I can still remember gripping my tiny fingers around and early NES light gun and blasting flying pixels in Duck Hunt. Now the Duck’s seem to have their own champion in a part man, pat duck boxing phenomenon, known as patobox. The brainchild of Mexican indie studio Bromio, Pato Box is a uniquely eccentric take on the adventure genre.
Pato Box puts players in the training boots of a one-time boxing champion, Patobox, and goes several rounds against a maniacal organization, named Deathflock. After a fall from grace, Patobox is left for dead. It’s an inauspicious start to our champion’s quest for revenge. In a race to reap vengeance against Deathflock, his former employer, the titular Patobox must navigate a series of levels, each filled with a unique series of challenges. This is best described as a punch ‘em up that manages to mix elements of the classic Punch-Out series with more modern adventure titles.
This eccentric idea comes with a particularly striking style. From Patobox’s opening round through to the final boss encounter, a bold monochrome aesthetic means this title stands out among a rainbow of other bright indie adventures. The halls of Deathflock towers are a three-dimensional maze, built with bold lines that create a definite comic book couture. Where cutscenes would normally reside, the story unfolds in a traditional series of comic book panels and the minimalist animation further cements the fact that players are stepping into a graphic world. Even the population of Deathflock towers are drawn to this end. Take a wander across the main lobby or go cash out in the opulent casino and you’ll find the patrons are all rendered in 2D. It is another nod to the comic inspiration, and a little bit of Mad World, that ultimately makes Pato Box an appealing change to indie pixel art.
The casino and lobby are just two of the game’s zones. As players progress through each of Deathflock’s floors, they must navigate a series of challenges before bashing the daylights out of a boss battle. Each area has an individual theme and reflects the personality of its end boss. This content delivery is fairly consistent throughout Pato Box, and Bromio keeps every level adequately engaging with a variety of activities. This isn’t too say they are particularly difficult. Gambling mini-games, environmental puzzles, and trap-filled mazes provide the best change of pace to the rhythmic smash and grab at the end of each floor, while some other areas do suffer from being a bit poorly constructed.
Boss battles are, just like the rest of the game, brimming with personality. Every agent of Deatflock that Patobox goes toe to toe against has their own individual personality. A duck headed boxing champion sets the bar for Pato Box and things only get stranger, as players take on insane exterminators, cheating champions, and cyborg head of security. Battles provide little instruction for defeating a boss, and the number of tools at player disposal is fairly limited. This is, however, clearly the intent. Boss fights rely on quick wits and a swift reaction as each encounter unleashes a set of phased mechanics. Dodging the wrong way or failing to block at the opportune moment can find Patobox flat on his back extremely quickly. In a nod to old-school arcade games, Bromio encourages players to learn from their mistakes. Each defeat allows players to learn a little more about their opponents before getting up and trying again. Although Patobox can succumb to the rigors of battle quickly, players are never forced to re-run entire levels.
It’s a design decision that sometimes works very well, and provides a real sense of achievement. It also managed to make me throw my controller across the room a couple of times. While unforgiving old school game mechanics can work well, these are going to be divisive for some. For those willing to overcome the unrelenting nature of these encounters it will definitely feel rewarding. For players more used to modern mechanics like animation canceling and a more dynamic difficulty, this is going to be a game that causes some significant frustration.
This isn’t the game’s only quirk. While the visual aesthetic and soundtrack vault the language barrier, the same cannot be said of character dialogue. Pato Box includes a reasonable amount of exposition between various scenes. It helps define the personalities of each boss battle, directs Patobox around challenges, and tells the game’s story. While the narrative briefly touches on some interesting ideas, at later stages, some of this is definitely lost in translation. Friends and foes sometimes seem to take completely illogical tangents and sentence structure is intermittently unusual. It all makes for a bumpy ride up to the top of Deathflock Towers.
Ultimately Pato Box is a standout indie adventure. The bold comic book design and fantastic soundtrack draw players into a mad world where nobody bats an eyelid at a part man part duck. It’s utterly bizarre in the best sort of way and never throws the same thing at you twice. While it has some mechanical issues and some design decisions that let it down, it is the sort of game you really will not forget. If you want something decidedly different then give this scrappy young duck a look.
Patobox Review Score – 7.5/10
- great look and feel
- great soundtrack
- keeps throwing different content at you
- controls can feel a little sluggish
- can be quite unforgiving