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Gamebox 2.0: Games of December 2022

For the final time in 2022, we’re running down some of the games we got to check out this month in Gamebox 2.0.  We hid from our creepy neighbor in the sequel Hello Neighbor 2, brewed up some potions in Potion Craft, did some old-school brawling in Jitsu Squad, and more. Check out everything we got to play below.

Panda Punch (Zach): Out now from Ninja Rabbit Studios and Ratalaika Games, Panda Punch is a throwback to 16-bit platformers like you would find on the SNES and Genesis.  You play as Zeep, a young fox whose world is under attack by mechanized enemies.  Trying to escape them, one of his arms is severely wounded but luckily his father is a blacksmith who is able to make Zeep a badass mechanical arm with an extending fist.  Zeep sets out to battle the invaders and free his land.  The game plays out across 58 levels and you do typical platformer stuff like battle enemies, solve puzzles, and battle bosses.  The main issue is that it’s kind of a bit flat, visually, sound-wise and gameplay-wise.

The areas all basically look the same and you are doing the same thing in each one, with the same music playing at each stage.  There are also not really any cool uses for your mechanical arm, like using it for a grappling hook or something and it’s mainly just an attack and used to occasionally hit buttons.  Attacking also doesn’t really feel that satisfying or solid either.  You can upgrade your skills via coins you find in each level but there’s still not a lot here.  The graphics are OK and have that old-school SNES/Genesis style but like everything else, the character designs and animations are not very interesting or fun.  The bar for this sort of throwback platformer has been set incredibly high by games like Shovel Knight and the games that came out after. Panda Punch just isn’t really enjoyable enough to recommend.  If it still looks interesting to you, it’s out on PC, PS4/5, Xbox Series S/X, and Nintendo Switch.

Hello Neighbor 2 (Chris): The town of Raven Brooks has several cases of missing children and the criminal might be hiding in plain sight in their own house. A lone journalist will try to uncover the clues and the truth in the suspicious neighborhood. Hello Neighbor 2 is the latest title in the Hello Neighbor series by tinyBuild and Dynamic Pixels. It’s an FPS, stealth action game that focuses on puzzle-solving and deceptive tactics. The game puts the player into the role of  Quentin, a reporter for Raven Brooks Banner who plans to sneak into suspicious neighborhood houses to gather clues. Quentin sets off to watch the neighborhood and waits for his chance to make his move.

Hello Neighbor 2 focuses on puzzle-solving and escaping dangerous situations with the homeowner. You will have to avoid and distract from being noticed by one of the four Neighbors: Mr. Otto, Gerda, The Mayor, and Theodore Peterson. The player will be sneaking around at a semi-open world level to find proof around the neighborhood for the missing children. However, the homeowners will be home and will chase down any intruder. Each house has decorations and a personality unique to the homeowner. Quentin has come prepared with a tiny quadcopter to scout out the location. The player will be on the lookout for clues on how to open up doors and items that come in handy, as well as hiding spots to avoid getting caught.

While the series is known for frantic gameplay, creepy visuals, and complex lore, Hello Neighbor 2 feels like a minor step back in the gameplay department.  The open-world element to explore the neighborhood is a nice feature that lets the player travel the different houses at their own pace, but it game has toned down the tensions by having the challenges be a bit more repetitive. You have to eventually go to each house in a certain order to unlock more of the narrative. At the current build of the game, the AI has been on the glitchy side more often, leading to characters getting snuck into doorways or completely frozen. The puzzles are not head scratchingly difficult and the clues aren’t so far fetch this time. However, some selections where you have to manually outrun the neighbor felt limited. Hello Neighbor 2 doesn’t bring the series into the next step in terms of gameplay, but the abstract storytelling and core concepts are still enjoyable.  It doesn’t have all the frights and thrilling moments like the original. It’s something that big fans of the series will enjoy, and could improve with some patches over time.  Hello Neighbor 2 was released December 6, and is available now for Switch, PS4/5, Xbox One, and PC.

