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Juka and the Monophonic Menace

Game Boy Advance SP: $79.99.
Juka and the Monophonic Menace: $29.99.
Having to explain what “monophonic” means to your son or daughter: Priceless.
For occasions like this, a dictionary and your return receipt are helpful, because you’ll need both. Juka and the Monophonic Menace is a run-of-the-mill action platformer that attempts to innovate but ends up being annoying instead. Saved only by its cute and colorful presentation, Juka and the Monophonic Menace is more a cacophony than euphony with its bland action and unintuitive controls.
Juka and the Monophonic Menace follows the story of a young boy named Juka, who is unwittingly commissioned to save the world from a dastardly dark alchemist. Known as the Monophonic Menace, this power-hungry alchemist wields the Monophonic Spell that protects his minions from the magic of other alchemists. By harnessing the hidden power of his sound staff, Juka can confront the Monophonic Menace; hence, you’ll guide him through seven different areas uncovering enhancements to the sound staff, mixing useful potions, and taking down the Monophonic Menace’s evil henchmen.
At first glance, you’d expect Juka and the Monophonic Menace to be a straightforward action role-playing game. Unfortunately it’s nothing of the sort. Rather, it’s an unintuitive action game with platform elements thrown in. Gameplay consists mainly of defeating enemies, finding key items and opening up new areas for exploration. Juka can craft potions with ingredients he finds during his adventure and use them against enemies, as well as on the surrounding environment. He also has access to a light shield for reflecting enemy attacks and a dark shield for absorbing them.
Controls aren’t normally an issue in Game Boy Advance titles, but with Juka and the Monophonic Menace they sadly are. Far from intuitive, the game has basic functions mapped to odd buttons. For example, accessing the in-game menu is done with the select button instead of start (which isn’t used at all), and movements with the directional pad are unbalanced because you move twice as fast walking horizontally than vertically.
The combat system is another aspect of the game that is plain awkward. Rather than enable Juka to fight enemies directly, foes are dealt with by either reflecting their attacks or throwing a pre-made potion at them. Reflecting an enemy’s attack prompts a mini-game in which you raise Juka’s light shield with the A button and then capture the correct geometric shapes needed to reflect the attack as displayed at the bottom the screen. Annoyed accurately describes how you’ll feel chasing a bunch of triangles, circles, and squares across the screen in an attempt to combat a few little enemies. Using potions isn’t any more exciting: when faced with a foe, pressing the R button prompts a menu from which you can select a potion to chuck at your target. When you do nail an enemy with a potion, it isn’t all that satisfying, because you’ll just put it sleep. A direct melee combat system supported by the potion mechanic, instead of the unwieldy and disinteresting shield system, would have made more sense.
As if it gameplay weren’t tedious enough, the game requires crafting of each and every potion you use. By pressing the select button and going into your backpack, you can create potions. The use of potions in gameplay isn’t bad, but being forced to mix ingredients together individually is pointless. Not only is it not fun and a waste of time, but its easy to forget the recipes forcing you to look them up in your journal, wasting more time.
Juka and the Monophonic Menace may just be a Game Boy Advance title, but that doesn’t prevent it from looking good. Much like the action role-playing games released on Super Nintendo, the game features wonderfully colorful and detailed environments. The characters look a little abnormal, particularly Juka who appears as though he suffers from sort of debilitating disorder that squashes his head into an oval shape, but they certainly have a unique style. Given that sound plays an integral role, it isn’t surprising that the game features a delightfully little soundtrack and library of musical sound effects. When faced with a slew of three-dimensional PlayStation Portable and Nintendo DS titles, Juka and the Monophonic Menace may not catch your eye, but it does have a sort of charm.
There’s little reason to pick up Juka and the Monophonic Menace as it doesn’t offer a compelling gameplay experience; even more, kids will have a difficult time figuring out some of the game’s essential mechanics or simply become annoyed with their unintuitive nature. It may have a unique charm, but Juka and the Monophonic Menace just doesn’t have what it takes to warrant a recommendation over the loads of other great Game Boy Advance titles currently available.

Overall: 5.8
It plays like an out-of-tune French horn: nobody wants near it, and it would be difficult to tune. The vivid visuals are pleasing, but they aren’t enough to overlook this one-note-wonder’s shortcomings.

— Tracy Erickson

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