As far as beat ’em ups go, there’s a spectrum of what gets layered on top of a necessary base. Squareboy vs Bullies: Arena Edition for the Nintendo Switch has a good grasp of the basics while providing a smattering of what makes a beat ’em up even more fun as a gaming genre. It’s just a pity there isn’t much of the game to enjoy.
A simple story provides you ample reason to push ahead, with Squareboy getting bullied and being taught how to fight by a sensei. The moral of the story here is to not stand for getting pushed around by learning how to fight, so those that think Squareboy should try talking to the bullies won’t get this option. Then again, this might not be the genre for the passive types. The sensei teaches Squareboy in his dojo, acting as a tutorial.
For as simple as this game looks, there’s a solid amount of moves at your disposal. You have a basic combo of repeatedly pushing the attack button, and an uppercut and thrust kick to finish off enemies after combos. The jump attack is a wrestling style kick that stays throughout the jump, so it is easy to connect. There’s even ways to handle being surrounded, by double-tapping up or down and pushing attack for spinning moves. The star move, however, is the dash. This is a speedy charge attack that is great for controlling the distance, be it to get out of a crowd or thwart someone about to throw a projectile your way. Along with the moveset, levels also contain the occasional cardboard box or trash can to throw at the bullies. Those bullies might come with a bat or chain, so be sure to take them out quickly so those weapons can become yours to use against others.
Now, as to the visual appearance. As a game with “retro pixel art graphics and OST with 14 different chiptune tracks”, the look of the game is fun. Granted, it’s no Dragon’s Crown or Wulverblade in visual appeal. But the retro feel makes it feel more akin to Double Dragon. The music blends right in with the game’s aesthetic and is a perfect fit for a retro beat ’em up. Squareburg has different settings that Squareboy sees on his pursuit to taking out the bullies. The bullies, while more varied than the original game, are still somewhat limited in variety. This is fine for the brevity of the game, however. One thing that bothers me about the bullies is the way that they speak. Their misspelled graffiti that shows they aren’t too bright is fine, but it’s their dialog in text that is also written the same way that isn’t necessary. Playing the game with my kid means he likes to read what the text, and a young reader having to interpret incorrect spelling is slightly annoying.
Squareboy is accompanied by another player for local cooperative play. This adds value to the budget title, even if it is clearly tacked on. The second player is somewhat transparent for reasons unknown, and disappears during interactions at the beginning and end of levels. From what I could tell when playing the same levels alone and with my cooperative partner, the challenge does not scale. The character for player 2 is a blue Squareboy. So as fun as this game is with two players as a simple beat ’em up, why not allow for three, or even four players? Sure, with it not scaling it’d be even easier. But I’d be happy to see this game get an update to include a green and red character so others in my house could have fun. As it is now, this is fun with two players, especially when one if of the gaming generation that fondly recalls beat ’em ups and their gaming partner is young enough to appreciate the accessibility. Since Squareboy works well with a single Joy-Con, it is easy to pick up and play. We played it on the TV until someone wanted to watch it, took the Switch out of the dock and to the dining table, and continued beating up bullies using the two Joy-Cons.
As far as additional play beyond single and cooperative play, there’s also an arena mode. It is about surviving as long as you can, as arenas go. Lasting a minimum amount of time will unlock additional arenas. Each arena is a stationary setting from the story mode. The lack of anything unique in the arenas means this mode wears thing fast.
The campaign is short, but feels appropriate. While not as much fun alone as with a friend (as all beat ’em ups go), the game is good for a sitting with a family member to play through a few levels at a time. There are a couple questionable additions to the game that could be corrected in an update that would also improve the cooperative play. I don’t get why high scores were included because they aren’t kept anywhere, there’s no way of knowing what to do in order to earn a higher score, and they aren’t retained as levels unlock. Same is to be said for the achievements, which aren’t a challenge to earn, basically unlocking as you play. With the little replay value to be had once the campaign is completed, it would be fun if four players were added and high scores in levels and unlocked achievements rewarded players with additional multiplayer Squareboy skins.
Squareboy vs Bullies: Arena Edition is good co-op fun for the cost of admission. As someone who has enjoyed beat ’em ups since the NES days, saying that this is familiar to those days isn’t necessarily a good thing. But for those who enjoy the genre and have a younger family member who likes to game with them, or for those looking to get a game for a young family member or two, Squareboy vs Bullies: Arena Edition is worth considering. It is light in content in about every aspect, but it’s accessible and fun to beat on the yellow bullies for the brief experience it provides.