Despite being a relatively small studio, Bloober Team have made quite an impact on the youthful PlayStation Vita (PS Vita) market. Having managed to get their intriguing, quirky A-men ready in time for launch, the videogame has been met with a considerable amount of praise now leading to an international retail release. How would’ve though that a 2D videogame with retro mechanics could’ve become such a sensation on the world’s most powerful handheld console?
Shrewd design is the key, and A-men has the foundation of twenty years of adventure-puzzle titles to build on. The gameplay mechanics are presented as logical puzzles – a rendition of Lemmings or Mario Vs. Donkey Kong without the pressure or a time limit (unless striving for a high level grade), or a microcosm of the Dizzy videogames wherein each puzzle is self-contained within a small radius. A-men prides itself on taking a well worn genre and patching over the holes. There’s nothing new here, but it’s so well presented that most won’t mind.
In its puzzles A-men rarely resorts to lock-and-key challenges or fetch quests within its relatively small levels, instead challenging the player to think logically about the level design as opposed to the items in their possession. While A-men features the occasional pit to jump across, collapsing bridges and one-way slides which provide brief dexterity challenges, A-men could be referred to as a platform videogame. This is a videogame in which exploration, logical thinking and timing rule above all else.
A variety of characters are included and slowly revealed to the player one-by-one, each of which has their own unique ability. The soldier, the first of the characters the player is introduced to, can fire his rifle and throw grenades providing he has enough ammunition. These can be used to kill enemies, cut down hanging boulders and destroy bridges, amongst other thing, giving you an indication of the character’s usefulness. An engineer, spy, muscle man and more become part of your crew, and players can switch characters in an instant by pressing the L or R buttons. Anyone remotely familiar with the genre will immediately acknowledge that this means puzzle design where the player has to flick between the characters in increasing amounts per level as they progress through the videogame.
As enjoyable as A-men’s logical challenges are, the design is uprooted by its context sensitive controls. An intriguing idea but one that fails utterly due to it’s uneven implementation, the Square, Triangle and Circle buttons all offer actions dictated by the objects within reach on screen and the currently possessed items or skills; for example equipping your gun might be one, activating a switch another and throwing a grenade another. However, move a millimetre to either side, meaning the switch becomes out of reach, and either of your other two actions may change their respective button. This creates an issue wherein the player can’t rely on the context automatically, and many times in which the wrong command will be issued – potentially causing a restart of the level – as the contextual command has changed from what is was the moment before the player pressed the button. More structure is required here, perhaps assigning the key skills or environmental action to a specific button, and hopefully this will be implemented prior to the videogame’s forthcoming retail release.
The visual design of A-men is commendable, presenting a unique character that many similar low budget titles fail to accomplish. Inspired by the likes of Toy Soldiers and Toy Story, A-men’s design is a cartoon world of exaggeratedly hopeless, likeable personalities that offer occasional comedic value to the proceedings. There are occasional localisation issues – what exactly does “Only reasonably man!” mean? – but these will be overlooked by many gamers, especially as such practices used to go hand-in-hand with titles of the 16-bit era in which this genre arguably had it’s heyday.
Despite the issues surrounding it’s control scheme, A-men is an enjoyable logical puzzle title which benefits from having that all-important ‘one-more-go’ factor built in. Player’s won’t mind losing in A-men, and failure is part-and-parcel of finding the solution, however when it’s an unfair switch-a-roo of the context sensitive controls it does become somewhat irritating. Still, in A-men we see the reason for Bloober Team’s current success: a videogame that isn’t afraid to take something old and make it feel new.
Don’t forget: You can win your very own copy of A-man for PlayStation Vita simply by visiting the Win Bloober Team’s A-men for PlayStation Vita! page right here at Electronic Theatre.