|Beat 'em up
|Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC (reviewed)
|December 16, 2020 (PC, Xbox One)
January 28, 2021 (PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch)
MechaNika, the first game in developer Mango Protocol’s Psychotic Adventures game series, puts players into the shoes of seven-year-old Nika Allen, a scientific whiz kid who’s bored at school, despises much of the society around her, and seeks to tear down everything uncool in the world by building a powerful mech that she calls MechaNika. The second game, Agatha Knife, stars the titular Agatha—one of Nika’s only friends—as she finds creative ways to lure animals into her family’s butcher shop and ultimately summons a demonic spirit, the Great Bleeding Pig. Now in control of these destructive forces, Nika and Agatha join forces in Colossus Down, where they finally embark on Nika’s quest to rid the world of uncoolness. This time, though, Mango Protocol eschews the point-and-click adventure formula that defined the first two games in favor of creating a beat ’em up game. How does this shift in gameplay fare in Mango Protocol’s wacky universe?
Violence: You spend most of the game smashing enemies with fists, cutting them up with blades, and zapping them with lasers and magic. When enemies die, they sometimes explode into little gory chunks and a pool of blood. All this blood and gore is depicted within the game’s overall cartoony art style, and doesn’t stay on the screen for very long.
Sexual Content: One character makes a reference to “ladies of the night.”
Alcohol: Nika’s preferred beverage is a mix of cognac and cocoa, and at one point in the game you see her get buzzed off this drink. Oh, and as a reminder, she’s only seven years old.
Spiritual Content: As mentioned in the intro, Agatha controls a demonic spirit that she summoned as part of her creation of her own religion, Carnivorism. Some of the enemies in the game also attack you with magic spells.
At its core, Colossus Down is a beat ’em up game, and thus, compared to its adventure game predecessors, it spends much less time with characters and story, and much more time focused on gameplay. Even so, the game maintains the loveable absurdity and dark sense of humor that define the previous entries in the series, displayed primarily through the witty dialogue and the creative character and world design. It still makes a point of introducing new characters as well, particularly the people running the corporations and organizations that Nika has deemed uncool. I particularly enjoyed the level themed around pop culture movies and video games, as the enemies and environments all lampoon famous—and famously overused—properties, including silly mockery of companies like “Antivision” and games like “Helo” and “FIFO.” Interestingly, the game also incorporates several moral decisions that the player must make which may change the outcome of Nika’s journey in significant ways. The game even tries to call Nika’s entire outlook on life into question, particularly at the very end, but none of the choices truly condemn Nika for her flawed motivations, which leaves them feeling partially hollow.
Playing as Nika controlling MechaNika—or as Agatha controlling the Great Bleeding Pig, if you’re a second player—you stomp through environments and repeatedly smack your foes until they die. You have three basic attacks: a spammable short-range melee move, a slightly slower stun attack that travels in a straight line until it hits an enemy, and a slow-firing but powerful long range attack. In addition, you can unlock up to four special attacks per character that dish out lots of damage, but which damage you in return. While a few sequences throw enough enemies at you to keep you on your toes, I unfortunately found the basic combat loop quite repetitive, as I typically just closed distance on my foes and alternated between stunning them and spamming the basic melee attack. Only one of the three special moves I unlocked, a giant screen-wide laser beam, proved effective.
Speaking of the special moves, Colossus Down presents a fascinating choice a few stages into the game. Up to that point, you could respawn an infinite number of times with no consequence. But here, the game makes you choose: either you keep your infinite respawns and are only are able to unlock three of the four special attacks, or enter permadeath mode and be able to access all the special attacks, provided you gather enough scrap from debris and fallen enemies to unlock them all during your playthrough. While it seems like a clever conundrum, it’s actually a choice between two less-than-stellar options. The only good reason to choose Permadeath mode is for the bragging rights if you survive, as you don’t miss out on much by not being able to unlock a fourth special attack. But the other option proves too forgiving. Having infinite lives lets you completely off the hook for recklessness, as you never lose any progress upon respawns; you never get sent back to any checkpoint or to the beginning of the level. The only real penalty for death is having to wait while the death and respawn animations take place, and then you’re back in the action. The games even lacks a high score feature that could penalize you when you die. While this scenario fits with the tone of the game as a comically juvenile power fantasy, it also robs the gameplay of the tension needed to make it fun.
The general lack of enemy variety doesn’t help much, either. In every stage, you encounter similar enemies, such as humans (or humanoids) who attack you either up close or from range, some floating units that typically attack with lasers or magic, and larger, heavier adversaries that can knock you down. Some stages feature a few other variations, which just barely keep the encounters from becoming monotonous. The best aspect of the enemies is actually how their aesthetic fits with the theme of the level, since their design changes throughout the game. For example, while the floating ranged enemies in the candy area look like fairies, the same enemy type in the pop culture level look like famous characters such as Elsa or Mary Poppins.
Colossus Down sprinkles other gameplay elements into the mix from time to time, including brief puzzles and even some completely different gameplay genres, such as a platforming segment or a top-down shoot ’em up level. While these brief interludes lack any more sophistication than the rest of the gameplay, their presence and random inclusion spice up the overall experience and fit nicely with the comedic tone. The boss battles benefit from some gameplay variation as well, as many of them can only be defeated with a touch of outside-the-box thinking.
Ultimately, though, Colossus Down’s core gameplay holds the game back from reaching the level of fun achieved in Agatha Knife. The beat ’em up mechanics lack the depth needed to keep the gameplay engaging, and the shift in genre reduces the amount of time spent with the characters, which is the series’ strong suit. While I applaud the developer for having the ambition to try something different and to mix in a variety of gameplay genres here and there, the game’s execution remains merely passable. In a way, the game’s mockery of bigger franchises puts the situation in ironic perspective; Colossus Down—and the Psychotic Adventures series as a whole—takes risks and thus avoids the pitfalls of regurgitated gameplay that its AAA counterparts often fall into, but those big-budget behemoths offer depth and nuance that Colossus Down’s “jack of all trades, master of none” approach fails to match.
The Bottom Line
Colossus Down delivers more of the series' trademark wacky humor, but its core gameplay proves merely adequate.