Potion Craft (Zach): Coming from tinyBuild and Niceplay games, Potion Craft will let you live out your alchemy fantasies by letting you open your own medieval potion shop.  Taking over an abandoned alchemy lab in a small medieval town, you open a potion shop and have to brew up various recipes to make things like healing potions, potions of strength, poisons, and more.  The game teaches you how to make healing and poison potions during the tutorial but the way you then come up with and discover new potions is done in an extremely interesting and creative way.  There is an “alchemy map” on your main brewing window and each time you add an ingredient, you’ll see a path that leads to a new potion.  As you grind the ingredients with your mortar and pestle, stir it, and heat it, the path progresses until you discover a new potion.  Once you discover a potion, you can save the recipe for future reference.  It’s a great way to get some hint of progress while also allowing a lot of experimentation.  The process of making potions is also very tactile, even with a mouse, as you have to grind, stir and pump the bellows to brew up each potion.

Along with brewing up potions, you also have to sell them to clients, which plays out in a sort of restaurant simulator style where each customer comes up and explains what potion they need.  If you already have it on hand, you can offer it up and either take the price the customer is offering or attempt to haggle.  Haggling plays out in a mini-game where you chat the customer up, clicking on icons as a slider moves back and forth.  If you can talk to them enough, you can add a few more coins to the price of the potion.  Unlike other games in the simulator genre though, there’s no time limit, so you can take your time and brew up a new potion if someone asks for something you don’t have and there’s not the pressure of a time limit.  You also have a garden where you grow new herbs and plants for potions and you’ll eventually try to get the old alchemy machine owned by the previous owner up and running.  The game has a great medieval tapestry style to the graphics and some very chill, very great lute/medieval music for the soundtrack.  Potion Craft is a great game to just chill out to and brew up some potions and it has a great visual style and creative gameplay that sets it apart from similar games in the simulator-style genre.  It’s out now on PC and Xbox.

Jitsu Squad (Zach): A throwback to arcade brawlers of the 90s, Jitsu Squad is an awesome new side-scrolling beat-em-up from Inin Games and Tanuki Creative Studios.  Feeling like some sort of lost 90s cartoon series, the Jitsu Squad is a team of martial arts animals who battle the evil forces of the demon Origami and stop him before he can find and use the legendary Kusanagi Stone and destroy the world.  The levels are widely varied and packed with background jokes and awesome elements and you’ll battle in feudal Japanese temples, the streets and arcades of Tokyo, and more, fighting demons, yakuza, and other enemies.  The combat all feels fast and fantastic, with tons of combos to unlock and use along with special moves executed via fighting game style motions and ultimate moves that allow for screen-clearing attacks with assists from special guest characters like fighting game icon Maximilian Dood or Playtonic’s Yooka-Laylee.

The game also does something fairly unique with secondary weapons, allowing you to pick them up and then assign them to a different button than your main attack.  There’s a meter for whatever secondary weapon you have and once it’s used up, you toss away the weapon.  Older classics in the genre had you using the weapon until you got hit or only give a certain amount of hits before it “broke” and this system allows you to have more control and options, letting you save up the weapon for later or use it right away.  Each of the four characters falls into a standard brawler archetype, with Hero the raccoon being the most well-rounded, the massive Aros being the most powerful but slow, Baby the rabbit being the fastest but weakest, and Jazz the frog being a sort of mix between Hero and Baby.  You can play up to four players in local couch co-op or you can play a unique tag-team mode where two players control all 4 characters.

The graphics and animation are absolutely top-notch and really lean into the cartoon aesthetic, offering up fun reactions on enemies’ faces as you pound them and huge, smooth effects on all the special moves and animations.  The voice-acting is a bit goofy but you’re not really here for the story, so it’s not a huge deal.  The music is absolutely phenomenal, with new songs from Crush 40 lead singer Johnny Gioeli adding to the energy and over-the-top craziness of the gameplay.  The game definitely pays homage to classics like TMNT and Final Fight but the number of enemies on screen and the quality and amount of animations firmly set it in the modern era.  It definitely feels like something like Castle Crashers and if you’re a fan of brawlers, Jitsu Squad should be at the top of your list to check out.  It’s out now on PS4/5, Xbox, and Switch.

(Chris): When an evil sorcerer rises an army to find a demonic power, a squad of warriors is summed to meet the challenge in Jitsu Squad. Developed by Tanuki Creative Studio and published by Inin Games, Jitsu Squad is an arcade-style beat’em up with high visual flair and addictive button-mashing gameplay. The plot follows four animal anthropomorphic warriors as they journey across the galaxy to stop the sorcerer, Origami, from gaining control of the Kusanagi Stone, a container for the soul of a powerful demon. The squad will travel from planet to planet, smashing, slashing, and bashing all evil doers standing in their way.

The gameplay follows some of the standard 2D beat’em designs but changes a few of the attack methods. Each of the main characters ranges in attack strength and speed. Hero is a balanced shinobi raccoon. Baby is an agile ninja rabbit. Jazz is a long-range kung-fu mystic frog. Aros is a hulking Viking bull. The game starts each character with a basic attack that changes range by how fast inputs are made. As the character grows stronger, more complex attack moves that use direction buttons are unlocked as well as attacks that need to charge and can juggle enemies. Weapons found in stages are special attack that can be mapped to a character’s attack button and has a limited gauge of uses. These weapons have stronger and longer attack ranges, with additional elemental effects. Weapons can be stored and swapped out, and also be refilled to prolong their use. But if the weapon’s usage gauge runs it, the character will drop it. There is also a simple parrying that lets players block and counterattack enemies’ attacks. Parrying freezes the player in place but lets an incoming attack be countered. This comes in handy in tight situations when you are being surrounded and can fend off enemies striking in your opposite direction. It also adds some opportunities to continue combo attacks from a counterattack unleashed.

Jitsu Squad has a very vibrant presentation that makes it feel like an awesome Saturday morning cartoon show. There are a lot of charming animations, fun visual gags, and a rocking soundtrack to keep your eyes and ears glued to the screen. The gameplay is fast and simple and opens up for players that can chain combos well. There is a bit of focus on timing attacks which stalls the action from being a mindless masher. There are fun cameos from video game characters series, online content creators, and even sound bits from retro games. The game features 4 player co-op, online, and couch play. It also has a two-player mode that lets each player pick a secondary character to tag out in battle. Single-player is the same, but you can only control one character for the whole duration of the game. Jitsu Squad is a delightful blast to pick up and play, especially if you have a whole squad fighting at your side. It’s a great pick for any beat ’em-up fan to try today! It’s out now on PC, PS4/5, Xbox, and Switch.

Cyber Hook (Zach): We first checked out Cyber Hook at PAX East a few years ago and the full game came out on PC in 2020. Cyber Hook has now swung its way onto consoles and we zipped into a PS4 release. Coming from Graffiti Games and Blazing Stick, Cyber Hook is a 3D platformer where you navigate your way through a Synthwave digital world using the titular Cyber Hook.  The Cyber Hook is a grappling hook and you can swing and reel yourself in to make insane jumps and make your way through each level.  There’s a very good tutorial that will guide you through all the options at your disposal and then the game sets you off to complete the stages and build up your skills.  The hook takes a little bit to fully get a handle on but once you do, it’s exhilarating to hurl yourself through each level and you really get that Spider-Man-style swinging feeling as you fly through each stage as fast as you can.  The faster you finish each stage, the more bonus crystal you get, which you need to fully progress in the game.

Along with the Cyber Hook, you can also blast away certain blocks with your finger guns and you can also slow down time, which will help you find the perfect spot to shoot your hook.  There are speed boosts and ramps that will send you flying and you can build up an absurd amount of speed, which adds to the excitement and thrill of the game as you rocket off a ramp, shoot your hook, barely latch onto a platform, and then slingshot to the next platform. The music thankfully lives up to the gameplay with some great Synthwave music and the game is drenched in the neon aesthetic of that genre, with 80s-style digital sunsets and tons of blues, purples, and greens in vibrant neon.  If you haven’t played Cyber Hook before on PC or Switch, the PS4 version is a great way to check it out and fling yourself through a vibrant digital world.

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