Monsters University: Run Away

I saw Monsters University at the theater with my three-year-old son, and it was a mixed bag. It’s a given that the film is about monsters — it’s right there in the title, after all — but how scary would it be? Turns out, quite a bit. In fact, right near the end of the flick (around the time the scariest scene aired), my son asked to go home. Broke my heart.

Two weeks later, I’m looking for apps to review and I find Monsters University, so I give it a shot. My son walks into my office and says, “What’s that, daddy?” and I show him the screen with a bit of hesitation. “Oooh! Mike Wazowski!” Guess it didn’t do that much damage.

But at the end of the day, he’s not the one playing Monsters University, I am. Was it worth the buy?

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Run, (Insert Character Name Here) Run!

Monsters University is a runner. Like the famous runner games that came before it — Pitfall, Temple Run, etc. — you have no real control over the forward movement of your character. You start off moving slowly, then ramp up as you avoid the various obstacles in your path.

Sure looks friendly, huh?

Sure looks friendly, huh?

At first, you play as the venerable Mike Wazowski, running around whichever leverl you choose. As you continue through the game, you can unlock James P. Sullivan (or Sulley, as it were), Squishy or Don Carlton — well, in the future you can pick Don, anyways.

The levels open up with either an animated scene from the movie or audio with still images.

The levels open up with either an animated scene from the movie or audio with still images.

A Work in Progress

See, Monsters University seems like it’s 2/3 complete, and that’s a pretty easy fractional assessment to make, since there are three different types of running modes, only two of which are available to play today. The third — Avoid the Parent — is promised as a free upgrade, but it’s just not there yet. Same as Don Carlton, who has yet to show his face.

The game feels a bit incomplete.

The game feels a bit incomplete.

This seems a bit awkward. It’s not that you’re missing out on some value — the game is just 99 cents, after all — but Disney’s games are usually quite polished. Couldn’t they get this one done before the movie’s release? And are we all still going to be playing it once it leaves theaters?

What is there is fun.

What is there is fun.

The Levels

The two playable levels come straight out of the movie, which makes you question whether those scenes were done in the first place with game development in mind, or it was just a happy coincidence. In the first game, Catch Archie (which is also available for free as Monsters University: Catch Archie), you’re introduced to the concept via a short clip from the movie. Sulley has stolen the neighboring school’s mascot — a pig looking thing named Archie — and jumps into Mike’s window to hide from the charging students. The two characters meet for the first time, then Archie jumps out the window and you have to give chase.

Just plow forward, all you can do is duck, dodge and go side to side.

Just plow forward, all you can do is duck, dodge and go side to side.

The second level is the Toxicity Challenge, again, based on the movie. It’s a big race between the fraternities, and these glowing anemonies scattered in your path are toxic. If you touch more than three in a level, you’re toast. These anemonies start off on the floor, but also come hanging from the ceiling, and randomly pop up on the floor with little warning. It’s about moving quick and staying out of the way.

Swipe and Slash

Both levels involve the typical runner process, where you have lanes and you swipe to avoid obstacles, jump or duck. However, the two games aren’t quite the same. In Catch Archie, you’re glued to the middle lane, and any swipe away is just temporary — you’ll always return to center. In the Toxicity Challenge, you have multiple lanes to move between, and even a few bridges as well. Otherwise, the rest is the same.

Archie's game takes a bit different angle, but that's about it.

Archie’s game takes a bit different angle, but that’s about it.

This makes the game both easy top play one-handed, as well as simple for kids to pick up. That also makes the game repetitive, because although your paths do turn, dive and twist occasionally, you’re still just looking forward and slashing away. Don’t get me wrong, that can definitely be fun, but it is a bit grinding after a bit.

There is a balancing game at the end of Catch Archie, but it's not the main attraction by far.

There is a balancing game at the end of Catch Archie, but it’s not the main attraction by far.

The IAP Monster

As is to be expected these days, the game does come with in-app purchases. Fortunately, the monster here isn’t that scary.

You can buy characters and one-ups with the coins you get in the game.

You can buy characters and one-ups with the coins you get in the game.

As you play, you collect coins by running over them. You may get 50 coins per level give or take, and as you collect them, you can use them to upgrade. Sulley costs 500 coins to unlock, for example. You can also get one-ups, including magnets for attracting coins and stuff like that. These are not necessary by any means, and there’s no pressure to buy them. Really, I only knew of their existence because I went digging.

Graduating Day

I asked the question earlier about whether or not Monsters University is one of those games that we’ll continue to play once the movie leaves the theaters. My thought is that it’s not very likely. Although it’s well done, the graphics are great and it’s fun to play, it gets repetitive real quick, and that’s not fun. For me, it’s a welcome distraction for a short window of time, and since it’s cheap at 99 cents, I’m good with that.

For you, I’m not so sure. Some people really freak out about paying anything for an app, and in that case I’d suggest that free version of Chase Archie. Otherwise, if you’re looking for a game that’s fun to play in short bursts, Monsters University fills that need — it just won’t for very long.


A running game using the characters from Monsters University that's fun, but a bit repetitive.