As strange as it might sound, today’s review is the reason for why I went through the entire Asterix & Obelix XXL series. There were so many questions as to why it got a third instalment in 2019, despite a remaster of the second game getting released a year prior. Was there any reason for bringing this franchise back after XXL 2 and especially Asterix at the Olympic Games? With a different take on the beat’em up genre compared to its predecessors, is Asterix & Obelix XXL 3: The Crystal Menhir the fresh start the series needed or the final nail in the coffin?
Hey look! It is the comic you love!
It is 50 B.C. and Caesar has conquered all of Gaul except for one village due to their magic potion of strength. In this village, we meet Asterix and Obelix, two warriors who are chatting along with their druid, Getafix, until Postaldistrix arrives and asks the duo for help due to the Romans having stolen his postbag. Being such kind heroes, Asterix and Obelix say yes to this task and head out, unaware of what journey lies ahead of them.
There are a couple of nods to the comics that you will come across, such as Ekonomikiris and Cacofonix, but none of the characters are important to the plot. At best, they simply point you in the direction you need to go towards, and offer some flavour text. This is because of how minimalistic the story is, as it becomes just about a damsel in distress and a magical menhir that needs its powers back. A basic plot that should only serve as a reason to why our heroes are taking on this adventure and nothing else. However, the game tries hard to make the journey more fun and intriguing through dedicating moments to dialogues and storytelling, and they all unfortunately fall flat.
I do want to say that the banters between the protagonists are adorable, despite Obelix seeming more daft than what he usually is. Their sassy attempts at cracking jokes at each other’s expenses or moments like when Obelix is questioning why knocking on the Romans’ gate is considered polite, are always cute and worthy of a chuckle. Sadly, there are just as many ones to groan at, including pop cultural references that will age quickly and terrible puns, such as the leader for an organisation against the Romans being named Ressy Stance. It is all made even worse when the in-game cutscenes add in jokes with no payoff or have story events occurring off screen.
While these elements show that this product was rushed, it would have been better if the team just focused on the cute banter, and scrapped this world filled with poor and dated humour. You can also hear how unfinished this title is, with multiple wrong pronunciations and how the dialogues do not match with the subtitles on the occasion. With this, Asterix & Obelix XXL 3 is a perfect example of why a story does not need to be included. Personalities can come in the smallest ways, but stretching it out to make it into something big can feel just like scraping small amount of butter on too much bread.
Story Score: 3/10
The problems of being OP
After selecting which of the three difficulties you wish to partake in, you are set in an isometric beat’em up where you will be given clear directions on where you are supposed to go and are free to explore each area as you please. You can play as either Asterix or Obelix, and even invite in a friend for co-op, which is a lovely treat. Both characters can dodge, attack with simple combos that hone in on enemies, and have access to four special attacks each. These moves take a portion of the character’s power bar under your health, and are always refilled by punching fiends.
This is nice for giving our heroes a range of powers, such as an uppercut for launching Romans up into the air or removing shields, and a grab where you swing an enemy around to hit others and throw them away at the end. It is here where I do notice some nice differences, with how Asterix can dodge further and get under small areas, while Obelix has a bigger power meter, which are nice touches to make them unique from each other.
However, the biggest difference is Obelix’s menhir. While Asterix will use his sword only for his spin attack, Obelix has a dedicated button for using the menhir’s powers. You can shift between four elements that you will unlock progressively for this big rock, with each providing a distinct effect. For example, fire will lit enemies and objects up and can light up dark areas, while ice will freeze Romans and remove flames. None of these abilities use the power meter, but are slow enough that they have to be planned accordingly in order to use them without getting hit.
Lastly, Obelix can send his pup Dogmatix to bite one Roman in the butt as long as he is not in cooldown, while Asterix can sip from his strength potion and turn incredibly strong. The latter must be refilled by finding bottles around the world and you have an amount of sips you can take restricted by a meter. This makes our duo really fun to play as and upgrading their stats at shops by using helmets found throughout the stages or from defeated opponents, is a nice inclusion. However, while this makes the characters entertaining to control, it is all wasted due to the opponents you are up against.
You will only fight Romans. Normal ones, some carrying shields, those who will alarm others of your presence, Romans specialised in ranged weapons, and generals that can enhance fellow soldiers. This might sound like a decent amount of variety, but due to some having long wind-up for their attacks, it makes the fights too easy when your moves are fast and have a huge hit detection that can affect multiple opponents. The only ones I had any issue with, were the Romans throwing spears as their attacks stun you and they can quickly hit you again. However, the amount of fiends is no trouble either, as they are not diverse enough to to make the combat require strategy or reflexes.
This especially hurts when the AI is awful and will at times make the enemies walk in circles. There is also only one underwhelming boss fight in the entire game that contains bland patterns and attacks, making it a tragic end to an already tedious adventure. Because of all of this, the main aspect of Asterix & Obelix XXL 3 becomes incredibly dull, which is a shame when the characters are so well made. I also wonder why there is a combo meter that does absolutely nothing but showcases your amount of hits. There where even times that I forgot I had a health bar until I found healing items in the form of picnic baskets or hams scattered around.
