Platforms: PS3 | PS Vita
Developer: Bloober Team
Publisher: Namco Bandai
The aim of A-Men 2 from Namco Bandai is to take us back to a simpler time. A time when games were all about the puzzles, where the game design presented intelligent problems, and the solutions required your own ingenuity and patience. They tend to go hand in hand with a sense of difficulty and perseverance – the game must provide a challenge otherwise a puzzle is anything but what its name suggests – but it’s all about balance. You want a game that challenges you, but keeps you wanting more. It’s a very fine line that can be very hard to keep to – maybe even more so in a puzzler. So how well does Amen-2 do in this regard?
The core of the game is that you are tasked with getting your groups of “A-Men” from their starting points in the level to the helicopter pick up point at the end. To make the helicopter appear, you need to have cleared a certain amount of enemies from the level to allow for a safe landing. But even with the helicopter here, getting to it is normally easier said than done. In true puzzler style, there are many obstacles between your elite team and their goal. To add to the difficulty, your units cannot sustain any damage from enemies or drop from more than one level above, or they will die. Any death to any unit will result in a level restart.
So things are starting to get tricky, but where the game plays on its name is that your team of A-Men is made up of various different characters, each with very different abilities which means only they can overcome certain obstacles and situations. There are 5 different character types, with different characters’ availability being pre-set for each puzzle. There is a soldier, who can fire ammo, or lay dynamite and throw grenades to set off traps or defeat enemies. You have a spy who can change into an enemy soldier, making him undetectable, and can also lay “stop” and “turn around” signs which the enemy soldiers obey like mindless lemmings. The engineer will build and fix various constructions and machines, whereas the body builder is your hired muscle to help move heavy items such as crates. The elite trooper is perhaps the most flexible option, who has a parachute to help him fall from heights, a grappling hook for climbing as well as being able to sprint for a time.
Camera-wise, there is the option to zoom in and out as well as control how the camera pans around the level. It’s normally a good idea to look around the map at the start to see the puzzles on offer, and think about possible solutions, given which members of your team are present on the current level. It is also good for watching enemy patrol zones as well as suitable hiding / vantage points, all of which help to present the player with tactical options.
All of this of course won’t mean you won’t make mistakes and die. You will die. Repeatedly. True to its puzzler routes, this game is about trial and error, about understanding which tactics from your unit work best against each situation, and you will get it wrong. The short nature of the levels however lend them well to this end as you never feel like you have a lost a lot of work. There is also a save function within a level if you need it.
There is also added replayability in this game with the inclusion of various achievements / tasks for each level. These can range from a time target to complete the level, to seeing how quick you can kill your first enemy. It provides an extra challenge and also affects how well you perform. Your performance in each level is rewarded with money. This cash can then be used in the shop to unlock extras, most of which are cosmetic costume changes to the characters, but can also be used for upgrades on your characters which improve their abilities and will make your puzzles just that little bit easier, and could be the different between you hitting that next target in time.
So it all sounds very interesting, but how does this all play in practice? Unfortunately for A-Men 2, not very well at all. Firstly, the controls of the characters feel a bit loose – which is frustrating; games such as this require precise control. It’s not helped by an opening set of areas that are in an ice location, which makes the floors slippery and therefore handling becomes even worse, but even movement around regular locations feel imprecise, which can often lead to repeated frustration and death time and time again.
And if the frustration of a poorly-controlled death doesn’t make you want to quit the game, the constant drone of the game’s inane music or dull stereotypical quips of the different characters in search of a laugh most definitely will. Music should set the tone, and whilst A-Men 2 doesn’t (and indeed doesn’t need to) take itself seriously, the brash military-style overtones of the music irritates rather than compliments the style of game on offer. Everything is rather “in your face” and a little bit over the top, which would be fine if the game played well, but sadly it doesn’t.
The variety of the characters obviously allows for a wealth of different obstacles, but they rarely feel inspiring. Character skills do get introduced gradually thanks to a useful help system, but these skills never combine in a way that feels truly progressive. You feel you’re doing the same things over and over again for the sake of it, just in different orders. Once you’ve seen what the character’s skills can do, it’s kind of all over, and the game doesn’t really have anything else up its sleeve.
A game should make you want to play – a pretty fundamental aspect I’m sure you’ll all agree. So imagine for a second you’re me – a guy with a keen attitude to puzzle games, who likes to procrastinate everything else for games, but at the same time be enveloped into the experience. For me playing A-Men 2 actually was a strange experience. I actually found myself not wanting to carry on playing the game out of frustration. But not because I was dying – I do a lot of that in most games. This was a frustration at the game’s controls – an irritating discomfort doubled by the monotony of the experience as well as constantly grating music.
When you take each of the flaws above, be it the controls, or the sound, or the monotony, they’re not necessarily things that could break a game individually – a lot of great games can have soundtracks that can become overly familiar after time, for example – but it’s the fact that in A-Men 2, all of these things are happening at once, in such short sharp play bursts that they really hamper the enjoyability of the game. And that’s a shame because what’s in here has the raw ingredients to be something great. It’s just a game that is poorly executed and run out of ideas before it’s over.
There will be some out there who will see this game for what the developers intended this game to be - a challenge with some old-school 2D puzzling, with a lot of quirky charm. These people may think I’m being overly harsh on this game, but even to them I would challenge where this game really stacks up against other puzzlers. There’s no real innovation or new twist that makes it stand out, it seems to be relying on difficulty as a get out clause for rushed design. And as such, I honestly believe there are better places to spend your money and your time (Amen to that! – Ed.).
- Difficulty presents real challenge
- Different characters offer variety in solving puzzles
- Game quickly runs out of ideas
- Monotonous sound track and irritating character sound-bites
- Controls feel imprecise
- Gameplay leads to apathy which goes against pick up and play nature of genre.
The Short Version: A-Men 2 sits in that unenviable position of being simply bland and borderline irritating. It’s a game that could have been so much more with some refined controls and bit more imagination in game design. Unfortunately its lack of ideas quickly shine through to present a 2D puzzler that despite being a challenge, doesn’t ever grab your attention and as such doesn’t really warrant a purchase.