It’s a shame Monarch Black isn’t more committed to going slow. When it does, as in the first 30 seconds of its trailer, it almost has an Ozu-like sense of the beauty in stillness (or, to be correct, a slow-tracking camera). We watch a butterfly, tiny in the widescreen demarcation of the frame, distant enough from us so that it is not more than a focal point for our journey through the game’s procedurally generated, alien wonderscapes.
We pass by glowing pyramids and forests cold with blue; fractured tops of urban towers and spiraling architecture in the sky; Japanese blossom and a strange factory of cuboids. So slow we travel that, at one point, bugs can be seen silhouetted as they sit on gigantic leaves staring at an unseen horizon, all human-like, as if a scene from Pixar’s A Bug’s Life (1998). All the while, the edited transition between each biome is blended with the chord changes of the mesmerizing swell of strings in the background. Every element tells us to relax into this flight guided by the butterfly.
The impression that these first 30 seconds gives is of a game that will have us transfixed by sight and sound, everything else is absent. Until it’s not. As if an angry executive has charged into the room, Monarch Black‘s trailer suddenly brings in the action at the 32-second mark, called in by a gratuitous growl from a deep bass hit. The camera, no longer slow, only knows how to be erratic. And then it all gets a bit Star Wars as the butterfly goes off-the-rails—the camera stressed to follow—doing furious battle with other winged insects, complete with firing lasers. No kidding.
This might be expected from a man who has spent 15 years as an electronic musician—there must always be a ‘drop’. The creator of Monarch Black is the New York City born-and-raised Matt Schell. After working with labels including Warp Records and collaborating with the likes of DJ /Rupture and Modeselektor, he decided to lose the moniker Matt Shadetek along with the career in music he had been pursuing. Now he’s Matt Mirrorfish, and has spent the past two years raising his kids and teaching himself how to program in C#. Monarch Black is his first videogame.
Unfortunately, rather than ambient or chill, it seems that Monarch Black will be pounding house or full-on club in tempo and volume. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In all truth, Monarch Black is a re-skinned space shooter: butterflies are war fleets, while spiders and phasmids sat on plant stalks act like the defensive turrets on a freighter. There’s nothing wrong with a space shooter. But Monarch Black shows potential to also be stripped of the hostilities (and lasers) in favor of something closer to Johan Gjestland’s upcoming, luscious procedural flying game Fugl.
In other words, Monarch Black could purely be about admiring beauty rather than destroying it—is there a stronger icon for that than shooting a butterfly? All that said, perhaps there’s potential for Monarch Black to offer both experiences across two different game modes. I’d fully support having a non-shooting option that focuses purely on exploration alongside the gung-ho butterfly battles. If not, at least we still have those first 30 seconds of the trailer to watch on repeat.
You can follow the development of Monarch Black on its website.
h/t Screenshot Daily