Wot I Think: One Finger Death Punch

By Adam Smith on March 17th, 2014 at 5:01 pm.

One Finger Death Punch seems like a self-explanatory title. If it brings to mind a game in which many tiny enemies are punched into pieces using a simple control scheme, then you have understood the intent of the title. The left mouse button punches to the left, the right mouse button punches to the right. Occasionally there are swords, bows and bombs. That’s about all there is to it, so why do I not want to stop playing? Here’s wot I think.

Wanna fight? One Finger Death Punch is an endless stream of kung fu combat as enemies rush and attack the player from both sides.

Wanna die? You will, although not anywhere near as often as you’ll kill. Outnumbered thousands to one, the player moves from challenge to challenge on an enormous map, encountering new types of challenge all based around the initial proposition – use one finger to punch people to death.

Wanna dance? I haven’t had this much fun with a rhythm action game since the original Guitar Hero and that one night with the particularly messy Donkey Konga drinking game. Late-comers to the party thought they’d walked into an Andy Warhol get-together at the Overlook Hotel – “WE ARE PLAYING BONGOS TO COLLECT THE BANANAS YOU MUST JOIN US BUT FIRST DRINK THIS TEQUILA”.

I installed One Finger Death Punch a few days ago, expecting to spend five minutes chortling at its exploding stickmen. My decision to play it was prompted by the same vacantly morbid fascination that would cause me to read the back cover and first couple of pages of this book if I saw it in a second-hand store. Actually, if anybody has a copy of http://untitlement.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/best-cover-ever.jpg The Cyborg and the Sorcerers, please get in touch so that I can arrange to pick it up, complete with your own careful annotations.

One Finger Death Punch is an exciting, blood-pumper of a game though. Imagine if The Cyborg and the Sorcerers turned out to be a well-crafted thriller, so gripping that you turned the pages faster than a teenager with a pornographic flick book. My initial five minutes with it (the game, not the flick book) taught me everything I needed to know but tickled my curiosity by showing what lay ahead.

Enemies sometimes take more than one hit, sometimes they dodge from side to side or require rapid-fire combos to eliminate. Weapons can be picked up, still just using the two mouse buttons, and used to extend reach, reposition and make short work of tougher opponents. Metallic slaughter-balls demolish entire armies, bouncing yoyo-like from the warrior’s foot.

There’s more. Battles during thunderstorms, which not only feel like hyper-kinetic Kurosawa but also serve to obscure the colour-coded intentions of enemies. The scratchy sepia of old-school rounds has a similar function, forcing attention away from obvious warning signs and to the animations instead. It’s equivalent to having segments of Guitar Hero tracks in which the scrolling notes are obscured and the player has to watch the animated gig in the background to find input prompts.

The central mechanism is as simple as the title suggests – the left mouse button attacks enemies to the left, the right mouse button attacks enemies to the right. Click when they’re within reach and your stickman brutally executes them. The screen tells you everything you need to know – areas of the floor on each side of the avatar are marked, showing how far an attack will reach, and enemies are colour-coded to show how they will react when attacked.

Nothing more complicated than a sequence of lefts and rights is ever required, and yet later levels, even on the initial difficulty level, demand the focus and concentration of a concert pianist. I’m not belittling concert pianists by making that claim and it’s no exaggeration at all to say that by the time I reached the game’s final challenges, I was performing feats of dexterity that put this gent to shame.

The musical connection is rarely made explicit in the game, which is far more concerned with stylised ultraviolence and mildly off-putting voiceovers than any aesthetic exploration of its rhythmic roots. In fact, having only seen videos and screenshots, I would probably have assumed that the whole thing was a throwback to the stickman combat games that used to dominate Newgrounds, which was where everyone chilled out before TVtropes and memes gentrified the internet.

If you don’t think lolcats and the elevation of all anime to Great Art represent gentrification, you can’t possibly have seen what this place used to be like. Goatse and Flash-based Britney Spears torture games as far as the eye could see. In terms of its look, One Finger Death Punch is very much of that era but it’s a stylish throwback and, despite its apparently minute ambitions, certainly not a throwaway one.

