Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Stadia, PC[Review code provided by WayForward]
Who hasn’t seen Godzilla stomping around ruined cityscapes, throwing down with King Ghidorah, Destoroyah and other massive kaiju, and thought “hey, that looks fun”? And how many giant mecha anime or Power Rangers (or Super Sentai, if you prefer) episodes have thrilled you with the epic scale of their climactic, skyscraper smashing battles?
Dawn of the Monsters, developed by 13AM Games and published by WayForward, sets out to capture these battles through a classic genre: the side-scrolling beat ‘em up.
In single player or two-player co-op, you’ll set out to save Earth from the monstrous Nephilim as one of four playable characters. These are the volcanic, fire-spewing Megadon; the colossal crustacean, Ganira; Earth’s bravest (and biggest) hero, Aegis Prime; and Tempest Galahad, the mighty man-made mecha.
Each character has their own unique move-set and differing play-styles, as you’d expect, and each draws on a different range of kaiju-smashing inspirations. Aegis resembles Japanese heroes like Kamen Rider and Ultraman, while Galahad wouldn’t look out of place next to Mazinger Z or the Jaegers of Pacific Rim.
Dawn of the Monsters shows a lot of love to the genres that inspired it. Rendered in comic book styled graphics, the heroes and kaiju alike have excellent, believable designs. Unlockable colour palettes reference recognisable titans of the past from Gundam, Evangelion and more. The developers know their stuff, and have put their knowledge to work.
Being a beat ‘em up, Dawn of the Monsters revolves entirely around combat. It’s pretty standard fare. You’ve got light attacks, heavy attacks, dodging, blocking, parries, high powered ‘Rage attacks’ and devastating ‘Cataclysm attacks’. You can execute weakened enemies to recover health, knock Nephilim flying through city blocks, and then grab a ruined skyscraper to wield as a weapon for good measure. It’s smashing good fun.
Across 35 missions you’ll plough through Canada, Brazil, Egypt and Japan, battling hordes of kaiju as you go. There’s a variety of monsters to mash, with differing tricks and tactics required to overcome them. Dealing with Makairus’ projectiles while facing down a charging Taurodon, for example, keeps things from getting too stale.
Between missions, you’ll chat with your allies at DAWN (Defense Alliance Worldwide Network) and equip your heroes with DNA augments. These augments apply bonus stats and special modifiers that can adjust how you play in small or significant ways. Doing better in your missions and earning higher ranks will reward you with stronger augments, incentivising greater performance in battle.
These aspects may prove a bit divisive, however. If you’re expecting a straightforward, arcade-style experience (a la Streets of Rage or Final Fight),you might be disappointed. There are no credits or game-overs here and, for a beat ‘em up, Dawn of the Monsters is quite plot heavy. There are frequent dialogue scenes (including many optional conversations), as well as a lot of inventory management and archive reading to do. On the other hand, missions are on the shorter side, rarely lasting more than 10 minutes at a time. Some may find the frequent downtime disruptive, while others might appreciate the breaks in the action.
The story itself is old hat, retreading well established genre footprints (no points for guessing that Syncorp is secretly evil), but is enjoyable nonetheless thanks to an appealing cast of characters and solid writing. It’s also fully voice acted (in English), which is pretty nice.
There are some snags in the gameplay, however. Combat is deliberately weighty, with big swings and slow movement evoking the colossal scale of a kaiju battle. When it works, fights have a meaty, satisfying feeling. But when it doesn’t, the game can feel unresponsive or sluggish.
As well as this, some of the Nephilim just aren’t fun to fight against, and particular combinations can be very annoying. Dealing with bulky close-range threats while getting sniped at from halfway across Tokyo can feel like a chore.
Things aren’t helped by the abundance of super-armour that enemies frequently have. Getting hit mid-combo is an increasingly common thing, and with no dedicated ‘get off me’ button, you can (and will) get pincered and beaten down one-sidedly. Enemies that explode at low health feel like they exist just to punish you for doing combos.
Dawn of the Monsters can also risk getting stale as you go deeper into the game. While there are many Nephilim types, most are just variations on the same basic idea.
You’re also going to get tired of samey-looking city blocks pretty quick. From Canada to Japan, the cityscapes barely change beyond the palette. The handful of stages that don’t see you knee-deep in skyscrapers are a rare change of pace, but don’t necessarily stand out, either.
It’s also worth noting that the visuals can get cluttered, and the whole game is a bit dark. Buildings in the foreground can easily block your view, hiding enemies and their attacks. It’s not game-breaking, but getting blind-sided never feels fair.
Still, in spite of its weaknesses, Dawn of the Monsters is a lot of fun. I favoured Aegis Prime and Megadon, and so I spent a lot of time landing giant flying kicks and tearing the heads off of Nephilim to use as weapons later. That said, I enjoyed all of the playable characters, and each has their own cool factor. There’s something for everyone, I think.
While I grumbled about the risk of things getting stale, the game doesn’t overstay its welcome. It can be beaten comfortably in less than 6 hours, but offers some replay value with co-op play, stage rankings and a number of unlockable palettes. The faults in the gameplay aren’t enough to cripple the fun factor, and never stopped me from enjoying the game for too long.
Overall, it’s worth checking out. It’s a solid (if non-traditional) beat ‘em up with a rare and well executed focus on kaiju. Fans of either genre can enjoy it, and if you like both, then you’ll probably love Dawn of the Monsters.
Dawn of the Monsters brings colossal kaiju battles and beat ’em up action, with all the city smashing and monster bashing you could ask for. While there’s some room for improvement, it’s a lot of fun and worth checking out.