A giant, a mech and two monsters head into the city… no this isn’t the set up for a terrible joke, it’s how pretty much every mission starts in Dawn of the Monsters.
A side-scrolling beat ’em up of epic proportions, Dawn of the Monsters is brought to players by 13AM Games and WayForward, which have both seemingly decided we need more kaiju in our lives. And they’re right. With over 30 missions to complete, a horde of DNA augments to collect and tight gameplay that will keep you going back for more, Dawn of the Monsters is one of the best surprises of 2022 so far.
Presented in the style of a manga comic book, the story of Dawn of the Monsters finds Earth blighted with giant monsters called Nephilim. Able to level cities without even trying, mankind’s last hope is DAWN, the Defense Alliance Worldwide Network, whose strike force consists of Eiji, a man who can transform into a giant, Jamila, a woman who can telepathically control a giant mech, and two monsters who have gone against their own kind, Megadon and Ganira. Each with their own strengths, weaknesses and special moves, who you take into battle is up to you.
Like any side-scrolling beat ’em up, the gameplay is pretty simple to get to grips with. After selecting a mission, you’re deployed for action. Then it’s just a case of walking from left to right while dealing with any monsters thrown your way. You have access to light and strong attacks, which can be combined to form combos. You have a dash attack, too, allowing you to push forward while dealing damage. Add in a button that allows you to pick up objects such as buildings or even guns and then turn them on your enemies, and you already have a combat system that’s as deep as most in the genre.
But Dawn of the Monsters has more. Charge up your Rage meter, for example, and you can make use of powerful Rage abilities. Your Rage can also be used to execute enemies when they’re low on health. Another meter – the Cataclysm meter – allows you to perform a devastating attack that nearly clears the screen when activated. And then you have your guard and evade manoeuvres that, if used effectively, can allow you to avoid damage, parry, and even cancel attacks so you can extend your combos.
Needless to say, the combat system at the heart of Dawn of the Monsters has a surprising amount of depth. It doesn’t give you access to everything at the outset though; new abilities are introduced over time, allowing you to grow and learn as you play the game. Adding further complexity to it all is the aforementioned DNA augment system, which allows you to tweak your abilities and stats by equipping augments gained by completing missions.
The better you perform in a mission – each battle is graded and an overall grade is awarded at the end – the better the augments you’re offered. You can select two of them to add to your collection, and their effects are varied. You might find an augment that dramatically improves your attack power but also reduces your defence, for example. Or you might find one that turns enemies hit with a specific combo into walking time bombs. There are many available, and they’re tiered in quality so that you grow in power as you play.
It’s just a shame that, until close to the end of Dawn of the Monsters, your engagement with the DNA augment system doesn’t feel all that necessary. Basically, your time with Dawn of the Monsters will be a walk in the park for the most part. But then it gets very tricky indeed, and to succeed you’ll need to brush up your skills and optimise your augments. That might mean re-rolling their bonuses to get a combination that works just right for you, or grinding out new augments by replaying some missions you’ve already completed.
The lack of a difficulty select in Dawn of the Monsters is unfortunate. It’s also a shame that it has only one mode; an Arcade mode or Boss Rush would complement it greatly. There are other small things you could whine about too, such as the game’s soundtrack being a bit dull, and enemy tells – generally red eye glints – sometimes not being noticeable in the chaos that unfolds onscreen. Dawn of the Monsters isn’t perfect by any means.
It is, though, one of the best kaiju games ever made. And also one of the most unique side-scrolling beat ’em ups. It may leave a little to be desired in some areas, but on the whole it’s a hell of a lot of fun. On PS5, its manga-inspired visuals pop off the screen, and performance is rock solid even when there’s so much going on that it’s hard to keep track of it all. The icing on the cake is the option to play in local co-op; bringing a friend or family member along for the ride makes everything even more enjoyable.
If you’re a fan of kaiju or side-scrolling beat ’em ups, consider Dawn of the Monsters absolutely essential. You won’t find another game like it. Though even if you’re not typically a fan of those genres, you should still give it a go if you simply like to have fun; even more so the local co-op variety. Doing battle with giant beasts has never been as deep or enjoyable as this, especially with its DNA augment system that allows for a surprising amount of build variety. If this is the Dawn of the Monsters, we’re ready for the Day of the Monsters.
Dawn of the Monsters Review – GameSpew’s Score