Super Punch Patrol review: Bertil Hörberg channels Streets of Rage

When Bertil Hörberg released Gunman Clive, it quickly went from unassuming independent release to word-of-mouth darling. I was interested in it mostly because of its Western theme – a theme that was largely ignored by video games at the time. The game undoubtedly wears its inspiration on its sleeve, feeling a lot like a lost Mega Man game, but its deft level design, tight controls and ‘wanted poster come to life’ visual style made me smitten with Clive – and I was curious as to where Hörberg would venture next. After taking another dip into Gunman Clive with a sequel, he decided to take on Contra with the sublime and wonderful shooter Mechstermination Force.

In 2020 he has made an homage to yet another classic genre – the beat ‘em up. I have a predilection towards these types of game (see my Streets of Rage 4 review), so after discovering he was going to do a ‘one person against an entire gang’-type game with the visual pastiche of Gunman Clive, I was more than ready to take on the Evil Crime Syndicate of… Sweden, I guess?

You start off by picking one (or two) of three playable characters: Nils is your all-rounder character, Selma is the fast female and Anders is the brute/police chief. Everyone has similar controls – an attack that you can combo into, a jump and a power move that takes some of your health but allows you to do a bit of crowd control if you get overwhelmed. While this is a tried-and-true formula for these types of game, there’s something to be said for the familiarity of it and the subsequent satisfaction of being able to maximize what you know to pummel your foes.

Where the game makes its mark (and adds its challenge) is in mastery. My first time playing on the medium difficulty had me witnessing a game over screen rather quickly; bumping it down to easy still had me scrambling to make it to the end, but then I eventually went back to medium, because Super Punch Patrol thrives on its repetition. The more you play, the more you understand the eclectic menagerie of enemies and their attacks. You take what you’ve learned and apply it to tackling the various threats you face in the optimum order. Gradually you find yourself getting better and better, deftly neutralizing enemies that might have caused a sweat on earlier attempts. You’re even rewarded for repeat playthroughs with new costumes, so there’s an incentive to go back again and again, refining your technique.

Also worth mentioning is how the moving pencil art style works in Super Punch Patrol’s favor. We’ve seen this style before in Gunman Clive, but I think the larger world design and characters make you appreciate the beautiful wavy lines all the more. What’s more, Super Punch Patrol is full of funny little in-jokes, whether they’re references to Hörberg’s other games or pokes at the beat ‘em up genre in general. It also does a good job of giving the familiar Evil Crime Syndicate a personality, even when their attack styles are a bit of a trope. Bosses are properly huge and imposing as well as charming and memorable.

Bertil Hörberg has performed a gaming hat trick: he’s made a lovingly crafted platformer, a challenging and thrilling side-scrolling shooter and now a knuckle-busting beat ‘em up. Super Punch Patrol is a warm blanket of a game; it didn’t need to reinvent the genre, it just needed to give you that cozy feeling of familiarity – and it has succeeded quite admirably.

Super Punch Patrol was developed by Hörberg Productions, and it’s available on Nintendo Switch.

Disclosure statement: review code for Super Punch Patrol was provided by Bertil Hörberg. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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