Knuckle Sandwich Review – Down Undertale

Ock the casbah!

I’d say that, when you consider the eleven months of titles we’ve had so far this year, Knuckle Sandwich feels like a wonderfully strange nightcap to see things out. I mean, that is if you prefer your sack time sippers spiked with benzos that’ll steer you into a fifteen-hour fever dream only to see you come to on a makeshift cardboard bed behind a Woolies clutching to day-old news.

If that isn’t a dead giveaway, Knuckle Sandwich is a roleplaying game for weirdos, and I bloody love it. 

Cast as the new kid in town, you embark on an oddball journey full of mateship, chronic job hopping, and world-saving heroics. You tangle with gangs, cults, and obnoxious game show hosts while a far-reaching conspiracy grips Bright City as you, a regular burger-flipping kid, hold the hopes of the world on your gangly shoulders. It’s a surreal, fantastical journey that feels like a real throwback to titles like Earthbound, although it doesn’t overstay its welcome. The game absolutely leans hard into being an underachiever, bogan power fantasy that feels like it plucks a real Muriel Heslop-type operator and turns them into Bastian Bux. 

You’ll meet a wonderful cast of memorable, quirky characters throughout Knuckle Sandwich’s fifteen or so hours. Some stick around for the journey, others serve as the punchline for a single joke. As fun as Bright City’s great unwashed are, I don’t feel that your immediate circle is quite as unforgettable. Even so, it’s hard not to buy into the game’s ideas of mateship and each of these role-players brought a certain charm to the table. 

Inspired by classic turn-based games like Earthbound, Knuckle Sandwich rekindles a love for role-playing games I haven’t felt for ages. Just as Undertale forged an identity of its own through its bullet hell boss encounters, Knuckle Sandwich’s turn-based tussles incorporate hundreds of fleeting mini-games worthy of Wario himself. Coupled with its neat nods to our fair land with unmistakable iconography like Ventura’s high-vis bus stops and learner plates, you could consider it Andy Brophy’s very own Down Undertale.

I didn’t come across a mini-game I disliked, they’re all an entertaining test of reflexes and rhythm that add an undeniable flair to the game’s turn-based combat, which is already unique in how every attack has a timing bar coded in that determines whether or not the attack will be a success. For players that prefer a more standard role-playing game experience, stat-dependent auto-attacks can be toggled on, along with a heap of other accessibility options, to help people pick their challenge to a certain degree. 

By the end of the story mode, I was still seeing new enemies, and therefore new mini-games, at a respectable clip. As far as bad guys go, Knuckle Sandwich’s bench runs deep, and I applaud the variety it offers. Even in a game up to its neck in surrealism, once you’re smacking an ice cream cone named Big Drip for six with a cricket bat nothing will surprise you again.

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Even the bigger, more grand boss encounters riff on and reinterpret classic genres and games, it really does feel like a game designer’s love letter to videogames. One was Brophy’s take on match-three puzzlers while another seemed to be crafted in the style of Knight Lore, which would be an especially deep cut if my eye doesn’t deceive me. 

The game is certainly conservative in what it offers as a role-playing game and it does well to keep you out of menus as much as possible. Movesets and abilities don’t run super deep, and besides bonus stat distribution you don’t have a lot of say over your stat makeup outside of item allocation where equipping poke knives and cricket bats up your attack while gloves or masks serve as accessories to buff other areas. Frustratingly, your pockets are rather shallow and I found myself regularly having to clear space for key items.

From start to finish, Knuckle Sandwich feels like a magnified acid trip. The game’s art direction hops liberally between what you’d expect from a standard 16-bit affair and its rendered, three-dimensional kingdom of goblins that’s got a striking polygonal style that looks as though it was plucked straight from the original PlayStation era.

The places and people of Bright City all drip with personality, and nice touches like the kid’s black eye and unkempt salmon button-up speak to a visual identity that’ll outlast so many other games simply because it’s disorienting and interesting. There’s also an undeniable charm I find in economic indie development, and some of the animation speaks to that. Some games take the time to animate retracting horse scrotums, while Brophy opts to not animate walking if it can get away with and I just adore that philosophy.  

Knuckle Sandwich boasts all of the features of a role-playing game while leaving the bloat behind, encasing it all in an irresistibly charming coating of Australiana as a tight-knit town of mates, armed with cricket bats and dry sarcasm, band together to save the world.

Conclusion
Andy Brophy’s Knuckle Sandwich will likely go down as the year’s strangest and most endearing video game. It takes the framework of past icons such as Mother and Earthbound and injects a little bit of ocker into the mix to create an off-the-wall roleplaying game that’ll play to both the nostalgia harboured for our sunburnt country as well as the genre’s decades-long history.
Positives
Irresistable style and art direction
Fun, accessible, and unique take on role-playing mechanics
The love for video games as a whole is evident
So many fun mini-games are woven into each battle
Negatives
Inventory management is a bit of a pain
The kid's immediate circle of no-hopers are a bit forgettable
9