I wish this was the only problem this title had, as it could still have provided a shallow form of entertainment. Sadly, that is not the case as it also tries to include variety in the form of platforming. Yes, despite lacking a proper jump button, there is platforming segments in this game that are incredibly restricted. Throughout the adventure, you will have to cross tight ledges, dodge over small gaps, and deal with awkward physics. This is as uncomfortable as it sounds, especially since Obelix has a short dodge move. You can switch between the characters in singleplayer, but in multiplayer, I let Obelix respawn by moving away from the screen or wait 10 seconds after killing him.
On a more positive note, I actually somewhat liked the puzzles introduced halfway through the campaign that had Obelix working on the mechanics, while letting Asterix traverse over obstacles. The platforming was also more lenient here and I always had a good overview of the areas, making these parts decent. Unfortunately, it was then made clear that this title was made with two players in mind, since you have to switch quickly between the duo when playing alone as the AI is not smart enough to help you out. I actually ended up inviting a friend over, just so I could get passed these puzzles with ease.
Then we have the overall structure of the adventure, which is just dreadful. Each location has a clear mission, and while you can go off the beaten path to explore, it is never rewarding and the journey constantly makes you backtrack between areas or travel through linear pathways. Combine this with no good difficulty curve, varieties that are all over the place, a stealth mission out of nowhere, and dodgy programming that made me stuck in the scenery multiple times, and you have a game that is hard to enjoy.
I am so saddened by this, as there are glimmers that remind me of the first entry and I really hoped that this could have been at least a fun beat’em up. However, I cannot deny that the four hours were just underwhelming and I could barely tell the five areas apart from one another. I was bored and annoyed whenever I played this, and while it was nice to have someone join in for co-op, it made me wish for other things to enjoy together. Even if pummelling Romans is entertaining for five minutes.
Gameplay Score: 3/10
A decent stroll
I am truly surprised by how lovely the developers captured the look and feel of the original comics and cartoons. Everyone has strong colours to them, the animations are solid in combat, and all areas fit this humorous take on European history. Each location is distinct with unique set pieces to them as well, be it Gaul with a beach and a lush forest, Normandy with a viking village and icy mountains or the hot city of Tyre with a busy market. I also admire that the NPCs you encounter comes with clothing and styles that represent the different cultures, without going overboard.
Although, the enemies are lacklustre by only consisting of different types of Romans and simple boars, which make the fights become uninteresting. It is still exhilarating to punch fiends up into the air or swing them around, but there is a lack of strength to every animation that can make the combat feel tame in all honesty. Even the sound effects for these attacks could have been stronger, as they are too light and weak to be impactful. At least, I do love the screams of Romans falling back to the ground after being launched.
The worst part about these visuals, are the military settlements in each area with plenty of Romans to take out. While it is exciting to see big battles from time to time, the locations are eerily similar, despite changing out the textures slightly. It almost feels like the developers just copied one settlement multiple times, coloured them differently, and called it a day. I will highlight that the visuals do generally represent the comic’s style closely, but not its action or variety. Pixel shadows in the Switch version are also an eyesore.
What I did find strange though, were the in-game cutscenes that clearly hide events from the viewer in order to avoid animating them, showcasing that this title was rushed. The general scenes are made with stiff character models, so I can only imagine how bad these would have been with the limited movements. However, the voice actors do a solid job with their scripts and have all wonderful performances, with a narrator that is quite charming. Although, there are some odd pronunciations that change radically, which are distracting.
The music includes plenty of varied instruments, with each trying to fit every setting to their best potentials. The comfy Gaulish village has trumpets in a light and humorous tone, the folk violin used in Normandy are echoed and accompanied by drums, and an Egyptian flute gives the desert a distinct theme. All sound appropriate for providing cultural vibes, but sadly, every single track is repetitive and become forgettable due to how short they are. The melodies used for the combat are also more whimsical than strong, making the fights feel underwhelming. I suppose this is a representation of the game’s presentation: it has quality, but nothing more.
Presentation Score: 5/10
These trinkets can stay undiscovered
I have not talked much about the military settlements you have to take on in order to proceed, as they are no different than the general structure of the game. You fight Romans and move on, that is it. However, unlike the rest of the game, you are ranked here between bronze, silver, and gold cup, which are determined by a number of factors. These include health lost, enemies defeated, alarms triggered, energy bonuses, and time. They do not provide anything else than more helmets and with no variety to speak of, they are not worth revisiting.
The same can be said for the side quests you can get from NPCs, as they will either make you run through an obstacle course or fight off a specific amount of Romans. I never cared for these either, as they are just busywork within familiar areas with some minor differences. You are not rewarded for your troubles here either, making these extras feel tacked on and worthless. This is somewhat a good analogy on how misguided this title is with its strange structure.
If nothing else, I did like the idea of looking around for hidden golden laurels, roman dice, and finding bones by having Dogmatix sniffing around after them. Adding a slight form of exploration could give this game a nice form of variety. However, when they involve uncomfortable platforming and annoyances such as having to avoid breaking boxes that can contain some goodies in them, I often got annoyed and did honestly not care to get them all. This is replay value that could have been something, but asks too much of the general player’s patience while offering nothing substantial itself.
Extra Score: 2/10
I somewhat admire Asterix & Obelix XXL 3, as there are clearly some good concepts here that simply did not get enough time to evolve. Controlling the duo in co-op for some simple brawling in beautiful environments, could have been fun. However, it is not due to being bogged down by unneeded variety that gives my hands cramps, lacklustre enemies, unimpressive audio, and a generally tiresome adventure. There is no shame in being small and having quality gameplay through this, which I wish the developers knew before releasing this title.