When playing Facebreaker, one is constantly bombarded with the uncanny feeling of deja vu. It isn’t just because the player might have played other boxing games in their time. It’s more because Facebreaker, in many ways, tries to channel the same kind of humor, lightheartedness, and above all accessibility as the classic fan favorite Punch Out. The similarities throughout are apparent from the get go. The visual style is undeniably similar, the control scheme is simple and easy to pick up, and the humor is grounded in an over the top aesthetic that can’t help but remind you at least little bit, of such foes as Bald Bull, King Hippo, or Super Macho Man. That being said, in the end it all falls short. The imitation doesn’t stand up to the classic, which poses a problem for a next-gen game when it’s being compared to an NES title.
The first thing that stands out most certainly is the game’s style. Facebreaker is loaded to the brim with a style that is unabashedly humorous. It takes nothing seriously and at the same time manages to illicit only a few laughs. There are some fun moments; the advice between rounds (”If you stun your opponent, beat the crap out of them”) is sometimes amusing, but all too often the game relies on over-the-top racial, national and gender stereotypes. You have a rather standard crew of opponents: there’s a Shaft-esque black guy, a ditzy girl, and a crazy Russian amongst others. The problem with them all is that beyond the trademarks of their type, these characters have little soul to endear themselves to the player. Their reliance on well-established jokes renders them none of the uniqueness of the characters that have permeated other games. They are good for maybe a quick laugh, but the depictions are so stale it’s hard to find them at all appealing in the long run. Furthermore the game’s style is inconsistent at times. Where the cartoon graphics depict what one might think a family friendly game, the presence of things like a busty, over-sexualized ring girl points in a contradictory direction. It’s a juxtaposition that many parents might not appreciate.
The style itself aside, the game isn’t quite horrible to play. The controls revolve around only a few primary buttons and combos are limited and simple. The problem is that while this control scheme is easy to pick up, the gameplay degrades its usefulness. The gameplay to some extent tries again to mirror that of Punch Out. It succeeds off and on. As in Punch Out, a number of the computer-controlled foes follow set rhythmic patterns that work well with the control scheme and can be dispatched with a little skill and patience. These however are punctuated by fights of maddening difficulty, in which you can never seem to dodge, parry, or even punch fast enough to match your opponent. These fights often leave the player mired in button mashing. If you lose consistently enough, the game will you give you a hint as how to defeat each opponent, but even these are of only limited use against the harder foes. There are some fun moments; scoring a titular face breaker is ceaselessly satisfying, but it is insubstantial and eventually, Facebreaker becomes just too frustrating to bother much with.
Exacerbating this problem is the fact that the game’s play modes are limited. You can jump from the title screen right into a quick fight if you want, or you can tackle the pseudo-career mode, but neither offer much bulk. Online modes of course extend things a bit, but the gameplay suffers from the same problems online that it does in the single player. Victory will often go to the person who can push the buttons fastest.
All of this said, Facebreaker does have some good qualities. The game features some very nice options for user-created content. Playing just about any mode of the game will unlock content that can be used to fashion a custom character. That is perhaps Facebreaker’s strongest quality. Character creation is given rare prominence here, going so far as allowing the player to actually upload a picture of themselves into the game that can then be used to design a character based on their own looks. Seeing oneself as a playable character is a nice, unique treat, but sadly, a problem remains. What good is all of this customization if the actual gameplay is mediocre?
Aesthetically, there are few things to complain about. Facebreaker certainly isn’t the best looking game in the world, but the graphics more than suffice. The cartoon style is evoked quite nicely in the pre-made characters. The look of the player-made fighters is perhaps a bit primitive, leaving a little to be desired in the way of detail, but it is a flaw barely worth mentioning. Facebreaker has some nice looking sets as well, many featuring a lot of movement and detail that sadly is likely to go unnoticed by most players, as the only time you see them is during fights, and you rarely have much time to check them out. The audio is fine as well, but again, nothing to write home about. The characters all feature fitting voice acting and their few lines are read convincingly enough. The fight sounds are all adequate as well, built on some relatively stock punch and fighting sounds. The music is actually pretty diverse; Facebreaker has in its possession a number of nice songs from a score of different bands, but they often get lost in the background noise.
There are a few other issues with the game; for instance, doing anything online in Facebreaker requires you to register an account with EA. It’s a brief process but one that feels unnecessary. Beyond that, most other issues are negligible, which is good because the game is plagued by too many fundamental problems to afford itself many small ones. In the end it just falls too short to be worth much more than a rental. The shame of it is that Facebreaker could have been a really good game, and even a spiritual successor to Punch Out. Had some different design choices been made, the fighting could have been really fun, but in its current form, pointless frustration is too often the way of things. Facebreaker just simply isn’t up to par.