Side scrolling beat ‘em ups were a staple of any good gamer’s diet in the late ‘80s / early ‘90s. Back then Golden Axe and Streets of Rage ruled the roost, nothing else came close. With Streets of Rage 4 bringing back the genre with a vengeance in 2020, could a renaissance of the beat ’em up be on the horizon?
Dawn of the Monsters comes to us from 13AM Games, an upstart studio based in Toronto and is published by Wayforward (yes the Shantae guys). They want to show us who truly is king of the streets with their Kaiju based brawler.
Kaiju, or Nephilim as they are called in Dawn of Monsters, have arrived on Earth. According to the highly detailed plot – Nephilim first appeared in 2036 with the Mount Aso eruption. During the events of the volcanic explosion, Megadon appeared. Typical Kaiju style plot very similar to Pacific Rim, however, this has been crafted here into a satisfying story and presented in a really nice way.
The story is simple but has been given great love and depth by the developers. You play as an elite unit that is part of D.A.W.N (Defense Alliance Worldwide Network). DAWN is made up of four main characters: Aegis Prime, the giant human mech hybrid; Megadon, the Godzilla-like behemoth and first of the Nephilim; Tempest Galahad, a giant mech who uses a massive cannon; and lastly Ganira who came from the seas and can summon a crab friend to help in battle.
Great attention to detail has been given to each section of the lore. From the archives menu providing expanded info on each Nephilim or human combatant, to the fully voice acted cutscenes, love and care has certainly been poured into the world building. It would be really nice if the guys at 13AM Games could get a hold of the Godzilla license or even Pacific Rim, and add some of the beasts from those franchises to the mix.
Detail aside, the gameplay is very simple. Any player who has tried a left to right beat ’em up will know what to expect in Dawn of the Monsters. You choose your character, be it Nephilim or even Aegis Prime (think gypsy danger in Pacific Rim), and move to the right of the screen, crushing or punching anything in your path.
Yes destruction does come to the forefront of a giant monster based beat em up, go figure! The thing that impresses is the level of destruction here. Bridges can be levelled to get to your destination, skyscrapers can be torn down and used as weapons to clear areas. It really feels as though you are causing major collateral damage as you progress towards the objective.
The main missions are all pretty standard fare, such as surviving waves of enemy Nephilim or defeating an Alpha monster. The Alpha monsters are larger versions of the standard enemies and have extra health bars that are required to be hacked down before you can end their tyranny. Occasionally playing in solo you may find yourself overwhelmed. It is during these sections you really need to nail the defensive combat or be prepared for many, many deaths.
Combat in the game is actually superb. Sure, sometimes the hits themselves feel light and meaningless but the combo system makes up for that in no time. You have several move sets that are specific to each character too – Megadon is more of a slow but heavy hitter, whereas Aegis Prime focuses on speed and technique. Each playable character definitely has its strengths and weaknesses and there is sure to be one to fit everyone’s play style.
Instead of just being a simple ‘hit things to win’ game, Dawn of the Monsters has a robust defensive move set. You can block parry and dodge your way through the stages leading to a different style of play than you would utilise in the likes of Golden Axe or Streets of Rage. Each enemy also has super or rage moves, varying from character to character but Megadon’s nuclear-like blast is clearly the best of the bunch.
Upgrades throughout the campaign are a great way to customise your experience. You attach DNA augments to your character which enables various new moves. Balancing the augments is a great twist on the standard beat ‘em up formula and certainly adds to the depth of this one, as the various combinations need testing before you can settle on the ideal loadout.
Unlockable items are present, such as new skins for the combatants. The great thing is these are all available in-game without any microtransactions involved. So you can attach that cool black and red evil skin to Megadon without having to dip into your physical or digital wallets. It would have been too easy to sway into the dreaded micro transaction territory and it is more than appreciated that the developers steered clear of them.
Graphically, Dawn of the Monsters very much gives off some Castle Crashers or Viewtiful Joe vibes. In levels, the cel shaded look is great and fits the vibe. Between levels, the anime looking cutscenes keep everything flowing and are voice acted to add to the ongoing story. You can also access the chat menu between missions to expand context and listen to conversations between the characters at base camp.
Co-op is available throughout the campaign and is the recommended way to play. You can have a blast on the couch with a friend and this makes some of the more challenging sections easier by doing so. It is also a much more fun way to play beat ‘em ups in general and can help you out in some sticky situations having a buddy watch your back.
Dawn of the Monsters is an altogether great offering for fans of the beat ‘em up genre, as the combat, the upgrades and the graphics all come together in one beautiful package. This is definitely one to check out, grab a mate, get a take out and get stuck in.
Dawn of the Monsters can be downloaded from the Xbox Store