Also On: PSN, PS3
Publisher: Bloober Team
Developer: Bloober Team
It's not to feel a little sorry for A-Men. After all, it was a launch title for the PS Vita in the United Kingdom, whereas we're only seeing it on this side of the Atlantic now, a mere 18 months later. I mention this not because I want to highlight how disjointed publishing can be when it comes to the various PSN stores around the world (though it certainly does do that), but rather, to give a little context for the game. I mean, when it first came out in early 2012, the Vita had one puzzle game (Escape Plan) and two platformers (Rayman Origins and Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack), and A-Men stood alone as the only combination of the two. Considering the software drought that plagued the Vita following its launch, it seems fair to say that the game had a chance to stand out.
Jump ahead to the present, and A-Men arrives on our shores in a very different context. Suddenly it's competing not just with a couple of good-to-excellent games, but a whole raft of them — on top of those launch titles, the Vita's puzzle/platformer/puzzle-platformer library now includes games like Stealth Inc., Dokuro, Little Big Planet, Sound Shapes, and Thomas Was Alone, with Spelunky, Rayman Legends and more on the way. That's tough competition, and there's no way A-Men can compete favourably with any of them.
Which isn't to say that there's anything hugely wrong with it. Indeed, if you're able to forget that list of games I just mentioned (all of which, again, didn't exist when A-Men was originally being developed), you could even call it a solidly enjoyable title. The puzzles are generally pretty challenging — always a good thing for a puzzle-platformer — and it's fun to see what functions each of your army men serve. You'll probably die a lot as you try to feel your way through each level, but that's hardly the worst thing that could be said about a game of this type. The graphics and the animations are pleasant, and even if the music can start to feel a little repetitive when you're trying to pass a level for the tenth time, it's still decent enough.
Unfortunately that phrase — "decent enough" — also captures the biggest problem with A-Men. You see, even if it doesn't do anything badly, it never feels particularly inspired. It lacks the gorgeous animation of Dokuro, the fantastic soundtrack of Sound Shapes, the brilliantly dark humour of Stealth Inc. In other words, it's missing that one thing — that one hook — that could've transformed it from simply forgettably good to being unforgettably awesome.
A-Men also has some slightly more tangible issues, too. Take the controls, for example. This is a game that, at times, requires some pretty precise movements if you want to avoid death — yet I found, time and again, that it didn't allow for that kind of precision. I'll let my possibly inept playing take some of the blame for my many, many deaths, but I'm going to blame the game for all those times when I fell to my death because the game was insistent I wasn't close enough to the edge to build a bridge, or when it said I'd stepped on a landmine when I clearly hadn't.
Likewise, the game's save system is severely flawed. Each level has a save point that allows you to avoid starting over from the beginning, but at the same time, you're actively punished if you choose to do so, with points taken from your overall score. Considering how hard some levels are, that system seems counterproductive.
Also counterproductive: the camera. Considering the whole point of A-Men is figuring out how all the moving parts of a level work together to let you kill enemies and get to the helicopter, it seems like it would've made sense for the game to allow you to see the whole layout of a level. Instead, you can zoom out a little, but never anywhere close to a point where it's actually useful.
I don't want to overstate A-Men's problems, though. As I said, it's competently done, if a little forgettable. It's just that while that would've been great for a game at the Vita's launch, now — when there are literally about a dozen puzzle-platformers and platformers you should play first — it's not nearly enough.