VanillaBeast: Retro Knock-Out! instantly let me know from the title screen what type of game I was getting into. Upon opening the pixelated punchout adventure, it offered choices between a censored and uncensored playthrough. For the full experience of the title, I chose the uncensored option. Most of the raunchy images and suggestive animated pixels can be dismissed and do not interfere with the main aspect of the game, knocking out your opponents.
Bringing back retro gaming, VanillaBeginnings: Knock-Out! doesn’t limit itself to social norms. It contains carefree jokes, humorous storytelling, and plenty of nostalgic pop-culture easter eggs straight from the 80s! I’m talking leg warmers, neon lights, He-Man; all of these small factors help bring the 80s to this obscene game.
Right after choosing the uncensored playthrough, I was thrown into an action-filled comic that took place at Strips Ahoy, a strip club. Vanilla, I learned quickly, was the main character who enjoys women, money, and power. Things escalate when Vanilla wasn’t able to experience his full strip club experience as a man was standing in front of his view of a dancer. Immediately, a fight breaks out as the muscle giant refused to move and was knocked out by Vanilla.
Feeling satisfied in more ways than one, Vanilla is approached by Uk Paul, a Scottish trainer who was intrigued by the recent fight. He explains he is looking for a boxer. Reluctant at first to Paul’s offer, Vanilla accepts the boxer lifestyle as it can give them, I mean Vanilla, lots of money. Most of the boxer’s life is spent in a bleak, top-down scroll box of an apartment riddled with topless pixelated women and a towering pile of cocaine. From here, I was able to replay old cutscenes and fights, look over very useful tips, and train!
I immediately tried out the training option first to get a feel of the fighting system. With three options to choose from, I went for the basic Punching Bag training – which displays a sequence of buttons to press in order. I learned very simple dodging and punching combos as well as enjoying the Glod’s Gym 80s aesthetic. Training is also necessary before every scheduled fight to regain health and/or stamina if you try out chicken chasing. Did I mention you could practice boxing on a shark? Training is only a small slice of what the actual boxing factor of the game offers. Entering my first fight, I was ready to join Vanilla on his adventure to move up in the ranks of boxing to defeat the undisputed champion of the Venereousville Boxing League, Tike Myson.
My first match was up against the game’s first parody fighter, Fake Jaul (Jake Paul). It was a hilarious fight that took some skills to learn. I quickly switched from keyboard to controller after losing a couple of times to Jaul. Don’t come into this game, like I did, thinking it’s a simple button masher where mashing random series of buttons will call upon amazing combos. It is a highly strategic, pattern-designed learning game. The most important mechanic I came to learn was the “Tell”, a subtle animation the opponent does right before attacking. Some of them are a bit weird, however, the mechanic helped me get through most fights. From Fake Jaul sticking out his tongue to the subtle twitch of Montezuma’s mustache, watching the opponent’s Tell was super practical to all fights.
Hitting an opponent when their Tell animation crosses the screen grants you a PP (power punch). Yes, a PP, which is a strong punching power move that deals a damaging blow. In order to gain this power move, it took a lot of analyzing matches and taking many punches to time it correctly. After besting Fake Jaul, I went on to more complicated matches. Fo Real, the fourth parody fighter, was highly challenging. I needed to learn the strategy and almost perfect timing to finally beat him. After getting knocked out countless times by Fo Real, I finally took out my notepad to write down his fighting sequence. I was so invested in beating him, I started to take notes. When you take notes on a video game, which I started to do for every fight, you know it is strategy based. Some fights require near perfection in order to take down the opponent. That one factor is what makes the game super challenging but I can see how it could turn away many casual players, such as myself, from a game like this.
Each fight presented some sort of challenge and some felt like they were teaching me what was ahead for future rounds. Fights had an array of mechanics. Some came with fast jabs mixed with uppercuts and others contained laggier punches where my dodges needed to be withheld. Getting used to how an opponent fights was another challenge of mine. I would try to use the same skills I learned in the last match with my current one and it did not bode well in the end. Quickly changing my technique after spending so much time on the previously perfected methods was necessary.
Pulling away from the technical parts of VanillaBeast: Retro Knock-Out!, the game’s art is impeccable. I enjoyed the various forms of pixel art, elaborate backgrounds, retro chip-tune music, and the hilarious easter eggs tied in with obscene jokes. The parody game could easily pull in a fanbase from Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out or from people who just love boxing in general. It is definitely a “pick up and play” type game just as advertised. There is nothing stopping me from quickly getting into fights and feelings super victorious after a strenuous match and win. The variety of opponents with their techniques really kept me on my toes.
With the pros come the cons. I have to say that, even as a casual player, the game really seems to appeal to a niche. I either knew some of the fighters from memory (Bulk Broman) or had no idea who I was going up against. Combat is fun, however, takes a long time to get used to. I usually do not indulge in strategy-filled games and although this one was loads of fun, I fear an everyday crowd would not try to get past the first opponent. In order to gain PP, you have to land a punch on the opponent’s special animation. I found it a bit challenging when the subtle animation is quickly followed by a punch meaning you lose the PP. Being near perfect with timing would remedy this, however not all of us are able to do this which makes it a bit rough to try to gain PPs in fights. I sometimes avoided trying to get a PP and put faith in just punching my opponent into low health.
Dominique' McClain is an enthusiastic content writer and enjoys all things video games. She's highly obsessed with Lord of the Rings and loves dragons. You can chat with her on Twitter @Dommy_Bomb.
Vanillabeast: Retro Knock-Out!
VanillaBeast: Retro Knock-Out! embraces the term parody and is full of action-packed, strategy-based combat and humorous jokes, and easter eggs. Overall, it is a fun and hilarious experience that requires attention to detailed combat in order to become victorious. I loved landing a satisfying punch to the jaws of my opponents upon getting a TKO!