A-Men 2 – Review
As everyone knows, you should never judge a book by its cover (and, as Scroobius Pip tells us, you should never judge Lethal Weapon by Danny Glover). So you probably shouldn’t judge a game by its screenshots (a lesson I should have learned in the ’80s as they often put Amiga screenies on the covers of ZX Spectrum games). A-Men 2 is a perfect example of this. Look at those images. A-Men 2 looks like a cutesy run and gunner. My first impression was that it looked a bit like Metal Slug. Now I’m sat shellshocked on a toilet shouting ‘this is my rifle, this is my gun’ over and over.
A-Men 2 is a seriously unassuming game. It has had zero marketing, is barely mentioned on the PlayStation Store, has hardly any mentions in gaming media and it is never explicitly stated what the A stands for (presumably Army, although why not just call it Army Men 2?). It is also, of course, a sequel to one of the Vita’s launch titles. A game that I never played. Which is a shame, as it would have given me an idea of what I was about to get into.
Rather than being a run and gunner, A-Men 2 is a puzzle platformer that uses multiple characters, each with different abilities, to work together to escape the game’s many levels and to, quite literally, get to the chopper. There are five characters: a basic soldier; an engineer who can build climbable structures; a spy who can evade detection and place styles to redirect enemies, Lemmings-style, away from your other units; a strongman who can move crates and use them as weapons; and finally, an elite-trooper who can use parachutes and grappling hooks to reach areas other units cannot. Successfully negotiating levels requires using the skills of all your units, kind of like Thomas Was Alone (or The Lost Vikings if you’ve got 16-bit experience).
At first it all seems quite cheery. The front end is bold and bright, although is does feel all a bit iOS-y at times, and the crisp, colourful and cartoony graphics and cute characters seem nice enough. You can scroll around the level with the right stick to see how to plan your approach and at first it all seems quite lovely.
Here’s the thing though: A-Men 2 is really fucking hard. Firing up the first level, you are introduced to the game mechanics by way of question marks in the level that give you basic tips and half an hour later I was still figuring out how to get out of the level. On the one hand you’ve got the puzzles. With little to no help on offer, you will find yourself hitting brick walls all the time. It’s just so easy to get stuck. Every level is a combination of dangerous gaps, powered-down elevators, deadly obstacles, vicious enemies, and all manner of boobytraps. Then you’ve got the actual platforming and combat. The platforming elements can be tough.
It doesn’t take much of a drop to kill you and the amount of precision required for some jumps can definitely take you back to the dark ages of platforming games while the combat is completely one-sided. Only one of your units can shoot enemies and he’s not always on offer in the levels and, even when he is, he generally only has one bullet in his possession at a time. Also, the enemy is a lot faster than you and will chase you mercilessly. They can’t jump though, which is something at least.
While the mechanics of the game are challenging, especially thanks to your movement being a bit too fast, loose, and flappy thanks to the Vita’s left stick and the game’s use of analogue movement and inertia, it really is the puzzling side of things that will get to you. If you’ve put hours into Prince of Persia, Flashback and any number of old-school platformers, this may appeal but for me every new level felt like a new chore to overcome. If level one was tough, it immediately gets harder with bigger, more complicated levels being introduced right away and never relenting. Death, which comes often, means restarting the level or going back the level’s save point (the use of which will punish you by lowering your score). If that doesn’t all sound difficult enough, the game also has an accomplishments system which adds time and gameplay challenges that add replayability but strip out even more of the fun.
What’s worse is that most of your units’ abilities have to be picked up in the levels. So, for example, the soldier can shoot people and obstacles but often has no ammo or one shot, so you have to find more ammo. The engineer has to find whatever the shit is that lets him build a structure. So it’s not like you get to express yourself at all, even if the levels do often have multiple potential solutions to them.
Once the frustration kicks in, the game’s cutesy presentation starts to grind. The cheery visuals and bouncy animation are out of character with the amount of planning and trial and error you have to plough into each level and the music, that fucking music, becomes maddening in a way that only old-school Jet Set Willy veterans will have experienced before. The chirpy military-themed music will have you reaching for the broken pieces of your Vita and using what’s left of the OLED screen to slice off your fucking ears unless you turn it down or off almost immediately. Also, the game is all a bit too knowing with its humour, which is mainly confined to comments from your units that occasionally break the fourth wall as if that’s still a funny thing.
The point where this game went from being ‘not my cup of tea‘ to being ‘cunt‘ was when I realised that you can purchase extra ammo and items for your units using in-game currency. That’s something I hate about this generation, it takes away the level playing field and the balance of the game. Yes, I’m sure I could grind enough currency to buy a load of ammo and shoot my way through the levels but, and this is important, ‘fuck you, game.’
If the platforming was tighter, maybe it’d be more rewarding to suffer through the puzzles. If the combat was better, maybe that’d add some much needed excitement. Alas, none of this is enjoyable enough to put up with the high asking price that A-Men 2 asks of your patience. But that’s just me. Maybe a generation of Xbox 360 gaming has blunted my edge and perhaps this will appeal to your tastes more than it did me, but even if this is the sort of game you are drawn to, the presentation, gameplay balance and fiddly controls will still be an issue.Pros
- A tough challenge for those gamers who want to work on their physical and mental skills.
- Reasonably charming presentation.
- Humour may appeal to some.
- Has fundamentally sound gameplay elements.
- Insert more damningly feigned praise here.
- A bullshit challenge for those gamers that don't want any fun.
- Reasonably fucking annoying presentation.
- Humour may appeal to idiots.
- Has fundamentally unenjoyable gameplay elements.
- Fuck this game. I want to play something that isn't this game.
A-Men 2 is a cheap and cheery echo to puzzle platformers of the past but it starts hard and gets much harder almost immediately. The difficulty level isn't a curve, it's a nazi bayonet in your scrotum. If you can stomach the challenge, there is a competent game here but it's never any better than average which is a shame. If they sorted out the controls and the music, and eased you through the first set of levels, the game would have a bit more to offer those of us who didn't play the original, but unfortunately Bloober Team have tried to be a bit too hardcore and have alienated much of the small audience this game was ever going to get. On this form, I'd rather join the actual army than play A-Men 2 again.
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