There is something wonderful about a traditional beat’em up. Just the sheer enjoyment of punching criminals in the name of justice, is something that you do not see much in any other medias anymore. Thankfully, this setup is kept strong through video games and with recent releases of titles like River City Girls, Streets of Rage 4, and The Takeover, I feel incredibly lucky. However, when I heard that one of my favourite developers was also going to take on this genre, I had to see what was up.
This is a traditional beat’em up to the core, where the story is just there to give you a reason to pummel your fists and feet into bad people’s faces. The year is 202X, and the streets of Gravy City are suffering from crime and violence. The government and the police force have been taken over by the evil crime syndicate E.C.S., except for three units resisting their reign of terror. The police chief, Anders Punch, decides to take drastic actions and with the help from officer Nils and Selma Snytin, they set out to clean up the streets.
After choosing one of the three characters to play as, you are dropped right into the action where you go from stage to stage in a linear fashion, and have to beat up fiends until the game lets you move forward. Every character has a normal attack that can be extended into combos, the ability to jump which can lead to an air attack, and can dash forward and end it with an attack as well. Furthermore, after walking into people in order to grab them, you are able to throw them in different directions or punch them some more. The amount of carnage you can create is impressive, and it is almost strange that the ability to dodge upwards and downwards does not have an attack to it.
However, while the characters share the same abilities, they all come with unique moves. For example, Selma’s dash attack will result in an uppercut and Anders can piledrive enemies after grabbing them. This helps making each of them interesting to play as, and they all feel balanced in their stats, be it the big and hard hitting Anders, the quick and nimble Selma or the middle ground Nils. The only ability that is similar between them all, is the super attack for hitting all the enemies around you and getting some breathing room, at the cost of losing some health.
If you are at all familiar with old school beat’em ups, this setup should sound familiar. This is very much similar to Streets of Rage 2 and Final Fight, where even some moves are replicated to the teeth. Luckily, Super Punch Patrol does not feel like a rip-off, but rather as an homage to those series specifically, by still being a confident title that knows the genre’s legacy. There are even weapons to find in barrels or from fallen enemies, like pipes for smacking someone in the head with or knives for stabbing. Cakes can also be found for refilling health, but points you get from clearing stages, thrashing criminals, and collecting diamonds, will be most important as they can give you extra lives.
This holds especially true, when you consider that this title provides a great challenge with limited continues and no save feature. While I would be impressed if you died from the game’s generous timer, the enemies come in a good variety and are fierce foes to be reckoned with. Punk girls that slide tackle you, brutes rolling around, and even ninjas with spinning attacks, are all strong fiends and will come simultaneously. It is never overbearing or feels cheap due to the solid moveset of yours, but do not be surprised if you get a game over on your first try. There are some repeated uses of attacks and reskinned enemies, but the nice variety of fighters makes the combat engaging and fun.
Although, the boss fights leave a lot to be desired. Some can put up a decent fight with intriguing patterns, like the diving and spinning shark man in the sewers. Unfortunately, they are all easy to decipher and can eventually be more of a nuisance than fun fights, due to only needing brute force to be taken down. You can also stun lock foes by punching without finishing a combo, but they will try to move around you in order to attack you from behind, which is a nice touch to keep you on the edge.
What is a shame, is that this game has one interesting auto-scrolling stage where you ride on skateboards and fight off enemies while dodging obstacles, but this is the only level that changes up the formula while keeping to the game’s core mechanics. This sadly makes the other stages bland in comparison, and I do wish more constant creativity was provided in the gameplay. Still, after the 30 minutes it took to beat Super Punch Patrol, I did feel like my time was well spent. It is far from an original title and does nothing to make itself memorable compared to others within this genre, but it offers good entertainment in a simple manner. Which is what beat’em ups are all about.
Gameplay Score: 7/10
Bertil Hörberg’s iconic sketches are truly remarkable, and the quality has never been as good as in this game. The shadows are impressive in motion, the lines move like those from old film animations, and everything overall looks like drawings coming to life in 3D. I also admire the simple implications of colour coding, such as having enemies being in red and weapons in blue, giving it all a nice style and helping from things blending into the grey backgrounds. A clever use of style that represents the gameplay beautifully.
The creativity does not stop there. All of the characters have something unique or fun about themselves, be it fiends dressed up in T-Rex costumes or having one of the bosses being the conductor of a modern train shovelling coals at you. This kind of humour is everywhere, and I simply love that the main guys wear less clothes than the female protagonist. Even the names of the characters are hilarious, like Gustav or Jolly. Although, the action is what is the most important part of such titles, and all of the animations here are incredible. Every motion is smooth and impressive, with the connection of hits being followed up by stars that emphasises their impacts, making them all satisfying.
While the stages are not as creative, there is a great amount of diversity within this city, such as alleyways with “snusk” written everywhere, underground trains, skateboarding over long bridges, and even a cosy cafe. This gives the world enough to make it feel grand and intriguing, especially with some nice references thrown in subtly. What is a minor issue, is that certain animations of the characters and even NPCs, are heavily inspired by Streets of Rage 2. This can even be see in the animated attacks, and while they still look great, it is hard to not draw plenty of comparisons.
Any media focusing on action needs good audio accompanying it, which Vile Hartman was obviously aware of here. Every attack sounds devastating and are varied to make them exhilarating. Be it hitting someone with a pipe, screams from fallen foes or charging against a barrage of enemies, everything has perfect sound effects to them. Although, the music by Arne Hörberg is an interesting subject. Every track is short and contains quick notes that repeat, but the rhythm is always strong. Be it the el-guitar played at the harbour or the chill piano in the cafe, all the songs are diverse and catchy. I just wish that the songs had more variety within them, as they can be on the repetitive side. It does not help that their build ups can be somewhat shallow as well.
Presentation Score: 8.5/10
Arcade fun, now with rewards!
I cannot say that I care much for leaderboards, as points have not mattered since the early 90s in a competitive sense. The four difficulties are helpful for finding your comfort zone or a challenge worth your time, but the best part about this experience is that you can unlock more costumes by gaining high scores. These are fun bonuses for personalising your characters, and it is always nice to look fashionable or stupid while punching and kicking bad people in the name of the law. Especially with a friend in co-op!
Extra Score: 8/10
What hit me with Super Punch Patrol, is how important style can be. While this is a simple game mechanically and borrows more from other titles, it is still an engaging beat’em up that clearly pays respect to its sources, and tries to be a bit more humorous with its setup. The presentation takes it further with imaginative costumes, fantastic visuals, and audio that is effective and cheesy. If style over substance is your thing, Super Punch Patrol is a wonderful choice. Like another pizza restaurant: it might not be original, but are you really gonna be sour if the results are great?