PS Vita Review: A-Men



Like Lemmings, but with GI Joes, A-Men brings tongue-in-cheek 2D strategy puzzle/platform gaming to the PlayStation Vita as you put the various limited skills of your squad to use in the most efficient way possible to dispose of enemies and get all your men through hostile territory to the escape chopper. There’s a shortage of strategy games on the Vita at the moment, and A-Men certainly fills that void with some clever puzzling, a pretty lengthy campaign and some cute and colourful cartoon aesthetics, but some awkward mechanics, a dull and repetitive sense of humour and an unfortunately high price point prevent it from being a must-buy title.

Much like the aforementioned Lemmings, you’re given distinct units to swap between throughout the game, each with their own unique skills and limited resources. The Private has a one-shot rifle, the Engineer can destroy or rebuild bridges and floor sections, the Commando makes use of grappling hook and parachute to reach and descent from higher platforms, the Muscleman can toss characters and heavy objects, while the Spy can disguise himself as the enemy. Each skill often only has a limited amount of uses, even with power-up refills dotted around the map, and while there’s different ways to make it to the end, you’ll get a much higher score for taking out every enemy with the most efficient use of your tools, all in the quickest time possible.
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The puzzle layouts are pretty clever, and as the game moves on, the enemies get wise to your tricks. Grunt enemies will brainlessly wander into holes you’ve blown in the environments or fall down lift shafts you’ve left open, making it simple for you to leave perilous traps dotted about to snuff them out, but smarter enemies won’t go out quite so easily. Higher-up foes will stop short of dropping into chasms or stepping on mines, but in return, your extra skills mean you can paint landmines to trick them. New abilities/characters are unveiled at a steady pace, there’s a nice variety of environments throughout the game and the challenge offers a nice balance of being accessible and having enough tougher replay value for hardcore gamers who want to set up the most efficient, speedy chain of traps and actions to get the highest score.

Unfortunately for those striving to nail all the gold medals and such, the action system can be a little wonky at times. An icon indicator hangs at the right of the screen with a list of tools and actions you can use, but the button for each action isn’t constant and gets bumped around if you discover a new context-based action on the map, like a lever. The button you need to press to draw your rifle could be the Square button one minute, then suddenly switch to the X button. If you’re attempting to nail everything under a certain time (the game rewards completion of extra bonus objectives, like finishing the level in less than one minute), having the action prompts constantly switching around can be a pain and costs you vital seconds of preparedness.
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The game’s sense of humour can be awfully trying and obnoxious, too. Your team of soldiers are incredibly chatty, but they speak exclusively in already worn thin pop culture quotes. Hearing Duke Nukem borrow lines from They Live (“I came here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubblegum.”) got a laugh or two sixteen years ago, but quickly grew tiresome over a decade of repetition. So having A-Men throw those re-recycled “jokes” at you every few seconds can really grind at your patience. Some lines are more current, but still too late out of the gate – hearing Skyrim’s “arrow to the knee” quote stopped being amusing after months of being an internet meme – while the attempts at meta-humour (characters poke fun at level design and call the graphics crummy) never really muster a laugh the first time, let alone after the tenth time in a few minutes.

A-Men is an enjoyable game that boasts some clever strategic puzzle action, and that’s especially welcome on the Vita, where the range and amount of games still isn’t especially bountiful. But in comparison to some of the other launch window titles that are of higher quality for a lower cost, the £11.99 price tag seems excessively steep. The occasionally awkward controls add an unwelcome and unfair level of challenge and the sense of humour quickly grinds away at your patience, but nonetheless, there’s enough intelligent puzzle design, variety and enjoyment to make it worthwhile for strategy fans.

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A-Men is available to buy now exclusively on PlayStation Network for PS Vita, priced £11.99.