Release Date: July 9th 2018
Price as of Article: £13.49 GBP $14.99 USD (not inc. 10% pre-order discount)
Game code provided by Bromio for review
I often wonder at what Nintendo think about their older franchises. Series’ that are well loved but often under utilised in favour of the next Mario Party or Zelda spin-off that not many people asked for. When you’ve got games like Punch-Out!!, StarTropics and F-Zero desperate for a new game, why don’t they have new games every few years? Well, maybe they don’t know where to take the franchise to the next level, and that’s fine. But when you have a game like Pato Box, very much inspired by Punch-Out!!, and see them take that concept and completely overshadow its inspiration in terms of ideas and ambition, I think Nintendo should think harder. Pato Box is what the next Punch-Out!! should have been.
When you have a man with a duck’s head, you know that Pato Box’s story is going to be a bit of a strange one. Patobox [Pato Box is the name of the game, Patobox is the character’s name] is the main character, the one with the head of a duck, and a boxing champion – a legend of sporting history. During his latest championship bout, however, something goes awry. He is spiked by the very company that has sponsored him throughout his illustrious career. Losing the match, he is thrown out the back, stabbed and left to die.
However, his life is saved by an employee of Deathflock, the company that just abandoned our duck-headed hero. Together they enter the Deathflock headquarters to seek revenge and take down the world dominating corporation.
The story is highly fantastical and weird which is something you would expect, but you would you be surprised by how seriously they take it in Pato Box. There’s lots of dialogue, interactions, backstory to unveil… I was actually quite a fan of what they tried to do here. They tried to make the absurd serious and in turn, purposely made it even more absurd. I enjoyed finding out how we would take down the corporation and talking with all the maniacal goons of the leader Mr. Den.
So the gameplay, if you’ve played Punch-Out!! before then you’ll know all about Pato Box. I’ve got to admit I really enjoy the puzzle aspect to that series, learning patterns and such, so I was highly enthusiastic about taking on Pato Box. Despite being a small indie game, however, Pato Box takes that standard Punch-Out!! gameplay and takes it to the next level.
It expands the standard gameplay of what you would expect from a Punch-Out!! style game and also the scope of the genre, dragging in adventure and exploration aspects in too. There’s a full fledged adventure mode in Pato Box and that really took me by surprise.
The story mode very much came from left field. This is not just a standard boxing game. As Patobox heads for revenge he explores the headquarters of Deathflock, yes, walking around and interacting with people and things, some exploration and mini games aplenty. It’s surprisingly robust.
As you view Patobox from the rear you’ll find that the wandering around is a little on the clunky side. It may take you back to pre-analogue 3D games which isn’t always the nicest of comparisons. It’s actually not that bad though once you force yourself to adjust to the ridgidness. Patobox interacts with everything with a punch which I always found humorous. During your adventure you’ll be navigating your way through meat grinders, avoiding security cameras, finding items for employees, hitting switches to open doors and so on. It’s remarkably planned out for what is essentially a silly boxing game.
After the initial level and encounter with the first associate of the big boss the plan is to take all the tokens from the rest of them in order to open the door to Mr. Den’s office. This brings in a sort of Mega Man-style select your robot master menu from the elevator, choosing which floor you want to explore and boss you want to take on. You can do it in almost any order you please although due to the lack of upgrades for defeating bosses, there’s no real benefits for choosing a specific order but it’s nice having the choice. Do you want to head to the offices to join in with the party or head to the sewers to clear out the poisonous gas?
Surprising is the word for this game. It’s a decent length with plenty of variety and for the most part I really enjoyed it. It’s not exactly revolutionary though, it doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen before and there are a couple of low points. After completing two floors you’re forced into a run in with the crazy scientist conducting his ungodly research. This stage is quite poor in all honesty, the fighting section is just a huge step up in difficulty and is different in the fact you’re trying to absorb positive energy while avoiding negative energy. It’s an exercise in frustration and repetition as you try and get down the patterns. It just seems out of place and misjudged. Aside from small points like this, it’s still really enjoyable.
The fighting is probably what you’re most interested in right? Well, if you’ve played Punch-Out!! the moves are pretty much identical. You can dodge left and right, punch with both left and right with different buttons, press down to block and if you push up and punch you’ll use a strong lunge attack.
