Rumble in the rubble
After playing Dawn of the Monsters for 30 minutes, I felt a little confused. On paper, the game sounds like everything I like rolled into one. I’m a huge fan of beat’em-ups, I love anything kaiju related, and I adore anime. Dawn of the Monsters offers all that, but something wasn’t clicking for me. This left me really disappointed, but obviously, I wasn’t going to give up on the game. Thankfully, my initial feelings all but disappeared an hour later.
By the time the credits rolled in Dawn of the Monsters, I came away thinking I’d experienced a new step for the beat’em-up genre. To go from despondency in my first session to sheer delight by the final hour boggled my mind, and I’m sure you’re feeling the same way. After taking some time to ponder why my opinion changed so wildly from beginning to end, I believe I’ve figured out two sizable stumbling blocks. I’ll certainly get to all that, but first, I need to talk about Dawn of the Monsters in general.
Dawn of the Monsters, at least thematically, is the amalgamation of the heavy-hitters in the kaiju genre. To be completely honest, the game’s story and theme are less an homage, and more an unabashed copy. If you’ve seen any Godzilla film, the Pacific Rim movies, or Neon Genesis Evangelion, you’re going to be intimately familiar with what’s going on here. A corporation with a shady history, giant creatures hellbent on the annihilation of the human race, a symbiotic relationship between pilots and their weapons of destruction, and of course, psychic kids. If you’re well-versed in the above franchises, you can see how Dawn of the Monsters pretty much cribs plot points from those classics and mashes them together to create a story with a very familiar feeling.
While the story does have its moments, bolstered by strong voice acting, it’s all just an excuse to play as a giant creature and smash stuff. There’s nothing wrong with that in my book! You can always blaze through the story bits that start levels off, and completely skip side conversations that flesh out characters and motivations, leaving you with nothing but monsters to beat the crap out of. You make your choice of one of four characters, and then hop into the action to bust some skulls.
This is where my first disconnect with Dawn of the Monsters came from. I wanted to make sure I tried all four playable characters, and for me, I didn’t find a character I really liked until my fourth choice. The first two characters in the lineup are kaiju with very heavy attacks, but they’re a bit slow for my liking. After playing a handful of levels with these two characters, I wasn’t really having much fun. From here, I moved on to the two ATOMs, which are the massive human-like robots you pilot. The first ATOM I played as, Tempest, felt considerably better than the kaiju, but still wasn’t quite what I wanted. Then I moved on to Aegis, and this is when things clicked for me. Aegis is a big, fast, and powerful ATOM that feels really good to control. At this point, combat went from frustrating and plodding to extremely enjoyable.
Finding a character that feels good to you is a big part of Dawn of the Monsters. I’ve played plenty of beat’em-ups in my day, and I’ve always had favorite characters in those, but I could still get by with whoever. With Dawn of the Monsters, I needed to find a character that meshed with what I was looking for. Between the four options, I would imagine most players will be able to find something to work with. I can’t stress how much of a difference the right character made for me, so keep that in mind if you hop into the game.
It’s important to note that your characters will grow with you as you play, which can make a character you love that much more interesting. After you complete a stage, you’ll be given a choice of four different augments based on your combat skills. The letter rank you receive when a stage closes determines how good or bad these augments will be. From here, you can pick two augments to keep, which you’ll then apply to your kaiju or ATOM. These include buffs that activate when you’re low on health, special status effects, and more. The right combination of these augments can make you absolutely lethal, and you can build out lineups that perfectly compliment your play style. You’ll gain these augments from the first level right up to the final battle, so you’ll constantly have new goodies to implement.
Outside of your augments, combat in Dawn of the Monsters has some interesting wrinkles as well. There’s certainly more going on here than your average beat’em-up. Of particular importance are the dodge and block mechanics. Almost every enemy will have a “tell” when they’re going in for a sizable attack, and that’s your opportunity to block/parry the attack, or dodge it. This is going to become absolutely crucial fairly early on, as you simply won’t be able to survive if you keep taking hits. This makes plenty of battles feel like mini-games of Punch-Out!!, where you look for the tell, and then make your counter. Each tell is accompanied by a spark right before the attack, making it that much easier to identify. Once you learn how the kaiju move and their rituals before attacks, you can string together some super impressive offensive maneuvers.
Taking things one step further is the health restore mechanic. Once enemies have been beaten up to a certain point, you can move in for an execution move. These quick moments finish off a kaiju in a rather nasty way, but they also grant you bonus health. You can only activate an execution if you have a portion of your Rage bar filled, which you do by repeatedly hitting enemies. This is another invaluable mechanic, as some stages are filled with brutal kaiju, and you’ll have to use the smaller ones to refill your health just to survive the more grueling battles.
