Creepy Brawlers (Switch Review)

Creepy Brawlers isn’t just an indie you can get on Switch. It was actually built on NES hardware and you can really purchase it on a working Nintendo Entertainment System cartridge for $40. While I find that genuinely neat, I want to keep things real here: if this exact same game had been released by any company in 1991 for the NES, it’d be remembered as one of the very worst games ever made for the platform. Because Creepy Brawlers is truly horrible and probably the worst video game I’ve ever played in my entire life. I’m sure there’s people who think that a plucky indie developer making an unauthorized NES game released in 2017 should be cut a break for their limited resources and resilience to release a game on the NES. Guess what people? That’s what Wisdom Tree was. That’s what American Video Entertainment was. That’s what the guys who made Action 52 were. History didn’t cut their games a break. And nobody should cut this game a break because it’s “indie”. A bad game is a bad game, and Creepy Brawlers is as bad as it gets.

Some people might want this. Bad games are collectable too.

The shit thing is, Punch-Out!! is my favorite Nintendo franchise. When I saw the screens for this on the Switch marketplace, I was all over it. Without hyperbole, it was probably the fastest “find out about the game, buy the game” purchase I ever made for the Switch. “Creepy Brawlers? What’s that?” I said. Then I saw two pics of it, and next thing you know I’m confirming my purchase. I’m starved for someone, ANYONE, to make the definitive indie Punch-Out!! tribute and, at this point, I’m willing to try any game that could scratch that itch.

Yea, yea, Pato Box. I’ll get to it. I did like the boxing mechanics. The story stuff? Not so much.

Creepy Brawlers on Switch runs on an NES emulator, so taking clips of the game drops animation frames. That’s not on developer. Even the official Nintendo Switch Online emulator does it.

Finding words that do justice to how bad Creepy Brawlers is has been a challenge. Here’s what I came up with: imagine someone who had never played video games was given a copy of Punch-Out!! to play for an hour. That person then had to describe what the game was like to another person who had never played a video game. That person then directs people to make a game based on what they were described. I’m not exaggerating. Creepy Brawlers clearly wants to invoke Punch-Out!! and tries so gosh darn hard to play like Punch-Out!!, but every way it tries to do it, it fails.

The telegraphing of punches that the Punch-Out!! formula absolutely needs to work? They’re in theory here. In practice though, there’s unresponsiveness. The timing and speed of your dodge moves aren’t syncing with the timing of the enemy telegraphing. Now, fair point: this is NOT Punch-Out!! and expecting the exact same timing is not reasonable. But even telling yourself that, there’s no rhyme or reason to the enemy attacks or the speed/movement of your boxer. It feels unfinished. I don’t want to say “broken” because there is a semblance of dodge/counter punch, but clocking it? It feels like you learn the timing by accident.

My attempts at using block never seemed to work. Only dodging left and right seemed to be effective, but the dodge moves faster than the attacks do and can’t be held.

And actually, you don’t have a chance to dodge attacks the first time they’re thrown at you. There’s not enough time before the “attacking coming” animation and the punch being thrown. You have to get hit to know what attacks look like and hope to get the timing down. Everything comes down to timing issues. Sometimes the fighters just waddle back and forth. You can hit them with punches, but if they block one of yours and throw a punch, you’re almost certainly not dodging it. This is like Punch Out!! with every single positive aspect removed. It’s God awful.

Apparently the game is stacked with tons of fights.  You can see them in the practice mode. But, they’re all locked in practice unless you reach them in the championship mode. And I only got to the third of fourteen fights. In six hours of gameplay! I’m pretty good at Punch-Out!! games. I’ve beaten them all. That I could only make it to fight 3 of 14 in the first of four modes really should tell you how bad Creepy Brawlers is. And my lack of progress was not for a lack of effort. I wanted to get as far as I could to see how much worse it could get. Creepy Brawlers fails in so many ways that it’s fascinating. But, after a while, I just had to give up and say it’s not worth it.

Oh, and when I came back to the game after turning it off and attempted to do the practice mode on the fighters I had reached, the game didn’t save and I could only practice against the very first fighter. Unreal.

I think maybe what happened is the developers knew the timing and could play it and assumed everyone else will. Or, maybe they assumed people would give the game high marks because “hey look, a new NES game in 2017! I’ll ignore how bad this is and give it great reviews because pluck!” About an hour into Creepy Brawlers, I broke a personal rule of mine by checking other people’s reviews and was stunned by how well this game was received by what limited “critics” actually played it. All of them positive reviews, though reading them all, it feels more like anything short of the game not existing at all would have earned it acclaim. Cringe.

This is as far as I made it. If you lose a fight, you have to start over from the beginning. I don’t know if there’s a checkpoint past this. I can’t imagine most people who bought Creepy Brawlers would ever put enough time in it to find out.

I wish I had anything nice to say about Creepy Brawlers. Being an authentic NES release probably means this project was a life-long dream come true. But I really, truly have nothing nice to say about it. It’s ugly. It sounds bad. It plays worse than it looks, which is remarkable. I’ve been playing games regularly for twenty-three years now, and considered myself a “gamer” for twenty-one. And this, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is the worst video game I’ve ever played. And that would probably be its reputation if it came out in the early 90s. That is, if it were remembered at all. Now granted, I’m happy it only costs $5 on Switch instead of the $40 it costs on the NES, but really, if it’s not an NES cart, it has no value at all. As a cartridge, at least there’s novelty value in it. Sort of like fake dog poop, only more expensive and not nearly as funny.

Creepy Brawlers was developed by Mega Cat Studios
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, NES

$4.99 went down for the count in the making of this review.

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