Publisher: Adult Swim Games
While digital platforms have featured a lot of quality ports of classic arcade beat ‘em ups, like the recently released Dungeons & Dragons compilation, there’s not nearly as many original titles that do justice to classic quarter-munching machines and old-school console entries in the genre. I can think of two off the top of my head, Castle Crashers and Scott Pilgrim, but another one worth adding to the list is this title, Fist Puncher from Team2Bit, recently released for PC and Steam.
There’s not much that I can find at fault with this ridiculously fun throwback. It’s a 2D based side-scrolling beat ‘em up in the vein of classics like Final Fight and Streets of Rage, with a hefty number of characters available, lots of stages to fight through, various bosses with unique mechanics, and an experience/stat building system that makes this more than a throwaway 2 hour experience.
Fist Puncher, as the name implies, never takes itself too seriously. The starting characters are pretty eclectic, even for the genre. You’ve got entries like Dr. Karate (literally a doctor that specializes in karate), Steroid Jackson, The Beekeeper, and Hella Fistgerald. There are 15 characters in all, with the other 11 unlocked throughout the game. Most appear while playing through the stages normally, while the rest are a little harder to get.
The roster diversity carries over into skills, but all heroes have a handful of basic abilities, like punching, kicking, jumping, blocking, and the ability to grab enemies. You can roll to evade, double tap a direction to sprint, and each character has unique special moves that are limited by a meter displayed below the health bar in the HUD. There’s full controller support here, stylized around the typical Xbox 360 set-up, but you can opt to play with just a keyboard if you’d prefer.
There’s also four play co-op to check out, and the ability to switch between characters before entering a stage. The stages are laid out on an overworld map, with multiple directions available allowing you to choose the sequence of stages tackled. The end goal involves rescuing international pageant contestants kidnapped by the villainous Milkman, who in turn is accompanied by a series of named bosses like Kony parodies to killer robots.
Every character has their own experience to gain, and stats to level up. Experience is gained by successful hits, and you’ll rarely run out of bad guys to punch. Stages are somewhat short, usually clocking in around 2 to 3 minutes apiece, but the levels feel really well paced. There’s a hefty number to go through, with some solid variety to break up some of the monotony typically found in the genre. You’ll run into stages were you might need to diffuse bombs within a time limit, battle it out atop a semi/box truck trailer where you can fall off of every side, or ride an ostrich through a desert littered with land mines.
Fist Puncher also really nails the combat aspect, which is certainly the key thing that makes this such a standout experience for me. The action is fast paced, your character has the mobility to never feel sluggish, and there are enough defensive options that skilled play really feels rewarding. There’s nothing cheap or punishing about the difficulty, and while it’s not going to be classified as the toughest game out there, you’ll still find yourself getting knocked around a bit. Enemies are also aggressive enough that you can’t just button mash your way to success, at least not against bosses, requiring you to actually use all the moves at your disposal more often than not.
Visually it nails the retro aesthetic, with large, sprite based characters that give off enough detail and color to stand out from one another with some humorous entries like nude beach swimmers with strategically placed black bars. And despite the number of stages there’s a lot of attention given to varied enemy designs, not only with the bosses but with the fist fodder as well. And then there are all the items to collect, the in-game achievement system that unlocks double-sided digital cards, Steam achievements, and a pretty fantastic soundtrack to round things out.
I was really impressed by Fist Puncher, and I think you will be too. And of course, in the midst of the Steam Summer Sale, it’s a pretty great time to jump in and check it out. It does a great job of calling back to the classics in the genre but comes equipped with enough modern mechanics to make it feel fresh. Fist Puncher is really a standout example of how to do retro right, and is something that certainly deserves more attention.