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Game Reviews

‘Pato Box’ Review: Boxing Gets Ducked

It turns out that adding to the Punch-Out!! formula does little to actually ‘add’ to the Punch-Out!! formula.

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There’s been little sign of Nintendo making their own Punch-Out!! game for the Switch, but thanks to indie developer Bromio, we do have a non-union Mexican equivalent. True to form with these things though, Punch-Out!! es bueno, Pato Box es el diablo.

That observation may be more of an excuse to get a Simpsons reference in here and less of a wholly accurate criticism of Pato Box, especially as both games have their moments of extreme difficulty, but Pato Box can, at times, border on becoming an exercise too frustrating to remain fun. Crucially, it often feels like the frustration comes as a result of questionable design choices rather than a necessity to simply “git gud.”

Pato Box

Looks like Primo joined the Nintendo Fun Club

We All See What You Did There

After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Pato Box initially released on Steam back in 2017 to favourable reviews — and clearly enough commercial success — to justify a port to Switch, and it’s on a Nintendo console that its influences can find their deserving home. Bromio wore its Punch-Out!! homage badge very openly on its sleeve during the crowdfunding campaign, and it’s very much to the game’s credit that it brings as fresh and inventive a take on a 34-year-old formula as it does.

As well as playing like an old Nintendo favourite, Pato Box also has a very stylistic graphic novel visual design that is heavily reminiscent of underrated Wii title Madworld. Mode 7 fans can also get a nice shot of nostalgia (and a future spectacles prescription) while experiencing the mix of 2D characters and 3D environments that spin around the protagonist as you make your way through the exploration sections of the game’s Story Mode.

Spare Me Your Life Story

This mode is naturally where the game differs the most from the arcade stylings of its chief influence. It revolves around the eponymous Patobox, whose real name is Primo, seeking revenge after losing a championship match (he was drugged, of course) and being stabbed in a cruel act of betrayal by the sinister corporation he was representing, Deathflock. The story takes place across the various floors of the Deathflock HQ where the corporation’s dastardly henchmen stand in the way of Primo’s vengeance.

Each villain servers as their own level of the game, with Primo riding an elevator to the signature floor of his next opponent, where he must solve puzzles and avoid hazards before he can gain access to a showdown fight. In principle, the idea is a great way of offering some downtime in between fights to explore the world and uncover the back story behind the mystery of his betrayal. In execution, it’s little more than a lethargic and frustrating slog full of uninspired puzzles and fiddly movement.

Pato Box

This level crushed my heart.

None of the elements on show in the story levels are anywhere near as accomplished as the fights they lead up to, and they rarely do much to enhance the experience. Hazards are an absolute nightmare to deal with thanks to the restrictive camera and subsequent impossibility to gain any real depth perception in relation to Primo’s third-person model. The biggest low blow of the lot comes in the Food Factory, which is one of the most maddening gaming experiences I’ve had in years. The annoyance of insta-death traps that you just can’t gauge without a movable Y-axis is compounded by a character who cannot sprint, crouch, jump, or even strafe at any real pace.

Even when not avoiding traps, the exploration isn’t great. Levels like the incredibly boring casino just aren’t livened up by a story that does very little in the way of pulling the player into the narrative. When every single person in the building is out to murder you at the behest of an evil corporation, there’s not much of a mystery to uncover. Eventually, you’ll be wishing you could just skip right to the bosses, basically eradicating the entire point of the Story Mode existing in the first place.

You Probably Are the Boss of Me

It’s no surprise that the boss fights are obviously where Pato Box excels, and each one is full of invention and variety in a way that Punch-Out!! itself has never managed. The bosses aren’t boxers (aside from one), and therefore do not need to follow anything close to the ol’ Queensbury Rules. Primo will be facing guns, drones, grenades, swords, butcher’s knives, and more from these fearsome foes, and each one offers a significant challenge. Regardless, the feel of a Punch-Out!! bout is expertly replicated, and the gameplay here is as tight and responsive as you’d expect from Nintendo themselves (unless you use the garbage motion controls — seriously, don’t).

Pato Box

Even the first boss in the game is tough. Glass Joe, she ain’t.

Unfortunately, because the fights aren’t actual boxing matches, if Primo gets knocked down, it’s all over. There are no rounds and no ten count. Primo’s health does regenerate to an extent during fights, but with each boss having three phases, it’s incredibly frustrating to finally get to the third phase, get knocked down within seconds, and have to start right at the beginning. A mechanic that either lets Primo get up after even just one knockdown, or a checkpoint system, could do a lot to make this more palatable. Even the save system is a bit off — the autosave icon will flash on screen when you begin a fight, but if you close the game and go to continue the story, you’re right back in Primo’s bedroom, meaning you have to ride the elevator and then walk all the way back to the boss for another go.

