Dawn of the Monsters Review - Screenshot 1 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

A belt-scroller starring kaiju and Tokosatsu-style giant mecha isn't exactly an original idea. SNK's not-that-great King of the Monsters series did it first, but here's the scoop — Dawn of the Monsters does it better, with a game that'll make you feel five hundred feet tall. And scaly. And basically a big lizard. Not in a weird David Icke conspiracy way, just... in the game.

WayForward published this one — you know, the Shantae lot — and we have to say it does recall their rather under-appreciated Godzilla Domination, a GBA title that saw a clutch of licensed Toho kaiju getting into big-time scraps in a diminutive but dominant (hence the title) fashion. In a sense, Dawn of the Monsters is a spiritual sequel, then, but developed by 13AM Games of Runbow fame; there's no need to panic, however, as these developers clearly know their kaiju. Excuse me, Nephilim.

Yes, the monsters here are known as Nephilim, a term more commonly used in gaming to mean "fallen angels", though it can also mean "giants" which makes more sense here for the monstrous (and playable) likes of Megadon and Ganira, as well as giant mecha Aegis Prime and Tempest Galahad — names that call to mind Pacific Rim's "Gypsy Danger", we think. And there are some Pacific Rim vibes to the whole thing, what with an art style stated to be inspired by Mike Mignola, who created Hellboy, which was adapted to film by Guillermo Del Toro... who also directed Pacific Rim. It's all connected, baby!

Dawn of the Monsters Review - Screenshot 2 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

The game! Right. As mentioned, it's a side-scrolling beat-'em-up in the Streets of Rage 4 vein, but it offers a different tone and feel. With two-player co-op available, each monster and/or mecha has different strengths and weaknesses that can compliment one another. The game can be played solo, of course — and it's still fun to play that way — but the best experience sees you teaming up with a pal and helping each other out, working to fill the gaps that some players may find in their arsenal or vital stats.

The meat-and-potatoes brawling is effective and satisfying, though we feel it lacks a little "crunch" at times — a je ne sais quoi that belt-scrollers can offer. The regular moves and combos are effective and can be chained together nicely, but the rigged-looking animation can feel a touch cheap which takes some of the shine off things. Thankfully there's a more enjoyably visceral feel to the executions, activated by hitting 'B' when an enemy gets weak enough and seeing, for example, Megadon literally yank off an enemy's head, which he can then use as a bludgeon or projectile. More broadly, you're also able to uproot buildings and smack enemies around with them. This is amazing, obviously.

Dawn of the Monsters Review - Screenshot 3 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

On top of this environmental action, you've got a rage metre that fills as you attack enemies, allowing you to unleash various devastating abilities by expending your Rage points. You can also parry enemy attacks, allowing you to counter with a powerful blow. As a last resort, you've also got a screen-clearing Cataclysm attack that you unleash with 'L' and 'R' after accumulating enough Rage.

Like most brawlers, it can get a touch repetitive at times, but with Dawn of the Monsters we found it a little more of an issue than in some of its contemporaries; many of the stages are near-identical, but they don't outstay their welcome and the extensive between-stage customisation system means you can mess around with each character's build, giving them a brace of special skills — "Augments" — to enhance their power. You get a choice of a couple after each mission, and a better performance from you means better Augments. This system makes the proceedings enjoyably varied and rewarding, and it helps to think of the game as a series of arenas you're thrown into to showcase your work in the Lab.

Dawn of the Monsters Review - Screenshot 4 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

There's a lot of story and character here and many gamers will get a kick out of the extensive lore that's gone into Dawn of the Monsters' world. We didn't personally find it especially fascinating but we do appreciate the amount of effort that's clearly gone into it. With tons to dig into, this is the rare brawler that remembers to cater for single-player action as well as multiplayer.

Conclusion

Dawn of the Monsters stumbles into some of the more common pitfalls of belt-scrolling fighters, but it has enough flair, polish and excitement to be a more than worthy offering, particularly played in couch co-op with a friend. We wish there were a few more playable creatures, but the ones on offer here are all very distinct and enormous fun to get to grips with. It's a richly rewarding game, with higher ranks unlocking new skins and upgrades from the in-game shop (don't worry, no microtransactions here) which offer an incentive to keep playing — though the real reason you'll stick with Dawn of the Monsters is that it is, quite simply, very good indeed. While it has a few problems, they're nothing that will stop you having a blast with this Brobdingnagian beat-'em-up.