Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Brok The InvestiGator Review

Developer: COWCAT
Platforms: NS, PC, PS4, PS5, XBO, XBSX
Price: $25
Version Played: Switch

Have you ever played a point and click adventure game and wished you could punch someone in the face instead of going through a dialogue tree, or maybe kick a door down instead of solving a puzzle? Well then, Brok The InvestiGator is the game for you. Brok is part Point and Click Adventure and part Beat 'em Up. They call it a Punch and Click. It's a point and click adventure game with beat 'em up combat. I don't have any experience with point and click games aside from Ace Attorney and Professor Layton, so I guess I'd say Brok is like if Phoenix Wright could punch Edgeworth in the face. Or something like that.

I did zero math to get this number, but I'd say Brok is about 90% pointing, clicking, and talking. You gather clues by, you guessed it, pointing and clicking on stuff in the environment. You can also walk up to a thing to check it out if you want, but I found it much easier to just point and click. On Switch, you can hold down the Y button to see all the things you can interact with in a room. Then you can move a cursor around with the R stick and click on stuff with the A button. You can also move the cursor directly to something with the d-pad, or just click on things directly on the touchscreen if you're playing handheld. I think the game does a pretty good job in giving you different ways to point and click, but it could be better if the game allowed you to remap the controls. I ended up just holding the Y button down with my right thumb and moving the right stick around with my left thumb when using a Pro Controller, which was awkward, but it allowed me to see the name tags on everything while moving the cursor around. Joycon pointer controls might have been a good replacement for a mouse, too.
As you gather clues, new locales will open up for you to visit. The game has an overworld map, and you're free to go wherever you want. You can also switch between Brok and his step son, Graff, at many points during the game, so this isn't a strictly linear game.
Uncovering clues will also open up new dialogue options when talking to NPCs, and even interrogation scenes where you match bits of info together to get people to talk. You might also unlock new things where you have already checked after talking to someone, which tripped me up a few times. You can also use items in certain spots in the environments, present items to people, and combine items with other items, which I didn't end up doing a lot of.
You'll also run across a lot of minigames during your adventure. These are usually some kind of puzzle, like in a Professor Layton game. Some of these include a maze, a claw machine game, and even a bike chase that reminded me a bit of a certain infamous level in Battletoads. They weren't all great, and some were pretty hard, but they're a welcome change of pace from all the pointing, clicking, and talking. Pretty run of the mill point and click adventure stuff so far, right?
The twist in Brok is that you can switch to beat 'em up mode with the press of the X button at almost any time. Brok will put up his dukes and be able to punch, run, and jump. It's not all about hitting things, but that's the main reason you'd want to switch to this mode. Maybe you're sick of talking to someone and want to let your fists do the talking, maybe you need to break something to uncover a clue, or maybe you just need to jump on top of something. Whether you handle a situation with your brain or your fists will determine how the story goes. I only played through the game once, but I know it has many different branching paths and 11 different endings.
The beat 'em up aspect of the game is pretty small compared to the traditional point and click stuff, but the combat system doesn't feel like an afterthought. It's more complex than a lot of the popular 90s BEUs, like TMNT, Final Fight 1, and Streets of Rage 1 and 2. There's running, multidirectional dodging, juggling, combo finishers, launchers, and special moves. Graff even has a bouncing head stomp style move. This game was clearly made by BEU fans. Brok is not a BEU, though. There's only one section of the game in which you walk down the street beating people up and eating food that comes out of broken crates, and that's in a VR setting. This is definitely not TMNT with a Gator.
I think the main reason why someone would stick with a point and click adventure all the way through is the story, right? Don't let its punny name and Disney-like character designs fool you, Brok is not a light-hearted game. In fact, I'd say it's kind of depressing. Brok is a tragic character. Nothing ever goes his way. Whenever he tries to fix things, he just Broks something up. He has a mysterious past, but we know he was a boxer. He's seemingly suffering from CTE, too. His wife died, he's gotta take care of his teenage stepson, Graff; he lives in the slums, and has no money. He also lives in a dystopian future in which rich people live under a dome that protects them from the deadly pollution, and poor people have to take a pill every day just to survive in it. There are definitely funny moments and goofy characters, but it's not a happy story.
Considering how much talking there is in this game, one of the best things about it is that every bit of dialogue is voice acted. It's good voice acting, too. There wasn't a single character that didn't sound good. Everyone got their emotions and personalities across perfectly. I played through all those Phoenix Wright and Professor Layton games on DS, voice acting makes a huge difference. The soundtrack didn't really stand out to me, though. I love the start screen music and beat ‘em up section themes, but pretty much everything else was just kind of quiet, ambient background music that played while I investigated.

I think this game looks fantastic. It looks like a cartoon. The fighting game inspired animations are awesome, too. I especially love the design of all the characters. They remind me of 90s Disney characters because they're animals, of course, but they're also simple designs that get their personalities across at first glance. The environments also look really nice. Most of them have that conveyor belt-like beat 'em up perspective, which just happens to work great for a point and click adventure game, too. I just loved seeing that. Performance on Switch seemed good to me. I only noticed the framerate dip a little bit in a scene where you fight a ton of enemies near the end.
Is this the game that will make point and click adventure game fans out of beat 'em up fans? Probably not, but people who like both will probably enjoy seeing the two genres combined. I just don't think there's enough beat 'em up here for people who aren't really into point and click adventures. I enjoyed the game, though. The beat 'em up part is good, even if it is small, and even though the story is pretty sad and tragic, it is compelling, and the characters are endearing. I'd love to see Brok in another game in the future. Maybe a fully fledged BEU?