Remember Super Punch Out! on the SNES? Yes? So do indie developers Dreamwagon, but not as clearly as I do. Honey Badger – Slayer of Memes is like a muddled recollection of one drunken night playing Super Punch Out! at the palatial squat of a total stranger you met outside a grimy nightclub in central London, who then insists on showing you ‘hilarious’ YouTube videos and regurgitating their kebab in your lap while you frantically use their rickety old SNES to distract yourself for those few fatal hours until the buses start running again.
The presentation is pretty grisly – all the more so because it’s kind of not bad, in its own misguided way. The visuals are a step above the ‘cardboard cut-outs on plastic’ XBLIG norm, but they shoot themselves in the foot with really hideous design. Look at any one of the characters and tell me they’re remotely appealing to look upon. Personally, every time I saw my protagonist I flinched like a cat in a strong draught. This only highlighted by the general overall resemblance to Super Punch Out! If Honey Badger didn’t ape its inspiration so shamelessly, it might have got away with this art style. As it is, the whole thing looks pretty depressing. If Super Punch Out! were to be disfigured by a savage beating, this is what it would look like.
Presentation isn’t everything though, particularly to me. A game could look like two meerkats fighting to the death in a bowl of porridge and I wouldn’t care as long as it’s fun. Sadly (and you might have guessed this by now) Honey Badger is not. In fact, two meerkats fighting in porridge is more or less how this plays.
Setting aside the offputting presentation, there are two major problems with Honey Badger. The most glaring one is the way it sticks to Super Punch Out! with glue that starts to wear thin and detach after a little while. I mentioned this on the visual front but it’s even more of a bane in the gameplay department. Honey Badger mimics its forebear closely but not accurately, which only serves to highlight all the ways in which the new pretender doesn’t match up. You can throw left and punches at high and low points using the four face buttons. Once you’ve landed enough hits you can unleash a more powerful punch with the right trigger. Nudging to the left or right allows you to dodge aside, and pushing up completely counter-intuitively causes you to pull back and block. Everything from Super Punch Out! is present and correct, then. All the boxes are ticked. Well, all the boxes apart from the ones marked ‘fun’ and ‘playable’. Fights in Honey Badger feel like luck. You just throw punches at random until your enemy falls over. There’s not much in the way of skill, and very little room to improve through practice. Sticking so closely to the Super Punch Out! template just draws attention to Honey Badger’s weaknesses.
The second problem is the really awful enemy design. I don’t like to review games without having finished them, or at least played most of the way through them. Honey Badger stopped me dead on level three with a fight against a chubby man with a big stick. I just can’t get past that, and the reason is the design of the opponent.
Firstly, unlike previous opponents this one doesn’t flinch when you hit him, and he swings his stick at you almost continuously. This means you get hit a couple of times whenever you attack him. Far worse is his indecent infatuation with his special attacks. He has two: imperviously spinning around for an aggravatingly long time then whacking you, and equally imperviously murmuring into suddenly erratic lighting while punching you with ghostly fists. Dodging either attack is irritating thanks to some inconsistent timing, but that’s not the issue with them. You could probably nail down the necessary dodges with enough practice. The issue is that they both take so damn long.
Honey Badger’s bouts are subject to a time limit, and this guy’s stodgy attacks clog up the rounds like a block of lard in an artery. When 80% of the round is spent watching him laboriously charge up his stupid, smug, sneeringly badly animated special attacks while you just stand there unable to touch him, the one thing that’s guaranteed is that you will run out of time.
It’s poor design. Poorly designed fights, poorly designed visuals, a poorly designed title – and all of it bound septically together by the pus of its insultingly inadequate mimicry of a far superior classic. Playing Honey Badger – Slayer of Memes is like someone loudly hinting that your birthday present is something lavish related to your love of mountains and the sea, then presenting you with an upturned ice cream cone in a puddle of urine. There’s a similarity in the very broadest of strokes, but the attempt to resemble something so much better just makes the display of disgraceful grotesquery all the more insulting.