Endless running with violence in Punch Quest

Punch Quest is a new iOS release from Rocketcat Games. It was developed in collaboration with Paul “Madgarden” Pridham, who was previously responsible for the quality dungeon crawler Sword of Fargoal, which recently successfully mounted a Kickstarter campaign to develop a sequel. Punch Quest is available now as a free download with additional in-app purchases of in-game currency.

Punch Quest shares many traits in common with the “endless running” genre but focuses more on arcade-style violence rather than avoiding obstacles. The player character automatically runs from right to left; tapping on the left side of the screen unleashes a jumping uppercut move, while tapping the right side causes a punching attack that temporarily accelerates the player forwards. Connecting attacks in rapid succession without taking damage builds up a combo meter; allowing this to expire over time or taking a hit causes it to be reset and a score bonus being received according to how big the combo was.

As the player progresses, a “level” counter in the upper-left corner of the screen gradually increases, with the game becoming increasingly challenging the longer it continues. Tougher enemies appear, more traps show themselves and more intricate “platforming” segments start to tax the player’s reflexes. Sometimes, the player can discover special “Egg” items which, when broken, unlock a temporary twist on the game’s usual formula, perhaps by transforming the player into a somersaulting gnome or allowing them to ride a laser-spitting dinosaur. These interludes are only temporary, however, for taking any damage causes the player’s transformation to end and a return to the usual gameplay.

Progression through the game is measured in a couple of ways. Firstly, the player earns “Punchos” through normal play (or through in-app purchase), which can be spent on various special abilities and visual customizations. Secondly, the game incorporates a Jetpack Joyride- style “Quest” system, whereby three objectives are active at any one time, with large Puncho rewards on offer for their successful completion. These objectives cover a wide variety of possibilities besides simply surviving a certain amount of time or defeating a certain number of enemies — many of them are specifically designed to introduce the player to how the various special moves work, and indeed when a new objective that requires the use of a special ability shows up, the player is walked through the purchasing process via a trail left by the game’s garden gnome mascot.

The game’s social features include the ability to tweet one’s final score upon completion of a run, a facility which uses iOS 5+’s built-in Twitter functionality and one of a randomly-chosen bank of preset messages, and Game Center compatibility. If the player is using iOS 6, they are able to make use of Game Center’s new direct challenge facility, whereby they can send a high score challenge to a friend, even if that friend does not yet own the game. It’s an effective means of viral promotion, and of placing a greater emphasis on Game Center’s often-overlooked leaderboards.

Punch Quest is an excellent, well-designed and highly-playable mobile game, but it has a couple of flaws which mar the experience a little. Firstly, the game’s “platforming” sections are, at times, a little too intricate to be navigated with the game’s imprecise “jumping” (or, more accurately, uppercutting) controls, occasionally leading to seemingly unavoidable deaths. Secondly, and perhaps more seriously, a bug in the game’s menu interface means that navigating away from the end-game statistics screen (to the in-game shop, for example) and back again causes the player’s score to be forgotten. It’s still recorded on the Game Center leaderboards, but so far as the statistics screen in concerned, the player scored zero points for their last run, making it impossible to tweet their achievement if they got a particularly impressive score. This will hopefully be fixed promptly in an update.

These issues aside, however, Punch Quest is one of the best titles on iOS. Its individual play sessions are short and snappy; its monetization is solid but unobtrusive; its social features are optional but encourage both friendly competition and viral promotion; its presentation is excellent, with an endearing “retro” aesthetic; and it doesn’t limit the player’s enjoyment through heavy-handed mechanics such as energy systems. It’s a fine example of how to handle free-to-play mobile gaming extremely well, and serves as an excellent example for future developers to follow.