In a nutshell: A brawler set on a 2D plane where you wipe out foes with just two inputs: the left and right mouse button. It’s much better than it sounds.
Mob-assaulting and hyper-action beat-em-ups are strange beasts; just take a look at the Dynasty Warriors and Devil May Cry series. What initially looked like brainless button-mashers are instead comprised of one part stress relievers, one part deeply-design brawling mechanic, and many parts spectacle. Regardless, the genre dishes out instant self-gratification to its subjects not just from your participation, but from the fights that become an art form in itself. Why do you think having fight choreographers in a kung fu flick are very important?
So what happens when you distill that concept with just two buttons? You get the cleverly-crafted indie wonder One Finger Death Punch.
This Silver Dollar Games-developed endeavour is to action games what Divekick is to one-on-one fighters. Cousins by nature, both games take the complexity of their respective genres and distill it to the most basic of controls. You press the left mouse button to hit enemies on the left side of the 2D plane, and hit the right mouse button to hit foes on the right. That’s it: there’s no movement, dodging, blocking and other action etcetera you need to worry about.
Somehow or other, the deviously-simple formula clicks together thanks to the barrage of challenges thrown into your face. Fight a set of mobs for a number of rounds, with each bout getting faster and harder to keep up. Deal with multi-colored enemies that require three to four hits and left-right-left-left clicking patterns while grey enemies swarm you. Tackle brawlers that require multiple left-and-right click inputs to take down, but with the added bonus of holding off the stickmen swarm at bay.
All of these will pile on at you with ferocity and speed, testing your precision and patience. In short, mashing will only lead you to utter defeat.
Fortunately, power ups are abound to help out your lone wolf stick figure. These include weapons that increase your attack range and deliver one-hit kills from afar, and customisable skills (up to three per fight) that activate when your killstreak hits a certain number. Turning all enemies to easily-killed grey ones, a left or right screen-side-clearing special attack, more knife or arrow ammunition: these are worth a slight detour from your current path on the map.
There’s also progression charting in a form of a branching paths map leading to the grand master whom you have to best. Multiple paths will either take you further on to heavier challenges or to more skills to unlock. If having an objective isn’t your thing and prefer testing your endurance, survival and blind survival modes are unlockable to satiate that martial arts bloodlust.
Boredom via repetition will eventually takes its course, as you’re just beating up different stickmen to reach a quota or before time runs out just for the sake of grinding superpowers or topping your high score. Beating off flying projectiles and breaking objects via stickmen-vanquishing is not really a huge leap of innovation in the context of the game. Then again, you’re not shelling out US$60 here; this simple pleasure is only US$4.99 (or US$3.99 with other games).
One Finger Death Punch shows off the clear link between fighting and rhythm in a simple-yet-stylistic form. And it entertains as a result.
Worth playing for: The nunchuks and light sword segments, which is the game’s version of lightning rounds.
Watch out for: The indie aesthetics. They’re stylistic but not at all high budget. Clearly this was a two-man effort, so enter with humble expectations.
In closing: Amidst the triple-A fares this week, players who do not wish for excess and bloated pizzazz need only look to this minuscule-presented theatre of death.