Primo - or Pato Box to his friends - is living the dream. He’s a boxing champion, fighting on the biggest and grandest stages of them all. With cardio for days and the kind of physique that would leave most Men’s Health cover models crying into their kale smoothies, our Primo is a sporting superstar. Oh, and he has duck’s head on a man’s body. Did we not mention that?
Unfortunately, our hero runs ‘a-fowl’ of nefarious crime syndicate/shady organisation Deathflock, has his water spiked between rounds and ends up left for dead in an alley with a knife through his pride and his back. Nursed back to health from the brink of death, it’s up to you to take those seasoned fists over to Deathflock’s HQ and fight your way through each floor to the final boss encounter.
It might sound like a cookie cutter vengeance story, but there's actually an intriguing (and increasingly dark) mystery to uncover that plays right into the bizarre world of Pato Box. This is a game where you’re never quite sure what’s real and what’s not. A fever dream of violence, corny one-liners and intrigue aplenty. It’s also very, very silly, but then what do you expect from a game that wears its undying love for Punch-Out!! so proudly on its sleeve? From the mixture of combat and puzzles found in its boss fights to the explorable levels that link them together, it’s as much a love letter to a classic Nintendo franchise as it is something new and unique on Switch.
The visual aesthetic is the first thing that takes a confident swing at you. With its stark black and white look, it’s hard to miss the similarities with the fun yet commercially unsuccessful violence simulator MadWorld. With its 2D assets framed in a fully-explorable 3D world, it’s like being able to wander out and punch something from the mind of Frank Miller or a disturbing one-shot story direct from the pages of 2000AD. There’s simply nothing out there quite like it on Switch, which is a powerful selling point in itself.
As you might expect from a game with the word 'Box' in the title, throwing punches is the meat and potatoes of the Pato Box experience, with the option to unleash high and low jabs as well as the ability to block and dodge incoming blows. You can play either with the buttons mapped to your Joy-Cons, or utilise the Switch version’s biggest selling point - gyro controls. Much like ARMS before it, you can pull off all the above with the correct hand movements, a setup that suits its rhythmic combat model down to the ground.
Simply throwing each Joy-Con forward will make Primo throw a quick jab, while holding ‘L’ or ‘R’ will modify it with a little more power. Moving your controllers to the left or right will make Primo dodge to either side while tilting them inwards will enable him to perform a block. It’s a simple set of commands, but considering how the boss fights are more than just boxing matches, that simplicity soon gives way to devilishly tricky puzzles.
Take Brauch, the first proper boss you’ll need to battle. Before you reach her, you’ll need to make your way through the swanky bar that serves as her base, battling the mechanical foes she’s laid in wait for you. Navigating her lair gradually introduces you to certain mechanics that’ll soon be used in the upcoming boss battles - such as lasers that move from side to side and leaping, bullet-spraying robots. It’s subtle level design that weaves tutorials into your exploration without making it feel painfully obvious.
When you finally meet said big bad - complete with a mechanical leg and a large chip on her shoulder - you’ll need to fight her and dodge the familiar traps she throws your way. It’s here you realise this is no mere button masher. Simply flailing your limbs won’t bring this antagonist to violent justice. You’ll need to watch her movements and dodge her attacks, using the split-seconds between each strike to launch a counterattack of your own.
Much like all of the boss battles to come, each ‘round’ of combat is broken up with puzzles that need a quick mind and even quicker fits. Brauch will send lasers you’ll need to dodge with expert timing or electrical bolts that need to be blocked by using a sound cue to know when to pull back. There are even electrical boxes that you’ll need to smash before a timer runs out - fail to do so and you could end up with a combination of the previous puzzles/hazards that can’t be beaten or dodged in unison.
As entertaining and imaginative as these battles are, they’re also merciless in their margin of error. Fail to spot a boss' combo and one blocked move will simply lead to a flurry of landed hits that send you to the mat. A lack of mid-boss checkpointing means if you mess up at any point you'll be booted right back to the start of the fight. Later boss fights really ramp up the difficulty to a point where even learning the rhythmic nuance isn’t enough to guarantee success. Hopefully, this balance is something the developer can address in future updates.
The different floors you can explore are also a mixed bag. Everything looks eye-popping thanks to the black and white aesthetic, but with a handful of side-quests (usually involving fetching an item) some are far more enjoyable than others. Dodging traps in a slaughterhouse offers a fun if flawed aside (the 2D assets make depth perception a tricky thing), while the casino floor can start to grate fast as you scrounge for coins in order to afford the steep price to fight the man who helped stab you in the back earlier in the game.
These levels are good at setting up mechanics for boss fights, but they're too inconsistent in quality to really compete with those memorable encounters. Thankfully, there's also an Arcade mode where you can just focus on that glorious combat, with the addictive allure of achieving better ratings more than enough to keep you coming back for more punishment/glory.
While its adventure mode-style exploration could do with a little more meat on its bones, we all know why we’re here - the Punch-Out!!-style bosses. The exploration sections fail to do the eye-catching visual style (and the story) much justice, but those brilliant big bads more than make up for it. Sprinkle in an '80s-style synth soundtrack that wouldn’t feel out of place in Hotline Miami and you’ve got a rough-yet-ready new contender on the Switch eShop.