Thursday, 27 June 2013

Review: Fist Puncher (PC)

riot breaks out

So, another day, another beat 'em up. There's certainly been a bit of an uptick in releases for the genre of late. Thus far results have been mixed with Sacred Citadel on one end of the spectrum (the terrible end), and Dungeons and Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara on the other far more entertaining side of it. Where does Fist Puncher fall into this? Much more towards the pretty good side of things, but it isn't without its flaws. The game provides a good amount of face punching action, and a bunch of unlockables, but it also suffers from very inconsistent difficulty and only has local multiplayer.

motorcycle chase
Being published by Adult Swim, it shouldn't come as a surprise that there is a fair bit of crude humor in Fist Puncher. Players will see everything from neo nazis throwing a birthday party for Hitler to launching an assault on Stripper Town whose denizens prefer to defend their turf with their naughty bits dangling out (censored, of course). It's all a little too juvenile for my taste. While Deadpool does a better job of pacing this sort of thing, as well as presenting base humor, Fist Puncher comes off as trying too hard, as if it's shouting, "Look how edgy we are, everybody!" Some people may be fine with that, but for a lot of others this will be grating.

The story itself is straightforward enough. A group of crime fighters have went to one of the local martial arts masters for training. On that night he's throwing a beauty pageant but the city's top crime lords decides to kidnap all the girls, and now it's up to the player to rescue them. It's a very basic premise, but as good a reason as any to venture into town and pound some skulls.

When it comes to the action itself, disposing of legions of thugs is reasonably fun in Fist Puncher. Each character has their own unique set of attacks, so choosing who to play as makes a big difference in how one will tackle a level. There are usually quite a few enemies on the screen at any given time, so crowd control is a must. Often this is best done by using big, sweeping attacks that can knock down lots of enemies at once. A lot of the trash baddies are easy to deal with. The only time they can be a bit of trouble is when there are a lot of them running around with guns, as those take some fancy footwork to deal with. Bosses are where the real challenge comes, as many of these are extremely tough to beat, especially the ones defending beauty pageant contestants.

battle at the meat plant
This is where we start to see one of the big flaws in the game: it's riddled with difficulty spikes. Things will be smooth sailing for a while, beating up criminals left and right, then all of a sudden players slam into a wall, or more likely the fist of a particularly large brute. The inconsistency of Fist Puncher's difficulty can be quite jarring as it seesaws between being a fist swinging good time and so difficult players want to hurl furniture across the room. It's not just boss fights that do this, there are a few levels with very tight challenges that come out of nowhere (often times they wind up being on subways for some reason). This fluctuation in the level of challenge really hampers the fun in the game at times.

To a small degree this can be mitigated by trying a different character to play as. It could be that it's better to use someone with a different set of specializations. There are quite a few characters to play as, and while the game starts you off with four of them, there are several more that can be found while playing. They are quite varied, so it can be fun experimenting with them. Moreover, they gain experience from beating down enemies, and after leveling up players can spend points to improve core stats like speed, strength, and defense, as well as unlocking new abilities. This can be a bit of a double edged sword, though, because while it's fun to gain new abilities and watch characters grow, it does lead to a fair bit of level grinding to make characters strong enough to be useful if you haven't touched them until late in the game. Thankfully areas are repeatable so players can go back whenever they like and grind out experience, but grinds are seldom fun and Fist Puncher isn't going to change anyone's mind about that.

character selection screen

Like a lot of other indie games to come along in recent years, Fist Puncher has gone for a more retro look harking back to the 8-bit era. While I can see why this is such a popular thing to do as it creates a presentable aesthetic without the need to hire a small army of artists, something that small studios can't really afford, the fact remains that this style is starting to wear its welcome. As someone who plays a lot of games like this, getting browbeaten by this type of art is getting tiresome, and I do find myself hungering for something different. While the visuals are certainly functional here, it's hard to shake the feeling that I've grown tired of this aesthetic. On the flip side, Fist Puncher's music is great with a number of standout tracks. There are a few lesser incidental pieces that can be repetitive, but overall the game's soundtrack is solid.

unicorn vs ninjas
One of the best parts of playing a beat 'em up is doing so with others, and this is another area where Fist Puncher is a bit lacking as it only supports local multiplayer. After my stint in Chronicles of Mystara, and being treated to a very nice online coop mode, I found myself disappointed that such a thing was absent here. If you want to play with friends you'll need to all gather around the one computer, and make sure to have enough controllers for everyone. While this could potentially be quite crowded, the game does support Steam's Big Picture functionality, which can help to offset that.

Although I have grumbled about Fist Puncher quite a bit in this review, I still found it reasonably entertaining. Generally there was fun to be had beating up baddies, and I liked unlocking and fiddling around with different characters. This is a game that hardcore fans of the genre are more likely to want to spend some time with. Casuals are better off grabbing something like Castle Crashers or Chronicles of Mystara instead, as they are quite a bit better so far as beat 'em ups on the PC go.

Check out the video review of Fist Puncher here if that's more your thing!

- Jeff Nash

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The Good:
- The action is pretty fun
- Lots of characters to unlock
- Good music

The Bad:
- Difficulty spikes
- Leveling up characters can be grindy
- The retro aesthetic is getting boring
- No online multiplayer
Score: 7.0 / 10

Have you played this game? What did you think of it? Loved it? Hated it? Why? Let us know in the comments!