Squareboy vs. Bullies: Arena Edition Review

Developed by Ratalaika Games, Squareboy vs. Bullies is a modern day take on old school beat ‘em ups. Originally an iOS game, it has now hit the handheld console market; releasing on both the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation Vita. However, in an oversaturated market of retro rehashes, does it stand out? Let’s find out.

Squareboy vs. Bullies opening is reminiscent of the 1984 classic film The Karate Kid; our titular hero, Squareboy, find himself being beaten by bullies when he is saved by the intervention of an old man. Said old man then teaches Squareboy how to defend himself. Now this is where the story differs, instead of entering a legally sanctioned karate tournament to get revenge, Squareboy embarks on a city-wide campaign to eradicate all bullying.

There is the occasional funny line here or there, but the characters are about as generic as you can get in both personality and design. Apart from Squareboy and his sensei, the only other characters are the bullies whom in a misguided decision speak exclusively in broken English. Because of this reading dialogue becomes a choir. I understand having the grunts being unable to string together proper sentences, but having the boss characters also indulge in this manner of speaking does little to make them standout and strips them of any potential personality.

For its part, the story pretty much unfolds as expected. There are no twists or turns, and it never evolves further than its original premise. However, I doubt anyone is really playing this game for its story.

Combat works as you expect it to. Enemies enter from the left or right side of the screen, and you do what you can to beat them up. Squareboy actually has an impressive amount of commands available to him with all them being performed through a combination of two of the face buttons and the analog stick/d-pad, though some moves feel a little stickier than others and aren’t as easy to pull off. You also have weapons and other throwable objects at your disposal.

To stop the bully menace, you’ll have to be able to distinguish the enemy types from each other based on their appearances and act accordingly. For instance, enemies with fedoras are armed with Tommy Guns that they can pull out at any time to strike you from long distance, while ninjas can perform jump and dash attacks. The sheer variety in enemies is greater than I expected, but the key to success no matter the foe becomes isolating your enemies onto one side and taking them all down with a quick takedown attack, such as a dropkick or dash. Stunlock is thing here, which is advantageous to you when on the attack, but likewise can be devastating if you allow yourself to be flanked and end up surrounded. Thankfully, there is a recovery move that will allow you to escape from being mobbed, but not before losing a good chunk of health.

The game’s offering of retro tracks isn’t anything you haven’t heard before, but does its job of reminding you of classic 16-bit era tunes of old. Same thing can be said about the backdrops of the levels, though the occasional graffiti looks as if it was drawn on using Microsoft Paint and brings down the entire presentation.

There are fourteen levels, though it only took me about four hours to clear them. The short duration may sound off-putting, but it’s probably for the best because the gameplay can become receptive in larger doses. The inclusion of a battle arena, though, will be appreciated by any who want more time with the combat. The Switch version also offers co-op, which in my opinion is the way to go. Most games in this genre are better experienced with a partner at your side, and this is no exception.

Squareboy vs. Bullies is a serviceable beat ‘em up that works as intended. It doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen already in about hundred better games, but with a $5 price tag there is very little investment needed if you want to give it a shot. And at the very least you’ll probably come away with an hour or two of fun, especially if you have a friend to play with.

Joseph Gedgaudas

Joseph has been playing video game his entire life and writing almost just as long, so it was only about time for him to start to writing about video games. When it comes to his choice of games, he is a lover of all things Japanese, though he tries his best to balance his gaming diet with Western titles, too.

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