In Punch Quest’s title sequence, you see a beefy man catching some z’s in a hammock strung up between apple trees. An orc sits nearby, smiling as he sniffs a flower. Suddenly, an apple falls and plonks the man on the head. He assumes he’s been punched, and immediately retaliates against the poor flower enthusiast—then breaks down the door of a nearby castle to continue his rampage. Here’s the thing: Punch Quest isn’t interested in making us feel sorry for the orc. The quests at hand don’t involve making restitution to the orc or his family. Instead, the game revels in how arbitrary the ass kicking is. Unlike other beat ‘em ups where you’re trying to rescue your girlfriend or take down a crime syndicate, this is a brawler where you punch for the sake of quests, and quests are for the sake of punching.
The game is like an endless runner in that you always start at level one and aim to get as far as you can before you meet your demise. You can choose to play as either the beefy man, Punchzerker, or a brawny woman named Smashkyrie. As you make your way through the castle using jabs and uppercuts to take down orcs, bats, and zombies (to name a few), you earn Punchos, the in-app currency. You use these to purchase upgrades and power-ups for your character. To make the big Punchos, you have to complete quests. For example, you might have to defeat 50 zombies, or open three treasure chests. These quests are administered by none other than a smart-mouthed gnome. Named Gnomey.
Now I’m probably in the minority here, but I’m still on the fence about the whole gnome conceit. Maybe surrealist humor just doesn’t do it for me, but I think it was a crutch, based on the idea that a gnome saying anything will be entertaining. Okay, I’ll admit I kind of smirked at “Punchville Gnomes in the hizouse,” but that got old pretty quick. Lotsa gnomes. We get it.
As for the quests, it definitely takes a while before they become tedious. Though most of the quests are designed such that everyone can beat them eventually (so the casual gamers won’t feel too emasculated), there are enough challenging ones to keep things interesting. The most intense quests are those that need to be completed in one run, like scoring a 70-hit combo. This keeps you from switching to autopilot—feeling that adrenaline rush as your combo increases, and knowing that mindless button mashing isn’t going to land you those last crucial hits. Some quests are cool because they require you to use specific moves, giving you an incentive to unlock a lot of different ones instead of just saving up for the moves that will be the most effective. The game is fair about rewarding you with enough Punchos so you’re never forced to buy any, or grind to the point where there’s just no joy in blind rage anymore.
You have three classes of skills: Power I, Power II, and Super Moves. More advanced skills require more energy to maintain, which happens when you punch or get punched (more aggression, more skills, more fun!) There are loads of different abilities for you to unlock. Some deflect enemy fire, some spawn more foes so you can keep the combos going, and others test the reaches of your imagination. Deadsplosion: defeated enemies explode on the ground. Knuckle Circle: giant fists encircle you, pummelling things while you pummel things! Are these moves as awesome as they sound? Abso-punchin’-lutely. All of them have a unique look and feel. Where some Super Moves might only work with uppercuts, others are triggered by slams. There are moves that make interesting things happen to your enemies (like making them explode!) while others transform your character; for instance, putting him in the center of a tornado you control. Every punch is a thing of beauty.
Where Punch Quest really stands out is in its attention to detail. It may be a 2D side scroller, but the artwork is excellent, taking care not to get visually repetitive. Though you’re inside a castle, there are breaks in the wall where you can peek out at an industrial skyline, or glimpse at an intricate system of pipes. The sound is great too, nailing effects like clacking skeleton bones, and keeping you pumped up with the music. The halls are filled with punchable vases and statuettes (including easter eggs like a replica of the Temple Run icon), and hundreds of idols to collect—with an entire naming system based on their facial features. So an idol with a gnome hat, cat eyes, and a handlebar mustache is called “Ooo Myao Wat.” Another idol with a chocolate bar-shaped head, cat eyes, and a gnome beard is called “Yum Myao Ooo.”
To sum it all up, Punch Quest is a fast-paced, addictive game with a strong personality. Once the quests become repetitive you might lose heart, but its many features and sheer visual spectacle will make for a good prolonged fling. And if gnomes are your thing, feel free to customize your character with a Gnomey hat. At 1000 Punchos, it’s a steal.