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Review: Pato Box (PC)By Andre Eriksson At 02.06.2018 09:23

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If there is one thing that has been perplexing for decades it is what happened to the genre, or maybe it is better to call it concept, that Punch-Out created. Of course, there are still fighting games on the market, with regular releases of WWE-based franchises and the new ARMS from Nintendo's own facilities, but what about that puzzle-like action combat that was all about trying to figure the enemy out and countering their every move? What about that counter-active gameplay that made Punch-Out one of the more unique experiences in the NES library and that took it into the hearts of gamers back in that era?

Now, in 2018, a real opponent to the behemoth enters the ring to dethrone Little Mac in the form of a… duck man? Wait, what? Yes, a duck man. The story of Pato Box might seem comical and easily make people stop taking the game seriously, but underneath all of that silliness is a dark story about a conspiring fighting club that has somehow managed to take over the entire world thanks to, not joking, the power of duck DNA. The developer of this game obviously has a thing for ducks, but it works after it has settled in and the world slowly grows on the player as the rest of the silly cast enters the fray.

The diverse cast of villains and supporting characters the duck hero Patobox has with him on his quest to uncover the dark secrets of the organisation are goofy, yet strangely intimidating due to how they fit in with the world. This manages to capture the spirit of the opposing fighters of the NES classic in the Noir comic setting Pato Box is aiming for in a beautiful way and almost makes one forget and forgive the heavy emphasis on ducks throughout the story.

In all honesty, though, who is here for the story? Everyone is here to see and experience a throwback to the new epic Punch-Out battles from the NES days, and this is the department where Pato Box delivers in spades. All of the bosses in Pato Box are unique and have heavy themes on their attacks and mechanics with a lot of clever mechanics that puts the game it is inspired by to shame. Some of the most memorable ones are a boss that is literally a rhythm game, and a chef who demands the player to cook great soup during the fight against him, while still dodging his punches. The boss designs are wonderful and creative, but still fill gamers with sadness; sadness over why it took this long for a game like this to be released in the first place.

These epic fights are not even the exception; they are the norm. Every single one of them are unique and wonderfully themed to the antagonist of the day, with clever mechanics playing on that character's personality in charming ways that have rarely been seen before.

These beautiful boss fights are iconic, top tier, and belong right up there with the best boss fights ever created; well, some of them. Regrettably, the final boss is underwhelming and anti-climatic in all ways imaginable. Without spoiling too much, the final boss uses the "adventure" mode, rather than the fight mode, which in part means the player has to adapt to a new form of combat, but also that the boss is very easy, making it a push-over compared to even the very first boss.

What is this adventure mode, then? Well, it is Pato Box's Achilles' heel. It is the way in which Patobox navigates and interacts with the world. While there is nothing wrong with adding adventure elements to the genre, it is very poorly done and does not even make sense. For starters, the controls in this mode are very poor and limiting, and the way Patobox interacts with the world is silly; every action he does, he punches something. Want to talk to someone? Punch them! Want to open a door? Punch it! While it certainly is part of the attempt to pull on the heart strings of retro gamers, it feels silly in 2018, rather than charming.

These parts also feel forced to not feel too much of a straight-up copy of Punch-Out. It isn't that the stages are poorly designed or the puzzles bad, it is just that they do not feel like they belong in the game. The worst example is a horror segment, where a specimen escapes from a lab and the player must escape it, not getting caught. During this section, unlike in any other part, if dying, those in control are faced with a jumpscare screen, as taken from something like Spooky's House of Jump Scares. It would be good, if it made sense.

It sadly feels like Pato Box wants to play too heavily on becoming an Internet meme/phenomenon with these punches. It isn't that it is bad to add elements of other genres into the mix, but it must be done in a way that makes sense, such as the rhythm game boss, which the team managed perfectly. The absolute saddest part about seeing these levels, though, is the knowledge that the time it took to design those could have been spent creating even more interesting boss encounters, or even just making the final boss feel more epic to fight.

It is as if the developer did not trust Pato Box to be able to become a big thing on the merit of the game's quality alone and felt the need to add weird stuff just for marketing value and for humorous "best of" segments from "let's plays" promoting it. This is a shame, as Pato Box truly is good enough to stand on its own; it could have been one of the great classics of this generation, but it felt the need to ruin itself by padding out the game with content from other games; not bad content, mind you, just content that does not make sense here. Make no mistake, though, despite its flaws, some of the better fights of all time can be found here.

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Final Score
Putting a score to a game like [i]Pato Box[/i] is painful as parts are worthy of the highest possible score, namely the boss fights that are some of the best seen in ages and truly capture, and even enhance the source of inspiration. However, there needed to be more of those to create a better difficulty curve and less filler content in-between. The story of a game like this does not need to make sense, but the content put into it needs to.



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