Asterix and Obelix, written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo, is one of the greatest comic book series of all time. Don’t even @ me. Mostly because I’m still not entirely sure how Twitter works. This is a bande dessinée that, thanks to its hilarious characters and brilliant storytelling, enthused me with a lifetime fascination in ancient history. So, when the opportunity came up to revisit a world of heroic Gauls, villainous Romans and gallons of magic potion in Asterix & Obelix XXL: Romastered, I wasn’t exactly going to say no.
Ever since Crash Team Racing – Nitro Fuelled made silly money, there’s been an increasing interest amongst developers and publishers to revisit their old property, spruce it up a bit with a new paint job and hopefully connect with not only the game’s original fans but an entirely new generation – or two – of players. Asterix & Obelix XXL: Romastered then is a remake of the original action adventure game, first released back in 2003.
The game follows a classic set-up for an Asterix and Obelix story; the inhabitants of our heroes Gaulish village have been kidnapped by Romans, so its up to our intrepid duo to set-off in hot pursuit to save their chums from the vile machinations of Julius Caesar. This will see them visit lands like Egypt and Greece to jump on platforms, solve rudimentary puzzles, punch legionaries and smash, quite literarily, thousands and thousands of unattended crates to collect helmets. If you’ve played any 3D platformer over the last twenty years then you’ll know exactly what to expect here.
What does the whole ‘Romastered’ bit entail then? Basically you get updated graphics, refined sound and a handful of new challenges to undertake that have been peppered throughout the levels. These consist of time challenges in which you have to collect coins or race to a finish line. It’s, in all honesty, a tad underwhelming as an offering. Though there’s a neat idea that sees you able to switch between the remake and the original game with the tap of a button. This device is even utilised within the gameplay, the player having to switch between the two modes to be able to see and collect all the coins in a time challenge for example. On the downside, it also serves to reveal how little has changed between the original and the remake. If you’re after a significant improvement to the graphical fidelity of the original then you’re going to be disappointed, this is as basic a polish-up as you’ll find.
What this remake needed, more than being a bit prettier, was an entire overhaul of the original’s fundamental gameplay mechanics. Sadly, that hasn’t happened. And because of that, look forward to spending most of your time with the game beating up boxes to collect Legionnaire helmets. Who knew that the Pharaoh’s of Ancient Egypt had such a predilection for stacking wooden crates everywhere. It’s a wonder they even ever had time to build any temples with all that box carrying going on. Every level is suffused with crates to smash, rendering it a tedious and repetitive activity. There’s no sense of accomplishment in finding a particularly well-hidden collectable as you’re literally tripping over the things.
Worse still is the lack of a motivational reason to go collectable hunting. You’re meant to be able to use the helmets to buy items and power-ups from the in-game shop but there’s so few products on offer that you’ll struggle to spend your ill gotten gains. Even more aggravating are the stupid and frustrating challenges you must overcome that require you to collect a huge amount of helmets – even though you already have a huge amount of helmets.
Take one activity that required Asterix and Obelix to ski down a precarious snow coated mountain. A smug NPC demanded that I collect two thousand helmets whilst hurtling down from the peak, despite the clunky controls rendering this fairly impossible. This same NPC then taunted me with the fact he had an item that I would require to progress any further and – surprise, surprise – he’d only give it up in return for all those helmets. Why did he want two thousand bonce protectors? Who knows. I tried the challenge something like nine times before managing it, on each attempt grinding my teeth with the knowledge that I already had seven thousand helmets but for some reason the NPC wouldn’t accept those helmets as payment. What was the problem, did they have the wrong ear flaps or something? What’s the point of collecting collectables if the game world and its inhabitants render them entirely pointless.
Combat doesn’t fare much better and is a tedious case of smashing one button repeatedly as you punch through hordes of your foes. There’s little to break up the monotony, other than calling in your dog – Dogmatix – to bite a Roman’s bum. Other than that, you’d best make sure you do some thumb stretches to prepare yourself for all the button mashing. I suppose there’s a few moments of enjoyment to be had from the combat, finding the weak point in Roman shield formations provides a hint of strategy, but then when you do find the weakness it’s just a case of standing in place and spamming the attack button – so hardly revelatory.
And that’s the quintessential problem with Asterix & Obelix XXL: Romastered. This a game that’s made up of finding collectables, fighting Romans and solving puzzles and two thirds of those things are just plain boring to do. Puzzles fair better but any enjoyment to be had is tempered by the fact that everything you’re tasked with doing is a puzzle you’ve solved countless times over the last seventeen years. Safely carrying flaming torches to light distant fires and switching between characters to remove obstacles are solid but uninspiring fare.