Coulda Been a Contender

It turns out that adding to the Punch-Out!! formula does little to actually add to the Punch-Out!! formula. Pato Box is a visually stunning game with excellent presentation and music throughout, and it does an excellent job of aping the feel of a Punch-Out!! fight. It’s just a shame that the game’s ambition to flesh out an arcade experience into something more ends up taking away enjoyment rather than adding to it. For best results, play the arcade mode, turn off the awful motion controls, and stick to the boxing — just don’t expect it to be easy.

Pato-Box-Game-Download

Crotchety Englishman who spends hundreds of pounds on video game tattoos and Amiibo in equally wallet-crippling measure. Likes grammar a lot, but not as much as he likes ranting about the latest gaming news in his weekly column.

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Game Reviews

‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

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Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

Riverbond grass

There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

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Game Reviews

‘Earthnight’ Review: Hit the Dragon Running

Between its lush visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, Earthnight never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

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Earthnight

In Earthnight, you do one thing: run. There’s not much more to do in this roguelike auto-runner but to dash across the backs of massive dragons to reach their heads and strike them down. This may be an extremely simple gameplay loop, but Earthnight pulls it off with such elegance and style. Between its lush comic book visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, it creates an experience that never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

Dragons have descended from space and are wreaking havoc upon humanity. No one is powerful enough to take them down – except for the two-player characters, Sydney and Stanley, of course. As the chosen ones to save the human race, they must board a spaceship and drop from the heavens while slaying as many dragons on your way down as they can. For every defeated creature, they’ll be rewarded with water – an extremely precious resource in the wake of the dragon apocalypse. This resource can be exchanged for upgrades that make the next run that much better.

This simple story forms the basis for a similarly basic, yet engaging gameplay loop. Each time you dive from your spaceship, you’ll see an assortment of dragons to land on. Once you make a landing, you’ll dash across its back and avoid the obstacles it throws at you before reaching its head, where you’ll strike the final blow. Earthnight is procedurally generated, so every time you leap down from your home base, there’s a different set of dragons to face, making each run feel unique. There are often special rewards for hunting specific breeds of dragon, so it’s always exciting to see the new set of creatures before you and hunt for the one you need at any given moment.

Earthnight is an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.”

Earthnight

Landing on the dragons is only the first step to slaying them. Entire hordes of monsters live on their backs, and in true auto-runner fashion, they’ll rush at you with reckless abandon from the very start. During the game’s first few runs, the onrush of enemies can feel overwhelming. Massive crowds of them will burst forth at once, and it can feel impossible to survive their onslaughts. However, this is where Earthnight begins to truly shine. The more dragons you slay, the more upgrade items become available, which are either given as rewards for slaying specific dragons or can be purchased with the water you’ve gained in each run. Many of these feel essentially vital for progression – some allow you to kill certain enemies just by touching them, whereas others can grant you an additional jump, both of which are much appreciated in the utter chaos of obstacles found on each dragon.

Procedural generation can often result in bland or repetitive level design, but it’s this item progression system that keeps Earthnight from ever feeling dry. It creates a constant sense of improvement: with more items in your arsenal after each new defeated dragon, you’ll be able to descend even further in the next run. This makes every level that much more exciting: with more power under your belt, there are greater possibilities for defeating enemies, stacking up combos, or climbing high above the dragons. It becomes an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.

Earthnight

At its very best, Earthnight feels like a rhythm game. With the perfect upgrades for each level, it becomes only natural to bounce off of enemies’ heads and soar through the heavens with an almost musical flow. The vibrant chiptune soundtrack certainly helps with this. Packed full of driving beats and memorable melodies with a mixture of chiptune and modern instrumentation, the music makes it easy to charge forward through whatever each level will throw your way.

That is not to say that Earthnight never feels too chaotic for its own good – rather, there are some points where its flood of enemies and obstacles can feel too random or overwhelming, to the point where it can be hard to keep track of your character or feel as if it’s impossible to avoid enemies. Sometimes the game can’t even keep up with itself, with the performance beginning to chug once enemies crowd the screen too much, at least in the Switch version. However, this is the exception, rather than the rule, and for the most part, simply making good use of its upgrades and reacting quickly to the challenges before you will serve you well in your dragon-slaying quest.

Earthnight

Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.”

It certainly helps that Earthnight is a visual treat as well. It adopts a striking comic book style, in which nearly every frame of animation is lovingly hand-drawn and loaded with detail. Sometimes these details feel a bit excessive – some characters are almost grotesquely detailed, with the faces of the bobble-headed protagonists sometimes seeming too elaborate for comfort. However, in general, it’s a gorgeous game, with its luscious backdrops of deep space and high sky, along with creative monsters and dragon designs that only get more outlandish and spectacular the farther down you soar.

Earthnight is a competent auto-runner that might not revolutionize its genre, but it makes up for this simplicity by elegantly executing its core gameplay loop so that it constantly changes yet remains endlessly addictive. Its excellent visual and audio presentation helps to make it all the more engrossing, while it strikes the perfect balance between randomized level design and permanent progression thanks to its items and upgrades system. At times it may get too chaotic for its own good, but all told, Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.

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Game Reviews

‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

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Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

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