Beyond the elegant nature and intelligence of the display – and I can’t stress enough how cleverly elements are communicated and occasionally intentionally obscured – the greatest achievement is the unlock system, which provides a tasty carrot to strive for. Along with new skills and enemies, the game constantly adjusts the speed at which enemies approach, reducing it after a poor round and increasing it when the player does exceptionally well. More than all the medals and achievements in the world, I wanted to push that speed gauge as high as it would go.

One Finger Death Punch takes the most basic idea for a computer game – hero fights hundreds of enemies for no particular reason – and brings it into being with a control scheme almost as basic. Then, brilliantly, it stretches that scheme as far as it will go, never deviating from its chosen system but feeling out every possible limit in which it is contained.

That is one method by which many of the greatest games are defined. The designers finds the edge of what is possible within a framework, whether technological or creative, and gropes within it, lighting every angle and crevice. One Finger Death Punch isn’t quite among ‘the greatest games’ but it is a beautiful piece of design and a far more challenging and creative exploration of minimal input than Canabalt or the many other infinite runners of the world. It’s a game that may have been built, from the ground-up, to demonstrate the folly of button mashing. Your left fist is timing, your right is precision. They are deadly.

One Finger Death Punch is available now.

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41 Comments »

Top comments

  1. CMaster says:

    May be worth mentioning that one-finger-death-punch is in a £2.99 bundle, along with other RPS favourites like Hexcells, Tiny and Big,

    Edit: Bundle is here: http://www.bundlestars.com/all-bundles/indie-capsule-2/

  1. Everblue says:

    It is simply brilliant – the best fighting game I have ever played. And for £3…

  2. mavis says:

    I actually had a copy of that book – but with a different cover – http://www.geofftaylor-artist.com/galleries/cover-art/art/cyborg-and-sorcerer…..

    I think i gave it away……

    • Tacroy says:

      The Cyborg and the Sorcerors was a good fuckin’ book and I will not have its name disparaged!

      Though I did lose my copy in Santa Barbara years ago, so unfortunately you won’t be able to pick it up.

      • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

        It was a fine book I read when I were but a lad saving my groats for a shiny book. I was thinking about it the other day. The notion of a slave-agent of a vanished galactic power being forced to keep going on suicidal missions by an AI that wants to die and can only die when he does is an interesting one.

  3. TheIronSky says:

    Sounds delicious, and it’s available in that recent bundle, Indie Capsule 2, along with a bunch of other games.

    • Fanbuoy says:

      Yeah, it’s been in a couple of bundles. I suspect a fair few people own it without knowing it. When I first heard about it a few months back it turned out I had bought it in Groupees Be Mine X.

      It’s a great game. It makes me feel like a ninja.

  4. gravity_spoon says:

    This is one of the best low-end and cheap games available on PC. I got it from Desura and just can not stop playing. It has tight combat, responsive movement and does exactly what it is supposed to do without being over complicated. A must have.

  5. The Army of None says:

    Weird, I had almost the same experience. Picked it up in a bundle, expected 5-10 minutes of silliness, but now I’ve played hours and hours of it. Very simple but surprisingly fun.

  6. BLACKOUT-MK2 says:

    This game is fantastic. It does what it does so well. Eventually I’d play it in 20-40 minute bursts and found myself beating every level on the first difficulty. It’s one of those fantastic little things that’s so very simple yet never really gets boring.

  7. Skiddywinks says:

    I’ve been playing this the last week or so, and self imposing a “You can only progress from a level when you have finished it with zero misses and a Perfect” ruleset. Then I zoomed out and saw the map and figured I am going to be busy for a long while. The branching paths and different abilities keep it entertaining and fresh, and the branching means if I ever get on tilt with a level and find myself getting worse I can always mix it up. This is usually when I am most successful.

    I think Total biscuit said it best when he said “This game is far better and more entertaining than it deserves to be”.

