You can't box this guy in!
Shin’en has been around since 2001 and they came out of the gate with the graphically-impressive GBA title, Iridion 3D. Since then, the company has made a name for themselves by releasing titles that not only push hardware, but are equally fun to play. That’s why it’s a tad surprising to see them release The Punchuin, which certainly isn’t taxing the Switch hardware! Thankfully, and more importantly, The Punchuin is still very much a blast to play.
The Punchuin is about as straightforward as you can get, and honestly, that’s quite rare in today’s game industry. Sure, there’s a little bit of story in The Punchuin to introduce its pugilistic penguin, but it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. All you have to know is that you’re a punchy penguin who has to clobber blocks into vertical or horizontal lines of the same color. Connect three blocks of the same color and they’ll disappear…and for the most part, that’s about it!
You’ve played one match-3 game you’ve played them all, right? Well, that’s true for at least half of The Punchuin’s gameplay, but the other half relates to how you manipulate blocks. Instead of moving an icon around the screen to swap blocks, you have to control the titular Punchuin inside the gameplay field. This penguin can walk left and right, as well as jump. As the blocks fall down into the playfield, you have to platform your way to their location and then wallop them into place.
Depending on the stage layout, this task can be pretty easy or quite tricky. Some stages are pretty barren, giving you a nice, open playfield to punch blocks into place. As you get deeper into the game, you’ll have to deal with hazards on the playfield like pitfalls, water, raised portions of the stages, and more. All of these get in the way of trying to connect blocks to clear color requirements. In some instances, you’ll only be able to build out vertical lines, or at other times you’ll have a very narrow three-block spot to work with. Throw in the speed at which blocks fall, the random nature of where they drop in, the garbage blocks that clutter up the field and the ever-rising base below you, and you can see just how hectic things can get!
In terms of puzzle mechanics, there’s nothing in The Punchuin that is new, but the combination of platforming and puzzling manages to keep the experience fresh. It’s a ton of fun to bounce around stages and punch blocks into place, especially when you reach a block at just the last second. A few varied block types will drop in from time to time, such as blocks that will eliminate all blocks of a single color on the board, and these also keep the gameplay feeling fun. The difficulty certainly sees a nice curve upwards as you get later in the game, and you’ll tackle some stages that barely give you a second to breathe. All in all, a simple, but extremely effective setup that I found quite hard to put down.
There are some unique stages thrown into the mix as well, all in the name of spicing things up along the way. Some levels are flat-out puzzle builds, and they require you to clear all lines in order to win. You start with every block already lined up on the playfield, and you have to figure out where and when to punch them in order to clear all colors. These obviously require a good amount of trial and error, but you’ll never encounter a puzzle that’ll completely stump you. With a bit of planning and some patience, you should be able to see these through to the end without much issue.
Finally, there’s a few mini-games along the way as well. If anything, I wish the game gave you a few more of these stages, as they’re quite enjoyable. You’ll come across mini-games that play out like golf or basketball, and they can be a fun respite from the usual puzzling. Unfortunately, these stages don’t last too long and aren’t too challenging. If these bonus stages lasted a bit long or required a bit more effort from the player, they could have been equally as good as the rest of the experience.
As I mentioned earlier, Shin’en isn’t trying to push the Switch with The Punchuin’s visuals, but that’s not to say the game isn’t pretty. If you dig SNES-style pixel art, then The Punchuin is quite a looker. It uses a simple, but charming approach to graphics, and it definitely has a unique sense of style. As for the game’s soundtrack, that goes with an approach that sounds even more old-school than the SNES, but it’s absolutely fantastic. There’s not a huge amount of tunes, but every one of them matches the gameplay extremely well. Some of you know I’m quite a stickler with/proponent of game soundtracks, and I have to say I came away quite pleased with what The Punchuin has to offer.
The Punchuin has hidden gem written all over it. The game gives you a fun, solid, and addictive gameplay experience, and best of all, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. If anything, the game left me wanting more! You can see pretty much all there is to see and do in The Punchuin in 3 hours, and that’s only if you’re going for all the stage clears and unlocks. If you’re making a beeline for the end, you could probably reach it much quicker. Still though, no matter what your route is, The Punchuin should provide an excellent experience the whole way.
You can pick up The Punchuin on the Switch eShop right now for $15, and the game takes up 74 MB of space. The game does include a two-player battle mode, but this was not tested for review.