Fans of Punch Out!! and Ready 2 Rumble Boxing have been squirming with fist-happy glee sinceFacebreaker was announced in January. Distinctive characters, cartoon violence, and a worthy challenger to the Punch Out!! throne were all promised. Two of these things have been achieved. Guess which one wasn’t.
Simply put, the controls are a tragedy. If you want to see two people in snazzy clothes slap wildly at each other, you could walk to your local bar at closing time. Facebreaker K.O. Party charges £20 for it. Jab as fast as you can, a’ la Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots, to interrupt your opponent’s blows. You can dodge the hundred-hand-slap, but it requires you to yank the Wiimote towards you, and it’s so finicky and unresponsive that you end up flailing about like an idiot. It’s almost as if they ported the game right across from the Xbox and PS3 versions, where you actually have buttons to bash.
To that you might say, ‘Big deal. So there are no tactics. Plenty of games have simple controls, to attract casual gamers.’ Wrong. The computer AI is so difficult, even at the easiest setting, that playing the single player mode is akin to fighting off a wolf with a feather duster. They may as well rename the game “AAGH! LET ME DODGE!” and be done with it. And to that you might say, ‘It’s called K.O Party. It’s multiplayer. So what if the solo mode is a pain?’ Well you’d be wrong; half of the characters and most of the stages need to be unlocked, and guess how you do it? Six championship belts, each more difficult than the last, totaling 18 matches, and if you decide to switch characters mid-way you have to start all over again.
So now let’s focus on the good. There are a few attractive aspects to this game. To start, we have the stylised and original characters. Each has a personality, a distinctive look and manner, and unique stats that alter the gameplay (though this comes down to either ‘punch slow’ or ‘punch fast’). Then we have the between-round break, where the characters show off their warped, bruised faces. Finding their jaw where their ear should be is, admittedly, entertaining – if only for the satisfaction of knowing your character has suffered like you have.
The game’s main attribute is the soundtrack. 24 tracks of licensed music, including material from the likes of The Hives, Gogol Bordello, the Dropkick Murphys and The Go! Team, as well as many electro and hip-hop songs, play as menu music and character theme songs. The inclusion of such high-calibre music really makes you want to like Facebreaker K.O. Party. But if anything, it causes this awful depthless game to stand juxtaposed against the soundtrack, like an old man doing the Charleston at a rave.
So, we’re back to the criticism.
Here are some features of boxing: wearing down your opponent, provocation, stances and footwork. And here are some features of not-boxing: kicks to the balls, glowing fists and charging up your Facebreaker-bar to instantly win the match with a special move.
So, as opposed to being a boxing game, it seems Facebreaker is an impaired beat-’em-up, with two kinds of block (one of which being too finicky to be valid), punching, and damageless throws. Each character has a different move-set, plus one special move. That’s five moves. Pitiful though it may be, this is some incentive to unlock more players. The game isn’t entirely unplayable, just entirely frustrating. Occasionally you’ll win a match, but then you’ll return to the character-select screen to find some nasal American singing emo-pop and tainting the only good aspect to the game.
In conclusion, Facebreaker is superficial, weak, and an apology of a game. If EA Freestyle put half the time and money into the gameplay as they did the soundtrack, it might have worked. But yet again, the studio formerly known as EA Sports Big – the once-great brand that gave us SSX Tricky – has shamed itself with another game of the lowest calibre.