Punch Out is one of those series that is impossible to appreciate until you see other devs trying to do what Punch Out seems to do so effortlessly.
Initially, I had thought Thunder Ray would be an exception to this long string of wannabe Punch Out games that don’t quite make the grade, but no.
Let’s Hear The Bell
The eponymous Thunder Ray is the greatest fighter in the world and will seemingly always struggle to find someone who can even come close to matching his skills. In a Space Jam-esuqe solution to this problem, he is whisked off to space in order to fight against a number of intergalactic opponents.
The animation in Thunder Ray is beautiful, and was clearly slaved over, and all of the art is wonderful. The gameplay is simple yet weighty. You have body blow and high punch buttons, both of which can be augmented by holding either special button for a stronger but slower hit. You have your super meter which can fill up to three bars, each bar filled offers a different super attack when you hit both triggers together, so you can either burn it quickly and never let it get above one bar, or save it for the whole fight until you unleash three bars of hell into your opponent. You also have your standard movement options with the d-pad (dodge left & right, duck, and block).
I really wish this section of the review were longer, but that really is the end of the compliment round.
The Perennial Featherweight
This game has an arcade story mode. That’s all it has. You can play the arcade mode or you can check the options, but that is all you get. I get that for $15, and with the amount of work that must go into animating each fight, you can’t expect much more, but not even a boss rush or individual boss training mode?
There are three difficulties here. I went with the middle difficulty throughout the whole game and I beat it within about 35 minutes. I was awful at this game. I didn’t get the hang of it until the second last fight, but that hardly seemed to matter; I kept winning anyway. Outside of the tutorial, there are only 7 fights. In the whole game. Even for the price, this is absurdly little content.
Now, relatively little content is not necessarily bad. Many terrible games are bloated with 100s of hours of cookie cutter, careless content, and clearly a lot of care and attention has gone into the 7 fights we have here. Yeah, no. Not really. While all of the moves are well animated and fairly well telegraphed, there is a stunning lack of agency on your part.
Remember in Punch Out when you’d get a lucky star punch on a fighter near the beginning of a round and you may just knock them out then and there? There was a lot of anticipation as you saw them struggling to get up, as though you were sitting ringside, jeering at a once cocky boxer. Yeah, well, you get none of that here. Every fighter can ONLY be KOd after their third knockdown. There is no strategy, there is no luck, and therefore there is little to no excitement. They just die when their health reaches zero for the third time.
Why on Earth would you design the fights this way?
And, He’s Down
To add insult to injury, the actual fighters don’t get much fanfare outside of their animations. They have little accompanying story and they all get gossamer-thin character intros. Even their win records look slapped together, with almost every fighter having some increasingly absurd record like 150-0. I get that they’re supposed to be the best of the best, but you couldn’t just chuck in a draw somewhere for verisimilitude?
Also, one final complaint: there is this obnoxious black and white filter that gets slapped on the screen whenever you’re on your last bit of health. The camera also zooms in when this happens. Both of these effects conspire against you to all but guarantee that you will get knocked out with the next attack, as it’ll likely be so obscured by the crap on the screen that you won’t even realize what hit you.
There was recently an update on Steam which added a sort of boss rush mode, and maybe that’ll make it’s way to Playstation someday, but you really just aren’t getting enough content here to justify the price, which is probably why the game was already on sale for $12 only two weeks after release.
If you are just looking for a Punch Out clone and are getting desperate, then fine, buy it. Just please don’t confuse the length of this game with it’s potential replayability. These are not fights which can be mastered to such a degree that you can find some workaround which can knock them out on round one; the fights are going to be the same EVERY time: knockdown, get up, knockdown, get up, knockout, win. I suppose you could always up the difficulty, but in my brief play-testing, I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between normal and hard.
The game is fine, but it’s way too short, and there’s so much else you could buy.
- Beautiful art and animation
- Only $15
- Woefully short
- Oddly little replayability
- Irritating design choices