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Impressions: Megabyte Punch

Kicking Is For Kilobytes

This article would be decidedly shorter if I could assume you, dearest reader, had played (and loved) Super Smash Brothers. If so: Megabyte Punch is the indie game that will resonate profoundly with your deep core of videogame memories. It combines the control system of that ancient, favoured title with more character customisation and level exploration than you could shake a Rogue Legacy at. You'll love it to death and you're doing yourself an absolute disservice if you don't pick it up.

For the rest of you, read on to discover what makes your next purchase tick.

What differentiates the combat system of Megabyte Punch from its contemporaries is the freeform nature. No hit counter, no pre-built endless series of mashing that locks an opponent in eternal hit-stun. Instead, everything must be dealt with on the fly. A punch may send a target airborne, prime for a follow up, but you're still in complete control. There is no cinematic manoeuvre to trigger with a single press and then watch play out. You react in a timely manner or your chance is lost and you must once again search for an opening. Enemies don't take conventional "damage" either, instead getting more and more susceptible to knockback until impact with a wall splits them open. It's challenging and unfriendly compared to the norm. Definitely a significant learning curve that will baffle for a short time.

But it's so good.

So. Fucking. Good.

It's the ultimate in removing hand-holding to force adaption. What's simple in other action brawlers is difficult here, making the payoff all the sweeter. I reacted vocally the first time I combo'd one of the game's many weaker enemies to death without dropping a hit, bouncing him through the air with a series of well timed attacks before the final smash. Those fine humans over at Reptile know how to emphasise too, the death blow rocketing my poor opponent into scenery at a gorgeous speed akin to explosive decompression. Upon impact he tore through weaker blocks of terrain with a metallic grinding before the final gratifying pop spread bits (currency) over the floor. Then things got really clever.

You see the levels of Megabyte Punch are vast, sprawling series of colourful, part-robotic, part-natural rooms. They link to one another by various means: perhaps a mine can blow up a wall or a platform can be jumped through to progress. But there are hidden caches of chests and enemies that are completely enclosed by terrain and totally inaccessible. However, as mentioned, final hits send enemies flying at such speed that they dig through the surroundings. On my way to the corpse of my fallen adversery-cum-drill I discovered he'd opened up a cave filled with loot! Not only am I now attempting to combo enemies as stylishly as possible because it just looks cool; I'm keep an eye out for what surface I need to blast them into so as not to waste their hazardous departure.

Exploration is well rewarded with modular customisation being the hinge of character progression. Within literally a minute of entering the first proper combat zone I'd picked up wings, a gun and a new head, resembling a rhino, that buffed damage. Now, an hour or so later, I've replaced almost everything once again, both legs improved to provide speed and defense. My head gifts a third jump while one arm is stronger and another can lay down a wall of bricks. Each upgrade has a unique look, so while my young robot once had a wimpy feel to him, he's now a red and yellow, spiky, jet-pack wielding tank with a shield on one arm, and a drill for a hand.

At first I was worried the four ability slots - some pieces give passive benefits, others provide these activated effects - had been filled too soon. However, it was more complicated than that. Certain combinations just aren't as useful as the sum of their parts. A triple jump AND a jet pack AND the ability to fly for a short time is an extraordinary amount of vertical capability. Each uses a valuable slot. Instead of the activated flight, I elected for aerodynamic blades which improved flexibility. This freed up an ability slot, meaning I could bring my drill arm to bear. It's a constant, desperate balancing act between elements and you're encouraged to experiment instead of sticking with the same stale style all game long.

I do want to take a paragraph for a little message: Reptile, implement a proper save system. At the moment progress isn't saved between levels, only once an entire area is cleared. This can be a significant setback if there are other demands on your time that cause a mid-session break. Resetting to the start of a level once all "lives" are lost would be an acceptable compromise, rather than forcing players to re-do entire segments. It really is the only thing I have to complain about, though. The basic platforming and fighting is sublime and I honestly can't recommend it enough.

Megabyte Punch will be released August 6th on Desura and the Humble Store (via the main website) for Windows, Mac and Linux. You can also vote for it on Greenlight.

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