When six factory workers accidently unleash an army of android soldiers while fooling around, they decide the best course of action is to blow everything up. Although successful in rigging the whole factory with explosives they make their escape via helicopter without the detonator or fuel. After crash landing they find the gameworld overrun with a-droids and make it their mission to erase their mistakes.
A-Men is a puzzle platformer and if the whimsical storyline didn't already clue you in, the game doesn't take itself very seriously. The developers were inspired by classic titles such as Lemmings and The Lost Vikings but instead of copying these games directly they fused the best elements together with quite interesting results.
The goal for each level is to kill a set amount of A-droids and then make your way to the helicopter. The A-droids, which look like Napoleonic soldiers, wander around aimlessly most of the time but if they spot you they will make every attempt to kill your character with their bayonetts. You have to use the environments, which are usually littered with traps, to dispose of your enemies if you want to make it to the chopper in one piece. The A-droids all look the same but apart from the stupid models there are also ones that are a bit smarter and trickier to kill.
New characters are introduced gradually which is a good thing as they each have three different skills at their disposal which takes time to master. For example, your spy can disguise himself and redirect A-droids with signs while the commando has a parachute and grappling hook. You also have an engineer who can dig holes and build bridges as well as a private who can shoot his rifle and toss grenades. Finally there is the muscleman who can provoke enemies or toss his fellow A-Men up to higher ledges. You have no control over which A-Men you are given for each level and to make things trickier most of their skills have limited uses and have to be replenished from crates that dot the levels.
Some levels only provide you with one character but most of the time you will have access to between two and four characters. You have to constantly switch between characters in order to progress and to complete a level all the characters must safely reach the chopper. Your characters can die from one hit and if anyone buys the farm the mission fails. There are save spots on each level but these require the points earned from killing enemies to activate so it is quite possible to find yourself without enough points to save your progress. The game doesn't hold your hand and puzzles can be frustratingly trial-and-error at times so expect to restart some levels quite a few times. If you are a fan of this old school style of gameplay you will have a blast but it can be annoying at times.
The game has 40 levels spread across four different worlds so completing everything should keep you busy for a while. Just killing the required amount of A-droids to finish a level isn't too hard but the game grades you for each level and for the best marks you need to finish the bonus objectives as well. These range from finishing within a certain time limit, to killing all enemies and even some really tricky ones like not being spotted. The bonus objectives pack quite a challenge but are completely optional.
The 2D art style of the game is just as old school as the visuals and brought back fond memories of games like The Lost Vikings. You view the action from a side-on perspective and levels are filled with pits, traps, dead ends and platforms. There is even some nice parallax scrolling and levels are bursting with color. The points you earn from killing enemies can also be used to customize your characters using the in-game shop so if you prefer your commando dressed in pink there is nothing stopping you. The audio is nice with some military sounding tunes and voice acting for the main characters. The voice acting is a bit goofy but I guess it fits the game. Each character has their own little quips they utter while you direct them and some like the engineer with his snarky remarks about the visuals, playtesting and repetitiveness can be a bit annoying. I have to admit that the developers are quite brave to include a character that basically criticizes the game the whole time.
The controls work well enough considering you have to constantly switch between characters although grabbing or standing close to edges felt a bit dodgy. Since your characters can't really win a direct confrontation with the A-droids it's important to position them out of harm's way when switching between characters. I liked the fact that you can use binoculars to view exactly what a button or lever connects to but obviously you have to be standing next to the button or lever to do so. There are situations where you can become trapped or misuse something requiring a restart which is not something you see often in games anymore. Some players will relish the challenge and enjoy the fact that it takes careful planning to complete a mission while others might resent the repetition involved.
It is been a while since I have played a game like A-Men and while it is not perfect it does have its moments. There is quite a sense of accomplishment when you reach a helicopter with all your men after picking off the enemies one by one but there are also times when one careless mistake cost you the level just as the end is in sight. If you are up for the challenge and find the art style appealing then by all means give the game a shot. It is packed with hours of challenging gameplay and will provide quite a few head scratching moments. It is definitely not a game that is going to appeal to everyone though so make sure you know what you are getting yourself into before shelling out your cash.
TAGS: A-Men, Anaconda, Aurelius, Aardvark, Antler, Atom,
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