Nexomon’s console releases have come in an odd order. Last year, at around this time, PQube released Nexomon: Extinction on various platforms. I think it was a surprising success for the publisher (and it did rightfully deserve to be a success since it is excellent), and so, one year on the team has come back to port the original Nexomon from mobile devices and PC to console as well.. I guess we console players could call it a prequel?
Anyhow, it’s also very, very, very good. That’s not without caveats, but what the game does well overwhelms any of the issues that you might have with it. There are over 300 ‘mons to collect, in just about every way the game is the homage to early-era Pokémon that “fan” base keep screeching at Game Freak to return to. By that I mean the game plays out through a bright, colourful, and simple top-down perspective, monsters lie in ambush in patches of grass, and battles involve simply-animated sprites whaling away at one another. It’s the designs of these sprites that really drew me in. While I generally enjoy the direction that Game Freak has taken Pokémon, I do prefer the earlier generation monsters, which were more readily comparable to animals that we see in the really real world. Later generations of Pokémon have become MacGuyver-like contraptions that make very little sense, and aren’t all that pleasant to my eyes (and if you don’t know what a “MacGuyver” is then your eyes aren’t old enough to feel the weariness that mine do). Nexomon’s monsters are, generally speaking, much more aligned with the philosophy of early Pokémon, and because so many of them were so cute, it was really hard to choose which of them to put into my party. I wanted to go on adventures with all of them.
The game follows a similar structure to Pokémon, too. There are eight “gyms” to tackle, a mysterious evil group to deal with and… well, that’s pretty much all that drives any of these games in question forward. A little like Nexomon: Extinction, Nexomon itself is less a subservient slave in homage to Pokémon than it is a game that recognises the silliness of it all, and you’ll come across all kinds of little in-jokes and outright humour as you play along. There are even some fourth-wall-breaking jokes in there, and we all know that that’s a marker of a developer that is having fun with the writing. With that being said, I do remember Nexomon: Extinction being a little more refined and brave with its subversion – I’m probably splitting hairs for something that ultimately doesn’t matter, but I do remember thinking that Extinction was surprisingly clever with some of its plot twists and arcs. Nexomon – perhaps because it was the original and therefore a case of a developer still finding their feet in developing it – is a little less brave about everything.
Mechanically this game has issues that were greatly refined out with the sequel. The biggest issue is the skills system. Nexomon mimics the Pokémon approach – each monster can have up to four abilities, and those can be a mix of damaging, defensive, and status-affecting – but in practice, this game is weighted very heavily towards simply bashing your opponent over the head until they fall over. Most other modern monster-rearing games try to build strategy into the system, giving you the incentive to apply buffs and debuffs, and even swapping monsters into and out of combat, rather than simply relying on your most powerful damage-dealing ability. With Nexomon, once you know what attacks an enemy is strong and weak to, you simply exploit the weakness over and over again until they fall over. Status-affecting abilities don’t hit regularly enough to be worth the risk of a wasted turn, and monsters have little enough health that the most effective strategy is to simply hit the opponent with the strongest attacks and hope to knock them out until they can do much damage.
The other two major problems are simple: Firstly, the game is very grindy, particularly when you’re hunting for new ‘mons. Each area has a lot of new critters to pick up, and you only get experience on actually defeating them (something Pokémon has long since addressed), and so collecting ’em all AND keeping the party levelled means hanging around areas for long periods of time. Secondly (and in some ways a follow-on from the first), You end up spending a fortune on the Nexotraps that you use to catch your ‘mons, because these Nexotraps are about as good at capturing things as paper bags. Monsters that are categorised as “rare” or better requires you to pepper them with traps until one manages to actually stick. No doubt the reason for this is because, in the mobile original, there were “guaranteed catch” traps for sale. You’re not going to be able to do this with the console version (which is good, since microtransactions are vile and exploitative), but whatever rebalancing was done to Nexomon feels inadequate. Perhaps the developers felt the need to keep a high failure rate since buying those traps is about the only thing that keeps your wallet from exploding from all the cash you get post-battle. Who knows. It’s just not the elegant balance between the chance of being disappointed and the joy in catching a critter that other examples of the genre offer.
Putting all of that whining aisde, though, Nexomon really is such an excellent time. Environments flow from one to another nicely, so even with the grind in mind, you still get to regularly change scenery from dungeons to towns, to wintery locations and so on. Breaking the Nexomon down by rarity is a nice touch, too, since it means that you’ll know that it was worth the 1,000 wasted traps when you finally nab one of the legendaries. And I rather liked the simplicity of it all. As Pokémon and other monster-collecting games presses on to be ever more complex and systems-orientated, this charming little call back to the genre of yesteryear on the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance is a refreshing change in itself.
One final thing to keep in mind is that playing Nexomon on Switch is a fundamentally different experience because of the competition. Throughout this review, I’ve been making comparisons to Pokémon, but on the other consoles those points of comparison are far fewer, and while I’m not sure how many players are out there that are itching for Pokémon-like monster collections but don’t have a Nintendo Switch, I’m sure there are some, and Nexomon’s greatest strength is that it comes so close to an authentic Pokémon experience. All the minor (and forgivable) issues I’ve outlined above is, ultimately, a case of me to look for faults so I can fill out words. As someone who has always loved monster collecting JRPGs, I haven’t been able to put Nexomon down for long since starting it… and when you consider that this week included both Deathloop and Lost Judgement, that Nexomon could capture a good chunk of my time and attention is really quite impressive.
I hope Nexomon continues to perform well and grow from here. The developers really do have an opportunity to take what they’ve done across the first two titles and build it into “the alternative Pokémon”, especially considering that both Yokai Watch and Dragon Quest Monsters seem to be on the wane. Nexomon isn’t quite the game that its (console) predecessor is, but it’s still a warm, comfortable, and amusing experience, and while it can be frustrating at times to try and catch all 300+ monsters on offer, they’re so ultra-cute that you’ll do it – and love it – anyway.
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb