The Punchuin Review - Screenshot 1 of 3
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

In a world of annual releases and mandated sequels, The Punchuin, the latest release from Shin'en (Fast RMX, The Touryst), feels like a real passion project. It's a charming love letter to puzzle game fans with an incredible amount of heart put into it. But despite that, once you start peeling back the layers, you’re left with a great core gameplay loop that is too lacking in content to feel like a finished project.

In The Punchuin, you take direct control of a penguin who is quite fond of punching and sets out to look for the treasure hidden in the depths of Punch Mountain. With the help of a giant sentient boxing glove, you tackle multiple challenges to collect diamonds from each level in order to pass the various gates blocking your path further down. The plot, while simple, serves its purpose quite well, and is helped tremendously by the wonderfully endearing and witty dialogue.

At its core, The Punchuin is a match-three puzzler, like so many others before it. The penguin is dropped into an enclosed space, with colored blocks falling from the sky. Moving around the screen and using your fists, you punch the blocks into either a vertical or horizontal position to match colors together. To keep things interesting, you’ll also get ice blocks that fall down to disrupt your progress (sometimes with powerups encased inside).

The Punchuin Review - Screenshot 2 of 3
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Your goal is to meet the quota of matches listed on the right side of the screen before blocks pile up to the top. While fairly standard, the core gameplay loop is enjoyable, and can even get quite challenging in the latter levels. Despite that, there is a lack of level-based gimmicks to keep things feeling fresh. Occasionally there's a level where the screen flips upside down, but after a while, they all begin to feel repetitive and blend together.

To try and help break up the pace, there are plenty of special stages scattered throughout the world. Instead of blocks falling from the sky, all the blocks are already on the board, and your job is to match the colored blocks together. These, while enjoyable at first, get very difficult very quickly, and oftentimes feel like trial and error rather than puzzle-solving.

There are also the occasional one-off character missions on the map. Usually requiring an in-game currency fee to play, these Mario Party-esque minigames range from basketball to ice-block curling. Clearing these rewards you with a significant number of diamonds and help spice up the gameplay, so they are well worth your time. But while the puzzle and character missions do break up the pace, they unfortunately don’t fix the lack of variety within the main match-three levels themselves.

The Punchuin Review - Screenshot 3 of 3
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

The Punchuin looks great, particularly in handheld mode. The sprite work and the highly detailed backgrounds add an element of charm to help the game stand out from other puzzle games. As you'd expect, it runs great on Switch, with no noticeable graphical dips or drops in frame rate.

Despite the solid core and presentation, the biggest problem The Punchuin has is the lack of overall content. If you play every single level in the game, your playtime will likely clock in around two hours. If you are simply going from start to finish, you will be lucky to hit an hour and a half. There are only four worlds, each with roughly ten levels (including the puzzle and NPC levels), which feels far too few for a puzzle game like this.

Outside of the main adventure, the only real option is a two-player versus mode where you compete against another player’s board to race to clear all your matches first. While enjoyable for a round or two, the mode feels closer to a time attack mode, since interaction between the two players’ boards is so limited. Much like the rest of the game, it's serviceable but you end up wishing there was more as the core here is so solid. Considering how much love has clearly been put into this package, it’s a shame that the amount of content and variety simply isn’t enough to make The Punchuin live up to its full potential.

Conclusion

The Punchuin undoubtedly delivers a solid match-three gameplay experience, but one that's let down by little in the way of level variety and a severe lack of overall content. The charming writing and presentation highlight the passion and skill of the developers but, in the end, what is here feels more like a lovingly-crafted demo than a full release. If you are looking for a quick and enjoyable puzzler, The Punchuin will deliver exactly that but no more. It's fine, but we just wish this package packed more of a punch, as there are plenty of other options out there with more bang for your buck.