This week's $20 or under offering for the Weekly Cheapery is the surreal, black-and-white boxing adventure game, Pato Box!
So here’s the thing: Pato Box is a very weird game.
Looking at any screenshot gives you a taste of the weirdness thanks to the monochromatic art style, but it only gets weirder when you actually sit down and play the game.
What you can’t necessarily see in the screenshots is that Pato Box is that it’s an adventure game about taking down a corporation bent on world domination, or that it uses the exact same control scheme as Punch-Out.
Black and White Style and Story
Let's get the visuals out of the way first. You can tell that Pato Box has a unique look from the screenshots, but seeing it in motion is really something else. The world is made up of 3D environments, all rendered with this super stark monochromatic filter. Throughout the game, you visit several different areas within one megatower, and each level has its own unique feel. Your camera is always positioned just behind your character's back, so they are a flat 2D entity, and so is every other character in the world.
This mix of 2D and 3D art sometimes feels a little off-putting, but the bold visual style keeps it all held together.
The story is similarly stark. Your character was a champion boxer and part of an organization called “Deathflock”. As the game starts, you've woken up with some amnesia after the organization tried to have you disposed of, so now you are out for revenge and to stop their evil machinations.
Exploring the Deathflock Tower
In order to stop Deathflock, you have to battle your way through a variety of bosses on your way to the head honcho. The basic structure of Pato Box lets you pick a floor, explore a themed environment, then fight a big boss. Along the way, you'll find hidden collectibles that fill in the back story of the world, give you hints about how to fight the boss of that level, and unlock decorations for the suite that serves as the game's hub.
The exploration aspect of the game is pretty entertaining, which is good since you do a lot of it. Each level gives you a different sort of challenge you have to complete in order to progress. For example, the Sewers are the domain of a weird chemist character, and so are flooded with toxic gas. In order to progress through the area, you have to find controls for a fan and punch them in order to clear the gas.
I should mention, everything that you'll interact with is through punching. Want to flip a switch? Punch it. Someone rudely left a door closed? Punch it! You found a scrap of someone's diary and want to read it? PUNCH IT!
Those diary scraps are crucial. Each boss has a variety of techniques and attacks that they'll come at you with, and their levels have clues hidden around to help make beating them even easier.
Ready to Rumble
For a boxing game, there's a surprisingly small amount of fights in Pato Box. Each level has you facing off against one lieutenant in the Deathflock organization, but the rest of the game is mostly punching inanimate objects.
When you do get into fights, you lose your ability to walk around, and instead, you can dodge left, right, and back, or press up and punch to do a forward jab. Other than that, you can punch with your left fist or your right fist, and… that's really it.
The controls in this game really are lifted straight from Punch-Out. They almost feel comically simple in a modern game. As you face down your enemies, you'll have to learn their patterns and tells in order to avoid their attacks and to hit them when they are vulnerable.
Just like in Punch-Out.
The uniqueness in Pato Box‘s fights comes from the over-the-top villains that you'll face down. You may only be able to attack with your fists of fury, but your foes will fling all sorts of firepower your way.
Enemies might employ tesla coils to electrify part of the screen or throw grenades at you. In this game, you really have to be ready for any sort of attack and know how to counter it. You might figure out that you can punch a rat strapped to C4 back at an enemy, but it's a lot easier if you find the hint telling you to do so earlier in the level.
Pato Box is a really weird game, but it's a game that I adore. I think it's fantastic that it shot for such a bold art style and found a look and feel that really, really works. Then, putting such a simple control scheme into an exploration game is just bizarre, but again it works.
I'm not sure that most folks would get through this game because the type of variety here is a bit odd. There's a lot of just wandering around as a weird duck-headed man and finding bizarre bits of lore that probably isn't for everyone, but I think most anyone would crack a smile at how absurd it is.
Wait, what's that, I hadn't mentioned the duck head yet? Oh yeah, you play as a duck-headed man, and there are ducks absolutely everywhere in this game.