When I was in college, my friends and I would make an annual group outing to B-Fest, a 24-hour B-movie marathon. It was an exercise in masochism. We agreed to be locked in overnight at the student center, sustained only with junk food and caffeine. But the insanity of the whole event fit the genre superbly. Somehow scripts written by novice writers for bad actors on shoestring budgets could become brilliantly surreal works of art, appreciated in a way the creators never really intended. I haven’t been back to B-Fest since graduation, but The Deadly Tower Of Monsters gave me a quick dose the same manic glee I felt watching The Apple or Kingdom Of The Spiders at wee hours of the night.
Framed as a DVD re-release of a ’70s sci-fi flick you just happen to be playing through, Ace Team’s goofy send-up of B-movie classics starts with the heroic Dick Starspeed stranded on the alien planet Gravoria. To save the helpless natives, the square-jawed earthman must ascend the titular tower and defeat an evil emperor with the help of a robot sidekick and the emperor’s own treacherous and appropriately lovely daughter, Scarlet Nova.
The fictional film’s director provides running commentary throughout, skewering both B-movie and video game tropes in the process. He explains everything from the game’s confusing cold open as a sign of the times, to saying that the hero ad-libbed his decision to smash open every box he sees. Other tropes are mocked by omission. You only control one character at a time but can swap between them at a “sleeping chamber.” The plot explanation for these frequent naps that keep the heroes from fighting together is supposedly in the movie, but it’s brushed over due to a mechanical problem with the film.
The game pays tribute to its source material with a hodgepodge of creatures. Doused in nostalgia and stripped of the need to make any sense, the game has fun with bizarre designs and backstories, like ethereal phantoms created by overworked tech guys or murderous stop-motion dinosaurs that include unusually aggressive herbivores because the director didn’t know which dinos were meat-eating and which weren’t. There are random interludes of black-and-white, which the voiceover says were originally meant to be flashbacks, and palm trees that look plastic because they are.
The gags that stem from the pastiche never get old, which is good because the game’s running-and-gunning action does. Once you’ve gotten a good look at the entertaining design of a particular monster, you shoot or stab your way through swarms of them, occasionally taking a break for jetpack-fueled double-jumping, free-falling down the side of the tower, or taking detours to collect the items needed for upgrades.
The voiceover offers an entertaining way to introduce new abilities. For example, when you’re puzzling over how to get Scarlet out of a forcefield, the director notes that the actress was herself confused about what to do because she was filming on a soundstage, and he had to tell her to point her gun down to shoot out the generators—thus giving you the ability to shoot downward. And when you die or dawdle, the director is right there with some comment. The sea monster that eats you if you miss the double jump between platforms? It’s meant to embody the ever-hungering human experience. It can get old when you’re forced to replay some of the game’s trickier segments, but the commentary makes any given death feel like a discovery rather than a failure.
I always left B-Fest exhausted and questioning my decisions. But at just the length of a double feature, The Deadly Tower Of Monsters left me wanting more. The gimmick might not hold up to a marathon experience, but in the spirit of the B-movies it loves so much, it might be worth exploring in some derivative sequels.