The combination of dodging, blocking, parrying, and restoring your health makes for a really interesting strategic layer to combat, the depths of which I don’t think I’ve seen in a beat’em-up. Each pack of kaiju you happen upon becomes a mini puzzle, as you have to plan out who to defeat first, who you want to restore health off of, and how you’re going to block or dodge the bigger opponents. This makes combat feel extremely fresh and rewarding all the way through, and keeps almost all fights from growing stale.
There’s certainly a learning curve to combat in Dawn of the Monsters, but as long as you stay patient and remember what you’re taught, you’ll come into your own. I know I got considerably better as I went along, with plenty of fumbles in the early stages, versus deft dodging and counter attacks by the later game. The packs of monsters thrown at you do a great job of forcing you into situations where you have to be smart with your attacks, which makes the experience that much better.
As for where you’ll take on these baddies, Dawn of the Monsters has you traipsing all over the world. You’ll have battles in Canada, Egypt, Brazil, and more. It’s here where I recognized my second big issue with the game. While the locations you visit after the first series levels are varied in color, design, and hazards, the opening set of stages feel somewhat dull. There are simply too many stages in the beginning that look very similar, and they all have you stomping your way through a cityscape. A strong opening to any game is important, and kicking things off with 8 stages that are mostly indistinguishable comes off as underwhelming.
I really can’t stress enough how monotonous the first stages felt, especially versus the impressive variety in every other stage. Later levels have you walking through rivers, in desert valleys, through fiery landscapes, and much more. The opening stages were so repetitive that I kept worrying the game’s later stages would fall into that trap, but they never did. I wish those opening stages had some more variety to them, as they might end up being a barrier to entry for some players. I promise, if you work your way through those levels, much better environments await.
Waiting for you at the end of each collection of levels is a gate to a boss battle, and then the boss battle itself. Opening the gates for these bosses remains the same throughout, asking you to bash tentacles, and then a giant eye to open the path ahead. These can get a little boring, but since there’s only 4 of them, it’s not a huge deal. Boss battles, on the other hand, are really entertaining. Each boss feels completely different from the last, and their extra-long health meters make sure you’re in for quite the grudge match. Hopefully you’ve honed your dodging and blocking skills by the time you get to these fights, as you’ll definitely need them to survive.
Through the boss battles and 30+ stages in Dawn of the Monsters, you actually get way more content than I expected. Most beat’em-ups can be completed in an hour or two at most, but Dawn of the Monsters took me around 8 hours from start to finish. That’s incredibly long for a beat’em-up, but as I said, this game definitely goes considerably beyond what traditional beat’em-ups offer. If this were a standard entry in the genre, I can’t imagine my interest being held for more than 5 hours, let alone 8. Dawn of the Monsters managed to maintain its fun for the entire time thanks to the constant character growth, and the multitude of mechanics to use during fights.
Dawn of the Monsters is also a joy to look at during those 8 hours. The game uses a very unique visual approach that mixes 2D and 3D, cel-shading and comic book-style art, manga techniques, and more to craft something really eye-catching. While it may remind you of other games here and there, the overall visual style creates an atmosphere all its own. The use of vivid colors and strong outlines really makes the entire presentation pop, and there are some truly breathtaking moments throughout the journey. Japanese landscapes drenched in shades of red, and sandstorms in the middle of Egypt stick out in my mind, as they set the stage for some very memorable battles.
While so much of Dawn of the Monsters clicked for me during my playtime, there was one element that still felt lackluster at the end. While the soundtrack does a fine job of blending in with the action, I found the sound effects to be lacking. When I’m bashing a kaiju, ripping a building from the ground, or dodging an explosion, I want sound that packs an appropriate punch. Everything from punches to kicks really lacked oomph in the sound department, which is a real shame, as the on-screen action and weighted feeling of the characters really sold their size. If the sound effects had more behind them, it could have led to an even more impactful experience.
All in all, Dawn of the Monsters impressed me more than I ever thought it would. It may have irked me a bit right out of the gate, but soon thereafter I found it to be a highly addictive brawler with more depth than I could have imagined. The combat really is the star of the show here, making me hope that other up-and-coming beat’em-ups will take inspiration from this title. If you’re a fan of the kaiju genre or beat’em-ups in general, I can’t see how you would come away from Dawn of the Monsters anything other than impressed. Even if beat’em-ups aren’t your cup of tea, the level of strategy in Dawn of the Monsters’ combat might be enough to woo you.
Plenty of content, lovely visuals, and giant monsters beating the holy hell out of each other. What’s not to like about that?!