Without question, few games move my personal nostalgia meter further and faster than River City Ransom, the old-school brawler with punching, kicking, sushi eating and weapon throwing aplenty. As such I was quick to jump at the chance to review Team2Bit’s Fist Puncher, which had the unmistakable whiff of a modern day take on classic beat ’em ups. Unfortunately, what I found didn’t smell nearly as sweet or inviting as the originals.
In terms of presentation, Fist Puncher certainly looks and sounds the part of an 8-bit retro release with its blocky yet colorful graphics and chiptune soundtrack. There’s no shortage of bizarre characters and villains to be found as well, as the game drenches itself in goofy lore from start to finish, paying homage to the always hokey arcade classics while also infusing a more contemporary sense of humor that’s been cultivated on the interwebs.
Fighting is a little more complex than you might imagine as in addition to the expected punch, kick and jump, characters can also learn special attacks that are executed by combining the shoulders with the face buttons. An evasive roll is done via the right analog stick, and it’s probably the most valuable move in the entire game as it essentially renders you briefly invulnerable. A series of grab attacks rounds out your fighter’s repertoire.
It’s here that many of the game’s most frustrating shortcomings take root. There’s not enough impact with punches and kicks — thanks to what seems to be questionable hit detection — and the need to move your hand to pull off a roll feels clumsy. Weapons are completely misused in Fist Puncher as well, doing scarcely more damage than normal strikes and breaking ridiculously fast; to the point that they’re of very little use, especially against the dozens of damage sponges you’ll be fighting.
Tactically, Fist Punchers employs a one-size-fits-all approach as pretty much every encounter throughout is best handled by unleashing a flurry of blows, rolling away and then charging back in. This applies to large mobs and boss characters alike, robbing the game of much needed variety. It tries to shoehorn in some different elements to mix things up, but none of them are as good as the basic fighting.
On the plus side, there’s a good amount of content to be had here with more than 50 levels and nearly 20 characters to unlock and play as. Each foray into a level will earn you experience as you pile up the body count, and upon leveling up you’ll be able to use an RPG style system to upgrade your fighter’s attributes (power, speed, defense, etc.) and unlock new moves or permanents boosts (such as more hit points). It lets you grow your character to fit your style, though it can necessitate some grinding.
Co-operative play is available locally only, which is a glaring omission. When you think of modern beat ’em ups, like Castle Crashers, some of the best times are had when jumping online with strangers or friends and cracking some skulls. I get that it’s an homage to games of 20-plus years ago when no one knew what the internet was, but this is one area where nostalgia shouldn’t stand in the way of progress.
There’s fun to be had with Fist Puncher courtesy of its beat ’em up formula and irreverent humor, but too many missteps are made for it to reach the rarified air of its inspiration.