a-mole in competition with other players, but with the added ability of being able to stun each other. Simple and emphatic. It’s also fun to throw snowballs at each other, so Snow Brawl has you wandering an arena, picking them up and leathering them into each other’s faces. There’s a no-nonsense immediacy about the fun in My Singing Monsters Playground that gets infectious when you’re playing in large groups.
Some of our favourites included Cannon Chaos, where you play either side of a giant building-block castle. Both teams have cannons, and you are looking to knock the castle onto the other team’s side. And there’s a wonderful game called Glowbe in the Dark that borrows from another classic of the genre, Nintendoland. One person is invisible and has a big hammer, and only becomes visible when they attack. The other players are visible at all times, and are desperately running around in an effort to survive. You have to love the invention and playfulness.
They’re also bug and infuriation free, while looking extremely colourful and vibrant. We never felt like we lost unfairly thanks to randomness or an obscure glitch. These are hardy games that feel like they’ve been playtested to death, which you don’t often see in licenced titles.
The casualty of all of this is familiarity. By being immediate and simple, they are also games that you’ve often played before. We certainly don’t need another Track & Field style button-bashing event, and it’s a shame to see one here in Blast Off. Some games are also directly lifted from Mario Party. But the hit-rate is still on the high side, and modes like Free Play, where you choose the games, mean you can build a playlist of hits.
With such a strong core to My Singing Monsters Playground, with games that rarely lost their ability to make our family jump off the sofa and shout, it’s a wonder that everything else is so threadbare. Making the games is the hard part. Giving reasons to play them should be comparatively simple, but My Singing Monsters Playground fumbles that tune.
When the series is known for its monster-collecting and breeding, you’d expect there to be more than a couple of costumes to unlock. You get given rewards at a miserly rate when there should be an absolute avalanche of them. You can’t unlock a single new character.
The only way to play is a queue of minigames. You can’t fight over who chooses the game, you can’t beat personal bests in each game, there are no highscore tables, no online play, and there are no bosses, variants on the games, power ups or handicaps. It’s the same game every time, and My Singing Monsters Playground could have managed to grab so much more bang for their buck.
It means that interest starts to wane. In our case, our family whittled the games down to the ones they liked. Then they played them – a lot – but burned out on them. And there was nothing else to keep them going. Mario Party had a board game, character variants, character mechanics and collectibles. Carnival Games gives you currencies and feats to achieve, as you unlock new games to play. There’s none of this wrinkliness and interest to My Singing Monsters Playground. What you see is what you get and – while that’s up front and honest – it meant that our family didn’t play it as long as they could.
My Singing Monsters Playground is charming as pie. Even if you’ve never been in its universe before, it will win the family over. The party game collection, too, is fun with absolutely nothing in the way of complexity. With a few extra modes and some unlocks, it would really sing. As it stands, it hums along nicely without much in the way of additional frills, and that may be enough for your little monsters.
You can buy My Singing Monsters Playground from the Xbox Store for the Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S