PAX East 2020: Knuckle Sandwich is One Delicious RPG Treat

In 1997, Final Fantasy VII was at the forefront of a revolution for the world of RPGs. No longer were they solely for a niche audience, as the doors burst open for the likes of Xenogears, Star Ocean: The Second Story and The Legend of Dragoon to garner more attention and acclaim. Yet when it comes to a lot of smaller, independent RPGs these days, it actually tends to be the more offbeat titles like Earthbound or Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door that seem to be more influential. And this is how we get titles such as Knuckle Sandwich, a new RPG from developer Andrew Brophy (with a little publishing assistance from the Superhot Presents label). He cited titles like the Mario and Luigi games and WarioWare as inspiration, and it shows, making for what’s shaping up to be one quirky and fun adventure.

So far, I’ve had the opportunity to experience two different demos for Knuckle Sandwich. The first basically sets up the story and core mechanics. You play as a young man moving away from home, finally ready to head to the big city and start their life proper, and that means getting a job…which takes the form of a game show here in this universe. The WarioWare influences reveal themselves quickly, both in the forms of bizarre, surreal humor and little mini-games used throughout. Our first job as a dancer, for example, takes the form of a rhythm game. Then we have a shoot-’em-up for a cleaning job, followed by an exterminator gig that finally teaches us the core combat mechanics. Unfortunately, one way or another, failure at these jobs is guaranteed.

Having hit rock bottom, our hero decides to apply for a job at a local diner, where after serving burgers to customers in another little Diner Dash-esque mini-game, we take out the garbage and have to defend ourselves against a street thug…accidentally killing them in the process. And complete with a massive spray of blood. When our boss stumbles upon the scene, he knows of only one solution: cook the body. Then after experiencing nirvana after devouring this new treat, he asks you to team up with him to make a mint selling…wait for it…the ultimate knuckle sandwiches. It’s quite an impressive turn into black comedy (contrasted with colorful 16-bit graphics and cartoonish style, which are delightful) and it should be interesting to see where the plot goes from there.

The second demo was a more conventional romp where our hero and a female companion have to explore a dungeon. A dungeon that takes the form of a giant freezer/storage area, but a dungeon nonetheless. This section clearly made sure that the focus was on the combat even more, allowing players to experience a larger variety of enemies and attacks. At one point, I stumbled across a gang of skeletons in a darkened area that required me to evade bones in a small shoot-’em-up game in order to successfully evade attacks. At another point, killer ice cream pops meant that I had to successfully line an ice cream cone up with falling scoops. It sounds odd, but the game makes sure that these little combat mini-games are actually easy to play and get used to.

Mind you, enemies can use “normal” attacks as well, where they just run up and try to hit you. In these cases, the correct response is just a simple dodge, which requires correct timing. This is where a bit of trial and error comes into play, as it will take a few tries to memorize the enemy movements and thus the correct time needed to press the dodge button. But of course, timing is just as important when it comes to attacking as well. Again, we turn to simple mini-games, such as hitting the attack button when a circling dot enters the correct area or trying to get a line to land in the right area on a moving meter. Simple stuff, but effective and fun to work with.

What does shake things up a bit is how status ailments actually seem to affect these various games. As one may expect when dealing with enemies made of ice cream in a giant freezer, it’s possible to get hit with a “Freeze” status if you’re unlucky. In that case, suddenly the mini-game you’re playing in order to land an attack may freeze up for a brief moment all of a sudden, throwing off your timing. It’s a nice twist that adds a bit more to the challenge and makes one wonder how the other ailments will work. Another little bit of difficulty added appeared in the form of a classic sliding puzzle, one where you have to find the correct path across a slippery floor by making straight shots between the correct tiles, lest you plummet into a dungeon. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff, but again, effective. The demo ended soon after that, leaving me wanting more.

According to Andrew, one of the main inspirations for the game came from his life growing up, mainly his own experiences of moving away from home at the age of eighteen. When asked if his life growing up just happened to involve cannibalism, though, he replied “a little bit.”Again, humor is a key component of what should hopefully make Knuckle Sandwich a success, but much like a particularly good sandwich, it’s all of the ingredients combined that can guarantee it. With some great combat and an offbeat hook, Knuckle Sandwich is one to keep on your radar and expect it for the PC later this year.

Leave a Reply