Back in 1992, before Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo, Blizzard produced a game called Lost Vikings. In this side scrolling platformer, you controlled three nordic warriors trapped in space and time who use their different abilities to interact with the environment and each other to escape a series of increasingly difficult levels. If you have any knowledge of this title, or the more recent Trine series, you will have some idea of the basic mechanics of the game. Polish developer Bloober attempted to update this format with vita launch title A-Men, and with the sequel are left with a product less polished and more frustrating to play than the Blizzard SNES classic.
Identical in premise to the admittedly not played original game, you take control of a band of soldiers and spies, engineers and strongmen. Each level has you starting with two or three separate members of your force, each with separate abilities sets. The engineer for example, can build bridges, or of course, camouflage bombs. Spies can disappear into a greyed out shimmer and move past enemies. Strongmen can pick up and move large items. Nonsensical stuff, but clear to follow. What isn’t always clear to follow is how to successfully implement these abilities in order to progress.
For a start, animations are jerky, and only just about feel like they are maintaining a consistent physical rule set. Characters float across the screen like paper cutouts being dragged across cardboard. Add to this a quite irritating set of sound effects and voice acting and the production values give you little reason to feel confident in the overall product.
Each of the brightly coloured, cartoony levels has to be interacted with to progress, whether this is raising or lowering gates or bridges, switching power generators on or pushing boulders from lofty platforms. The bumpers are used to switch between characters, and the camera can be moved around with the right stick. Characters sometime start in completely different areas of the levels and you need to think carefully about when and where you move your small army, though soon it becomes an exercise in repetition.
Along the way, your aim is to eliminate all of the enemies in a stage and call a chopper for extraction; you can aim to dispatch a minimum number of enemies, or go for more to increase your score. The former seems like the most desirable as dragging the stage out to aim for perfection feels borderline masochistic given how strict and punishing the levels are. Due to the level design, it usually takes one or two tries to overcome any puzzle or combination to progress. To add to this, enemy AI is very simplistic and robotic, characters following very strict patterns and only changing up by charging upon sight. If they touch you or a bullet connects with you, you are dead, and the whole team with whatever character died.
To make matters worse, fail a level, and you must complete the entire thing again. There are no checkpoints, and this makes the repeatedly trial and error nature of the game doubly frustrating. In fairness, there is one mid level save per level, but this punishes your score and leaves you with a lesser bonus, increasing the challenge in an already challenging game. Considering that another benefit of amassing money is to be able to, in between each round, upgrade your characters abilities, this feels like a punishment too far.
Successfully completing a level feels less satisfying than it does a welcome feeling of relief. A good puzzle game makes you feel smart, but A-Men 2 simply makes you feels stubbornly persistent, and if your gaming time is at a premium, you will find yourself asking why you are persevering. With a wider selection of puzzle and platformers already on the system, there is little to recommend Amen 2. There is some admiration for it’s unashamedly difficulty and challenge, but the repetitive nature of the gameplay process and the annoying soundtrack delivers an experience best avoided.
MLG Rating: 3/10 Format: PlayStation Vita Release Date: 06/11/2013
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of A-Men 2 for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on a PlayStation Vita. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.