Squareboy vs Bullies: Arena Edition is an action-fighting game for one to two players. It was originally released on mobile devices (without the ‘Arena Edition’ tagline) and is inspired by Game Boy era brawlers; the mobile version’s user interface actually uses a Game Boy-like border to house its controls. The game has seen some changes in this new Switch version, adapting to suit the nature of a dedicated console. Is it worth picking up, then? Let’s take a look.
You are Squareboy and, quite rightly so, you’ve had enough of bullying. Whilst standing up to your enemies is commendable, fighting violence with violence definitely is not, but for the sake of making an interesting game this is the path you decide to take regardless. After a short training session you are unleashed, ready to knock your enemies senseless in 13 levels of beat-em-up action. Enemies can approach from left and right and, using a mixture of combos and pure button mashing, your goal is to get rid of them and show them who’s boss.
Enemies come in a variety of styles, clearly indicated by their differently coloured headwear. Some are stronger than others, some can throw projectiles at you (or in the case of one particular character that looks like Heisenberg from Breaking Bad, just shoot you instead), and others have nasty tricks up their sleeves. There are health packs scattered around each level that can restore you back to full fitness as well as various weapons you can use such as crates, baseball bats and dustbins – your deepest desire to throw a dustbin at someone you dislike can finally be realised!
The action is pretty fun for the most part; keeping an eye on which type of enemy has walked onto the screen and then acting appropriately to deal with them helps to make you feel in control, as well as helping the repetition to be a little less damaging. The story doesn’t ever stray from its core idea, which is a shame (we would have loved to see some of the game’s levels take on a different formula), and these different enemy types just about save it from being too “samey”.
Getting used to the controls is the key here – if you get used to performing dashes and counter attacks you’ll be putting yourself in a much stronger position. All possible actions are explained in the game’s pause menu, so you can always have a quick look to see if there’s anything you could be doing differently. The only problem we encountered with this was that performing the dash was harder than it should be – the menu says to press a direction twice, followed by the ‘B’ button; do these too quickly (or too slowly), though, and it simply doesn’t happen. The dash is most useful for escaping from a cluster of enemies, so when you waste precious time trying to pull off that manoeuvre only to be pummelled into submission it can be rather annoying.
As we mentioned, the game appears on iOS and Android devices – and is available for free – but the Switch version is far and away the superior choice. The mobile version’s Game Boy-style border means that the actual gameplay screen is rather small; on the Switch the face buttons are used rather than digitally recreated ones, allowing the whole screen to show the action. A physical controller is a much better fit for the game too – the D-Pad allows for much more precision in movement, which is important when lining up your attacks.
The Switch version also adds a co-op mode for the story (allowing two of you to take on the bullies together), and a brand new Arena mode which contains four different stages to battle through. This is basically a survival mode with enemies pouring into a single space until you become overrun and run out of health. Each stage is unlocked by hitting a specific number of enemies beaten in the previous one. It is a nice addition and helps to make the console release feel more worth it, but it is rather basic nonetheless.
Squareboy is a decent beat-em-up, if a little on the short side. The Switch version is definitely the better version of the game but perhaps doesn’t quite do enough to justify the cost when a free option is available elsewhere. This isn’t a bad game by any means – in fact, we had a rather enjoyable time playing through the story levels – but its flaws and inability to stand out from the crowd stop it from being a sure-fire hit.