One of the major things you’ll come to realize when playing present-day incarnations of 16-bit inspired arcade beat ‘em ups is that if you’ve played one, then you’ve essentially played them all. That’s not to belittle previous attempts that have come beforehand, but rather to highlight there’s hardly any reinvention within the genre. In the case of Super Punch Patrol from Hörberg Productions, the basic trappings and simple mechanics of age-old beat ‘em ups are as expected, but presented in a crisp and flowing sketchbook art style. While it would be easy to just categorize this as style over substance, the game does things right by just embracing the genre’s cliches and quirks.
Super Punch Patrol comes from Gunman Clive and Mechstermination Force creator Bertil Hörberg. It’s the designer’s first ambitious stab at tackling the beat ‘em up style of play. The game’s visual aesthetics are obviously an evolution of his sketchbook visual presentation we saw with Gunman Clive 1 & 2, and it looks quite pretty in motion. From the background and foreground details to the sound of sketching used as screen transitions stage to stage, Super Punch Patrol does feel like you are playing a first draft comic drawing in progress.
Aside from the fascinatingly unique presentation, the usual tropes from 2D brawlers are still here. You have the choice of three different characters—with varying play styles—to help punch, kick, and smash your way through the streets. The faction of Nils, Selma, and Anders are your familiar archetypes of a game of this fashion, with pros and cons ranging from light to heavy beat ‘em up styles. While there’s not much difference between who you play as (unless you enjoy their special attack), you may find yourself not deviating too much from one brawler to another. Overall, there’s no wrong choice here when button mashing and quick dodges up and down the screen are recommended.
Throughout the game’s five stages, which are bookended with two to three sections complete with checkpoints, you’ll be going through various locals that may seem all too familiar. Some scenarios put a cute spin on the material. Whether it’s beating up foes in a back alleyway, fighting an acrobatic scuba diver boss in a sewer, or riding rocket-powered skateboards as you kick dozens of bikers in the face, there’s bound to be something here that reminds you of previous beat ‘em ups. Eventually, you will also see certain enemy and boss types be reskinned at later stages, which can wear thin quickly. However, these observations are not necessarily a bad thing as Super Punch Patrol seems to know what it is and happily highlights the many absurdities and elements that have not aged the best from 2D brawlers.
All in all, the package here is a short and enjoyable classic romp, but it comes at the cost of being a rough time to get through. Even while playing solo, Super Punch Patrol can be unforgiving no matter what difficulty. This is a game best enjoyed in co-op, and it’s only supported locally. And given the fact that, yes, this is a title that’s meant to be finished in a short time frame, the continue and checkpoint system does have its annoyances. Based on the difficulty you choose, you are given a certain amount of lives and credits. When you are asked to use a credit, you will be sent to the very beginning of the stage and, sadly, not to the checkpoint. While this is an odd thing to get hung-up on knowing the DNA of this decades-old genre, it becomes a slightly frustrating inclusion when, even at the easiest difficulty, you will eat through lives and credits if you are ganged up on by enemies. Coupled with many unforgiving and cheap moments, it’s really best played with co-op in mind as it alleviates some of these grinding aspects.
Super Punch Patrol may not be a revelatory step for its genre since it doesn’t add anything much new to the table, but it still aims high with good results while being evocative of its past contemporaries. The sketchbook art design from Bertil Hörberg lends itself well to a 2D brawler, and it jumps out at you in neat and clever ways. Sure, while the difficulty could’ve been balanced more throughout, especially for single-player use, the entire package is still a quality throwback.