When I was a wee lad, I used to play a lot of beat ’em ups before I became obsessed with RPGs and adventure games. I used to love the feeling of being in control, taking out anyone who so much as looks at me (not in a strange way, just literally looks at me). I also used to watch a lot of Spongebob Squarepants in between my gaming sessions. I don’t recall ever thinking – “Spongebob would be great in a side-scrolling beat ’em up” – but it appears developer Rohan Narang did (Disclaimer: this game has nothing to do with Spongebob)! Rohan developed Squareboy Vs. Bullies and Ratalaika Games helped bring it to consoles via the enhanced ‘Arena Edition’. So, is Squareboy a Square of Rage or simply a Spongebob Mardy-pants? Let’s find out…
Squareboy Vs. Bullies: Arena Edition is a 2D beat ’em up in the vein of classics such as Streets of Rage and Final Fight only instead of saving a girl, you play as a cuboid character hell-bent on revenge against the bullies who have been beating you up. In order to do this, Squareboy seeks out a martial arts sensei who teaches him how to take care of himself and effectively attack said bullies. Throughout your adventure of revenge and retribution, you will perform various moves, become acquainted with deadly weapons and smack a tonne of bullies into next week. Sensei will always be with you with short snappy comments and words of encouragement as you seek out the one in charge of all of your pain.
As mentioned above, Squareboy has learnt a bunch of moves off Sensei which he can use to take out the bullies. These are all listed on the pause screen and are required to be used at least once each if you are looking to obtain the platinum. The moves are you basic punch, jump punch/kick, back punch, dropkick etc… which are all really easy to pull off and they all have their own advantages and disadvantages against certain enemies. I liked this as you can tell the game was originally a mobile game (it was) and it would have been easy for the game to only have one or two types of attack due to the limited control on a mobile device, but the developer actually tried to give us some extra variety with the attacks so it didn’t become monotonous.
In terms of the controls themselves – everything feels solid. Even though you are controlling a yellow cuboid with legs as he viciously beats up other similar shaped people, everything from movements to back punching the enemies feels as good as it was back in the 16-bit era. I found myself button mashing most of the time as I wanted to use different moves in order to change things around a bit – I can see people easily resorting to just using the moves once for the trophies and then just spamming the attack button in order to take out the enemies – there is nothing wrong with this but you will probably find it a little repetitive if you don’t experiment.
The Bullies you meet along the way are so much fun. Don’t get me wrong – they’re not supposed to be fun as they are bullies and everyone should hate them, but the character design is so cute. You have ones in baseball hats, mohawks, trilbys and other hats. The hats appear to be the main visual difference between the enemies as the body types and colours all seem to be the same otherwise. They can also come equipt with weapons, some of which you can obtain for yourself and some you can’t.
I did find the AI isn’t the best at times as they tend to make a B-line straight for you and they will sandwich you in as they kick you whilst you’re on the ground. You do have a counter attack where you will shoot up from the ground and hit anyone around you but it took me a while to realise this – a while and quite a few deaths! Just like with the controls though, the combat itself feels really solid and fun. the hitboxes seem fair and realistic and the only unfair part is when they have you cornered, but the counterattack fixes that.
You can also utilise some of the environmental objects to your advantage and earn trophies as you do so. Things like Tires and wooden boxes can be used to both attack enemies and unlock witty trophies on PSN.
On the PS4 version, you have the option of playing both the Arena or the Single Player Campaign in co-op or solo. I’ve heard you don’t have this option on the Vita due to there being no online play on either version (all co-op on PS4 is local only). The campaign is 14 levels long and they are probably the main issue I have with the game. The levels go on for a very long time. Considering the levels simply consist of moving from left to right as you battle a load of bullies in each section before your allowed to move on again, it can drag on a bit as you work your way through with no indication on how far through the level or the current fight you are.
The game isn’t hard, but it is made even easier if you play in co-op as the game doesn’t ramp up the difficulty or increase the number of enemies. So, if you’re having trouble with any level and don’t have a buddy to hand – do shareplay with someone over PSN and they can play the game as if they are sat next to you on the couch.
The other game mode, Arena Mode, is basically a horde-mode style of gameplay. There is no objectives or trophies related to this mode – it’s just an added extra the developer has put within the game for you to take on solo or with a friend to see how far through the arena you can get.
Graphically, Squareboy looks nice and clean. You can tell the game was made for smaller screens as it looks strange on a 55″ TV – just like One More Dungeon the other day. It’s all down to personal preference but I’m not a massive fan of the pixel-style graphics in modern games. Some games use the style really well and some not so much. I would say Squareboy pulls it off with its simplistic design and style but I would have prefered to play it on my Vita (the code I received was an American one, which is why my Vita was a no-go). The music is also really cool with a classic chiptune style which really plays on your nostalgia for gaming back in the late 90’s.
Trophies – This game will take you about three hours in order to platinum due to the length of its campaign. Nothing is too hard here and it only has one missable trophy. This time around, Squareboy Vs. Bullies has over 90% of users with the platinum on each system over on PSNProfiles.com and this game supports cross-buy. Yup, if you buy it on PSN then you get both the PS4 and PS Vita versions of the same region. Each version also has its own platinum – so for one purchase you can get two platinums and for two you can get three (vita region limitations).
Squareboy Vs. Bullies: Arena Edition is a great attempt at a solid beat ’em up – especially one which started life as a mobile game. There is enough gameplay to keep you entertained for a decent amount of time and I would recommend it to trophy hunters, people who like side-scrolling beat ’em ups and even those who have nostalgia for the 16-bit era. I had a lot of fun playing this game and I can’t wait to jump back into it once I pick up the EU version.