The idea of a lone martial artist singlehandedly taking on and dismantling an entire criminal organization with their bare hands has to be one of the most endearing premises in any form of fiction. The early martial arts films from the 1970s, mainly those starring the late great Bruce Lee, would set the groundwork for the subgenre, with my personal favorite being Fists of Fury. For decades this would become a staple of Asian cinema, and even find its way into video games, most notably in the still highly-underrated Sleeping Dogs.
The challenge of placing the genre in a video game setting is usually in maintaining a sense of variety and freshness. The first 15 minutes of beating down on wave after wave of criminal baddies can be a cathartic delight but going by the old economic principle of "diminishing returns", the gameplay inevitably runs its course and veers into repetitive monotony. The aforementioned Sleeping Dogs was perhaps an exception thanks to its Grand Theft Auto-sized production budget, but for most smaller studios it can be difficult to offer more variety. In fact, there's never really been a standout Bruce Lee video game, nor one starring Jackie Chan or Jet Li.
When the fighting is confined to a 2D space as it is here, it becomes even more difficult to create meaningful variety. A few years ago, Arrest of a Stone Buddha struggled to offer compelling gameplay variety despite its fascinating premise and art direction. Fitting into the same mold and facing similar problems, Vengeance of Mr. Peppermint offers the ultimate Asian action cinema fantasy, with a cool protagonist to boot.
Vengeance of Mr. Peppermint offers the ultimate Asian action cinema fantasy, with a cool protagonist to boot.
It's clear from the opening tutorial that the game wants to offer a versatile combat system, with light and heavy strikes allowing players to string together almost Tekken-style combination attacks. There are some gnarly grapples too, with most combo finishers resulting in a brutal finish as if this was a Mortal Kombat game. And if fists weren't already lethal enough, weapons can be picked up too.
The challenge, however, is that the gameplay variety runs its course quite quickly even during the short play time of the adventure (over in a couple of hours). This is largely due to the lack of enemy variants or anything interesting within the level progression. It would have helped if the story and character designs were at least interesting, but the short playtime means you don't get much of a story (what is present is rather bizarre) and there isn't much in the way of art direction either, as most designs feel uninspiringly lifted from the anime series, Lupin the Third.
No doubt there is a solid fighting system present here, but it feels situated in a game design that almost feels much like a demo, owing to its lack of depth and short runtime. Here's hoping that the core combat engine of Peppermint is retained and refined further, and later reintroduced in a better-designed game, one that can offer a satisfying campaign filled with meaningful enemy and boss variety, and maybe a few level design tricks too.
Despite being able to execute combos with a bit more variety, the linear and almost kinetic progression, as well as the lack of interesting enemy variety, means that Vengeance of Mr. Peppermint suffers from the same fundamental issues as the aforementioned Arrest of a Stone Buddha. It's no doubt exciting for the first few minutes, but it's not a game for extended or repeated playthroughs.
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