Last year, the strangely familiar sounding Mr. Nutz Studio—named after the Game Boy “hit” Mr. Nutz—blessed the world with a genuine attempt at a good Asterix & Obelix game. If you’re an Asterix (I’ll shorten it by leaving Obelix out) fan, you’re usually left in the cold, as most Asterix-related video game releases the last few decades proved to be utter rubbish or mediocre at best. So Slap Them All should be approached with the needed caution, but one can be slightly optimistic: it’s not an attempt at a 3D action adventure like the XXL series. No, it’s a beat ‘em up, which is arguably much more suited for the comical Gaul heroes. This creates ample opportunities to slap some Roman ass!
But is it good?
No. Let me explain.
I admit, I’m a year late to the Slap Them All party, meaning I ended up slapping Romans after kicking some shell in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge. This has, of course, devastating consequences, since I loved everything about the Turtles’ latest beat ‘em up installment, and inevitably ended up comparing a lot of mechanics to this Asterix game. Unfortunately, the latter has none of the former: great music nor addicting gameplay. What it does have is a beautiful art direction that perfectly mimics the atmosphere of the original Asterix & Obelix comics from the seventies. In fact, the acts you play through in the games are linked to specific comics: Asterix in Corsica, Asterix in Spain, Asterix & the Norwegians, …
The art assets are gorgeously detailed and seem to be lifted directly from the comics. Instead of 3D polygons on limited hardware that introduce ragged edges and disconnect the player with the comic—as seen in the XXL games—this seemed like a master stroke. And it is: the cut-scenes are a great sight to behold, and so are the animations and the game itself. Familiar Gauls appear in those stills such as Getafix, Vitalstatistix, and Cacofonix. By the way, the English names are simply ridiculous compared to the original French and Dutch ones: Getafix the druid is supposed to be called Panoramix, the chief Abraracourix, and the bard Assurancetourix. A bit of French knowledge is required to get the silly jokes, but if you grew up with the English names, I guess you expect to see those instead.
Unfortunately, that is all I can praise the game for. The beat ‘em up mechanics are simple, and I don’t mind that, but input recognition is very wonky:
X is supposed to land an uppercut that knocks out lesser enemies in one hit, but
UP is barely recognized when using the analog stick. The field of play is large enough to leave freedom to move in all directions, so naturally, the analog stick is the best fit here. It would be a great opportunity to have some branching paths included in the level design here, but the few optional paths quickly lead to dead ends filled with barrels to smash and coins to collect (yay points?). That’s not very exciting, especially if it’s the 123rd barrel.
There are three difficulty modes, and moderate is a bit on the easy side, although I felt cheated every time a bigger ruffian comes in running with his arms mauling. One hit knocks back Asterix, leaving him open to another hit, and another one, and another—effectively dragging the player to the end of the screen and suddenly halving his HP without any chance of pressing the block button. When enemies are downed, in Shredder’s Revenge, the brightness of their palette changes to indicate they’re gone for. Here, you have to hope they don’t get up yet again. Bosses are extremely dumb damage sponges that you’ll have to fight over and over and over again. Every act, I’ve encountered Redbeard and one or two Centurions, to the point of me wanting to quit out of boredom.
Although it is nice to know that the acts are based on actual comics, they’re totally disconnected, leaving the player with a sense of “here are some ideas cobbled together inside a collection called a game”. A static screen indicates that it’s time to move on from Spain to Corsica, preparing the player for another cut-scene, probably in the village, to introduce another mini story.
Luckily, local co-op is available and fun. I’ve seen other reviewers complain about the fact that only a two-player option is available, and while I would have liked to see other characters you encounter throughout your adventure as unlockables, I am fine with an Asterix & Obelix game where you can play as… Asterix & Obelix. If you play on your own, you can switch between the two friends at any time. If one of them dies, it’s game over, so a tactic I often employed is switching when the health bar is quite red. Another small irritation was having to start over again while dying at the very end. Most other beat ‘em ups simply let you respawn—perhaps a limited number of times—but for some reason, this wasn’t deemed appropriate here.
The lack of variation is painful. All levels look and feel exactly the same, whether they’re in the Norwegian or in the Corsican district. You have your lush forests, a few beach-like pathways, and rocky mountains, and that’s it. Enemies consist of Romans, pirates, and street robbers and the like. The lack of enemy variation didn’t bother me that much (except for the bosses), but if you’re going to introduce another act, then at least try to do something different. Sure, there’s this time that you have to break out of a prison and en up in an arena. A good effort, but another boring level. Sadly, the soundtrack doesn’t help in emphasizing adventure or wonder: it’s bland and almost never stands out.
Perhaps this is all to be expected as soon as you boot up the game: the “Mr Nutz Studio” splash screen feels awfully generic and the menu screen presents itself in a very sloppy way. The artists and animators in this game can’t be faulted though: they did a splendid job. It’s just too bad that the gameplay coating isn’t up to snuff, thereby reducing Slap Them All to yet another semi-failed Asterix & Obelix video game attempt. After encountering the pirate ship for the fourth time, I was ready to throw in the towel. Even Asterix says “This boat looks awfully familiar”. I get that in every separate comic, a bit of pirate hustling is part of the charm, but if you throw together several acts that end up being the same, the result is far from what I’d call engaging gameplay. I got the game at a sale for
€21, which, if you’re an Asterix & Obelix comic fan, nets an acceptable amount of fun. Otherwise, don’t bother.
Mission completed, by Bellanos!