Version tested: iPad
You could say that PunchQuest has pedigree. An endless puncher by Rocketcat Games, the developer behind a superb series of hook-based platformers, its randomised design showcases craftsmanship and imagination of the highest order. No mean feat when the only goal is to punch as many enemies to death as possible.
Your character runs from left to right through a Castlevania n' Goblins world, thwacking zombies, bats, wraiths and so on. Tapping the lower left of the screen is an uppercut, lower right is a straight punch, but from these two buttons PunchQuest ekes a varied move set. Tapping the uppercut button again while airborne, for example, executes a downwards slam, while pressing both sides together blocks.
There's a tension at the heart of these controls. Getting good at PunchQuest requires precisely-timed punching, but all you ever want to do is let 'em have it with a flurry of mighty blows. It's about keeping cool. Whenever I'm hit, almost without exception, my character goes into a series of panicky jabs which guarantees a second hit lands. And man that second hit makes you want to punch things even more.
Pretty much everything is a punch target outside of the floor. Enemies, torches, pots, chests, and skull piles are the staples, and all are drawn into a fantastic feature - you can punch things into other things. Destroy a skeleton then belt its skull into the next enemy along. Slam-dunk a bat to the ground and then send it flying as you land. Barrel through a load of debris and watch the hits multiply.
Several of PunchQuest's special moves are built around this, like the instant classic Deadsplosion which makes recent corpses go boom - hit a sweet shot and cue the Every Extend Extra moment, with added gibs. Other upgrades change your character's abilities, like turning block into an invulnerable bull charge, while a separate series of unlocks adds new elements to the levels.
These are part of an elaborate structure outside of PunchQuest that greatly enhances its longevity and owes a lot to Jetpack Joyride. Each run, you gather 'Punchos' to buy new tools, upgrades, routes and an incredible variety of hats. PunchQuest even has the constant rotation of three 'missions' (e.g. Kill 20 Imps) to give each run its own priorities.
This huge and elaborate structure of unlockables is also a little sad, because it's so well-paced and fun that it gazumped the business model. PunchQuest was first released as a free title, with RocketCat hoping to make enough money from Puncho sales. Huge numbers downloaded it but few put money in, because basically you didn't need to. So now the app costs 69p, and that is a ludicrous bargain for a game of this quality. Silly developer.
The fact is that if PunchQuest cost a fiver, I'd recommend it without hesitation; in terms of endless high-score chasers, little else on iOS comes close. It's absolutely irresistible at times, throwing up mini-bosses and bonus worlds like they're going out of fashion, and then shutting you down with a brutal gauntlet. There's no way of avoiding it; PunchQuest is a knockout.
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