  8. DrollRemark says:

    Donkey Konga

    Oh gosh, what a game. Madcap brilliance.

  9. NathanH says:

    I really enjoy this game but like a lot of these fast-paced action games that combine a need for extreme concentration with chaotic visuals I start feeling ill very quickly when playing, so can only manage a couple of levels at a time.

  10. kalirion says:

    Really fun game, but I still think the campaign is overly long-winded. I don’t see myself beating the Master playthrough to unlock Grandmaster just because it would take so long.

    I will probably end up spending hours trying to beat my score in No Luca No Survival though :)

    • LTK says:

      I initially thought the same thing but when it came to Steam I went ahead and beat Master mode anyway. If you’ve gotten all the skills from Student mode there’s no reason to complete all the levels, you can just take the shortest path to the final boss and go straight to Grandmaster.

      • kalirion says:

        The problem is that even the shorted path is pretty damn long. Maybe I’ll do it someday, but not in the near future.

  11. Edlennion says:

    Surely it should be called “Two Finger Death Punch”?

  12. Kitsunin says:

    I too was expecting something akin to the mediocre Newgrounds stick fighters. The name did not help. But it turns out it’s a thousand times better than it has any right to be, considering its appearance and simplicity.

    I’ve been playing with a gamepad with the left and right bumpers mapped to the mouse though. It’s a little less carpel tunnel-y.

  13. nimbulan says:

    The game’s great, but it really needs some control options. I find it much easier to play with my gamepad triggers than the default gamepad layout or the mouse. The only way I can accomplish this right now is to use an input scripter to map the triggers to the mouse buttons.

  14. Michael Fogg says:

    No reason to give traffic to that torture games site.

  15. Tatty says:

    My GOTY so far. The way it sucks you into a tunnel of Zen really is quite splendid.

    Kick, punch. It’s all in the mind…

  16. Chorltonwheelie says:

    Just had a great two hours with it.
    Laugh out loud fun for £4.
    This is why I read RPS, I’d of missed it otherwise.

  17. Carra says:

    Sounds like punch quest. Had a lot of fun with that great game.

  18. Caiman says:

    I discovered this game six months ago on Desura, it’s brilliant. I bought it again on Steam (even though Silver Dollar gave all Desura purchasers a Steam key, mighty fine of them) because I originally paid $1 and they deserve more than that for this brilliant game. Sometimes games are about experiencing joy, not necessarily the complexity or the depth of their gameplay, and boy does this game give me joy. Great write-up.

  19. CMaster says:

    May be worth mentioning that one-finger-death-punch is in a £2.99 bundle, along with other RPS favourites like Hexcells, Tiny and Big,

    Edit: Bundle is here: http://www.bundlestars.com/all-bundles/indie-capsule-2/

  20. LunyAlex says:

    10/10 Best Game Since Half Life 2.

  21. jonahcutter says:

    Really incredible. Even with only pressing two buttons and such a simple core concept, there are subtleties and wrinkles in the gameplay that add considerable depth.

    It is very well realized in presentation as well. The visuals and audio are pitch perfect.

    It is highly addicting and perhaps brilliant.

  22. mingster says:

    This game is amazing.
    I’ve bought it 3 times now.
    Once on the xbox and twice on PC.
    The steam version is the best as it has full gamepad support.
    It also has different styles of kung fu. Crane style, drunken master, etc..
    Must buy.

  23. mikejkelley says:

    Awesome, awesome game.

  24. Nixitur says:

    I’ve found a problem with this game and that is that the speed keeps climbing as you replay levels, as in choosing it again on the map. However, it does not keep climbing if you just restart the level while playing it which seems odd.
    Unfortunately, I noticed this too late. In my quest to get Perfect Platinum on every level, I was already at 200% speed when I reached the first boss and it only got more ridiculous.
    I find myself struggling to perfect Student mode just because of the game’s odd difficulty system and that kinda sucks.
    I think I’ll just delete all savedata (an option which is, annoyingly, not available from within the game) and start again, only restarting levels, not replaying them.

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