The latest Nintendo Switch title from Ratalaika Games is another smartphone port; this time, it’s of a game by Rohan Narang, the developer of the retro-style touch-screen platformer Jack ‘n Jill. This game is Squareboy vs. Bullies, and it is not quite as good, to be honest.
You can probably get the gist of it from the name. Our title protagonist starts out by finding himself bullied and brutally beaten by some peers around him. After training with a sensei, he sets out to do the best method of confronting bullies: beating the crap out of them back! What a role model!
As far as pixel art goes, Squareboy‘s style is rather middling. I mean, the characters are all a bunch of squares with limbs; obviously, it isn’t the most creative character design one can get out of a game. They are at least expressive, and the animations are fluid enough for combat. I just think the art generally comes off as bland and static. The set pieces aren’t detailed enough to be interesting, and others such as the harbor’s water don’t move. The only unique visual I noticed was a billboard cameo of characters from Jack ‘n Jill, which actually makes me wish that game was on the Switch. It’s been far too long since the last time I’ve played it on my phone, and I’ve been seldom interested in dedicated smartphone gaming since.
Speaking of Jack & Jill, the NES-esque soundtrack in Squareboy vs. Bullies has a similar “humble” feel to it. Well, not in a way that clashes with the beat ’em up setup. The instrumentation makes it more like a musical homage to the River City Ransom games. It’s appropriate considering the inspiration for the base gameplay.
Through thirteen levels and a final boss fight, you will be punching and kicking like there’s no tomorrow. Squareboy vs. Bullies is a beat ’em up, and it sure as heck is aware of that. There is nothing else to do than beat enemies to a squarey pulp! Squareboy has a plausible amount of moves at his disposal, and they are simple to pull off in combat. The fighting in general is easy to grasp and enjoyable to get the hang of. I could do with some diagonal movement, though; the flawed movement is even more noticeable to me since I still have no left Joy-con and can only use the analog stick of the right one. Simply put: Don’t play this with analog.
Unfortunately, the problems don’t stop there. The levels don’t stand out from each other. It feels like one of those instances where I’m just going down the same hallway that only changes appearance every now and then. There are things players can throw and weapons to use, but they all behave the same way as each other. Enemies feel this way too, with the exception of the black squares since they can pull off more than one move. Even then, variety between enemy types is lacking, especially when most of them don’t even attack immediately upon being confronted by the player. That said, there is hardly a challenge throughout the whole game until the final level; suddenly, health packs are less commonplace and there are far more enemies (including a lot of black squares) to fight.
Is there anything else to it? Well, I guess the Arena mode (where you beat up as many baddies as possible) and Achievements do add some replay value to the package. Yet, I don’t think anyone should be rushing out to pick this one up. Squareboy vs. Bullies is probably best bought as a little distraction or appetizer in anticipation of a bigger game. That is, if you mind downloading the free mobile version to play through it with virtual buttons emulated on a phone screen.