What I like most about the standard fighting is that it’s not just about whaling on your foes face, there’s a lot more going on. You’ll be punching grenades out of the air back to your opponent, picking up food to throw in a cooking pot and dodging laser beams. Bosses generally have three stages to their fight which ramp up in speed, difficulty and attack variations. For me, this is where the game is more innovative and it really takes the Punch-Out!! concept to the next level. Working out how to take down the bosses are puzzles in themselves but there are hints laying around the environments of the story mode that can really lay it out for you. For example, the chef boss, I would have had no idea how to take this guy down without reading some of the papers that told me about catching food and the little lobster’s part in the whole fight.
If you don’t fancy the adventure mode then you can do a straight arcade mode or boss rush mode to go through just the fights. Personally, as fun as this is, you’re definitely missing a bit of a trick if you don’t at least go through the adventure mode first.
While this game has been on Steam for a short time, the Nintendo Switch release has implemented motion controls, which some of you will either love or hate. These are only for the fighting sections rather than adventure and I think they work… okay. They are fun for sure, although the difficulty of the game may not make them the best choice. What I found interesting is that you don’t stretch out your arms to punch, but whack them down like you’re hitting a drum. A little unnatural but works well with response time, as do all of the other gestures such as dodging and blocking. I personally wouldn’t use it, but I have to admit it does feel kind of cool smashing your fist into the faces of enemies this way.
The gameplay overall, for me, while Shovel Knight took the 2D retro platformer to a whole new level, Pato Box has done the same with the Punch-Out!! formula. It’s taken a classic, retro genre that’s well loved by everyone and extrapolated it to something else, something that I had no idea I wanted so much. Controls are responsive enough and the creativity is very much there in the fighting. I really like the gameplay a lot, aside from that one point a third of the way through that really soured the experience.
In the audio department you have a classic 80’s synth vibe, with an almost future noir feeling in there too. I think it’s absolute fantastic and really adds to the class of the game. Composed mostly by an artist called Controvol, I think you should definitely pay some attention to this work. The sound effects, too are great and smashing your opponents feels very nice indeed.
What I would have liked to have heard is some voice acting. I feel this game could have done with a bit of hammy hardboiled detective kind of narration and character voice work. It could have wholeheartedly added to the ludicrousness of the game although it’s understandable that they may not have had the budget for this, especially to get it spot on.
Visuals & Performance
The visual style is obviously very striking. The solid black and white with nothing in between will definitely give you vibes of Mad World on the Wii from Platinum Games. The minimalistic inked comic book style instantly grabs your senses. The style of character design is awesome, almost like Shin Megami Tensei-like design and they really catch your eye.
The visual absurdity, too, always brings a smile to your face. The duck motif is through the roof and I love it. Just wandering around Patobox’s penthouse after you’ve collected a fair amount of tokens and just looking at the artwork on display is chuckle-worthy.
Obviously while it looks absolutely amazing, there are a few drawbacks that come with this kind of style. Sometimes it can be a bit difficult to differentiate between different objects and motion isn’t always the best as well as the distance perspective being hard to get a grip on at times. So it does have it’s flaws that may effect your gameplay a little but for me it’s well worth the sacrifice.
One of the major downsides to Pato Box is, sadly, the frame rate. During the important fighting, it’s perfect. However in the adventure mode, some of the larger areas can drop the frame rate down a lot especially when rotating Patobox himself. It looks like the screen is ripping apart almost at times which is a shame. It’s not like this all the way through but it’s highly noticeable and something I hope will be addressed as it did take the feeling of polish away from the game fairly significantly.
For £13.49 and $14.99 you’re looking at a really good deal in my eyes. Games with much less to offer have asked for much more. The story mode will probably last you a good 7 or 8 hours, maybe even longer if you get stuck on the difficult parts I mentioned. There’s the addition of motion controls and a boss rush/arcade mode which I think could keep you satisfied. For me it’s solid value for your hard earned cash. For those certain to get on board with Pato Box, there is a 10% pre-order discount but don’t dally too long as the game will be released soon after this publication.
Great varied adventure mode
Striking art style
Adventure mode frame rate
One particularly unenjoyable stage