You are Thunder Ray!
Unlike the game that inspired it, in Thunder Ray you assume the role of an undefeated boxing legend. As Thunder, you yearn for a true challenger but unfortunately no one seems to be able to step up to your level…at least not on Earth! After running through a brief tutorial fight with your main earthly rival Rico, you’re randomly kidnapped (via an alien transporter ray gun) into another realm where you’re forced to fight absolutely monstrous opponents.
That’s it, that’s the setup for Thunder Ray. But I don’t think it’s any secret that the story here isn’t what you’re here for. You’re here to see if Thunder Ray scratches that Punch-Out itch that so many of us have been wanting to scratch since Nintendo gave us the incredible Wii reboot in 2009.
Does it succeed? Let’s find out.
Stick and Move!
For those wondering, Thunder Ray appears to base its mechanics more on Super Punch-Out as opposed to the original or Wii reboot. By that, I mean the core mechanics are based on building a super meter as opposed to landing a well-timed “surprise” blow that nets you a super hit. So whether you like that or not will completely depend on your preference for Punch-Out or Super Punch-Out. Luckily for me, I’ve always personally preferred Super so this wasn’t an adjustment I had to worry about. The one tweak implemented here is your ability to unlock three levels of super meter, each being a different super move that you unlock as you progress.
Having said that, the control scheme for Thunder Ray really fought with my muscle memory built up over 30 years playing the classic Nintendo titles. Developer Purple Tree has decided on what I can only assume is a “modern” control scheme where body shots and jabs/head shots are spread across all four face buttons with specials assigned to the bumpers. Fans of Punch-Out will know you had a left hand and right hand button and you used the d-pad up or down to determine whether you went for a body or head shot. You then had a separate button for specials. While I’ve mostly gotten used to it, this game is absolutely crying out for a “classic” control scheme and I hope it possibly finds a way in via an update or in (fingers crossed) a sequel. There was also the very slightest amount of perceptible input delay for me, which I don’t know if is meant to be part of the game or an issue with Xbox (as has been noted in other Xbox ports of games). It didn’t prevent me winning fights, but felt like it’s been making the final boss harder than it probably is.
But outside potentially wrestling with the controls for a little bit, this is essentially what you’d want in a modern Punch-Out game. Wildly mashing away won’t get you overly far, particularly at higher difficulties and with later bosses and you just have to memorise patterns and cues. Remember, Punch-Out was never actually a true boxing game. It was more a rhythm/Simple Simon game that required quick reflexes and a sharp memory. Thunder Ray will definitely test those reflexes as it really leans into forcing the player to simply learn the boss’ cues for the type of attack they’re about to send your way.
But be prepared to lose. If you plan on playing Thunder Ray at the medium or higher difficulty, you’re most likely going to lose some fights. Particularly the final boss who is a ridiculous difficulty spike. First run through on the easiest difficulty I managed to beat every boss first try. But as of this review I’m still yet to manage to take down the final boss. It’s nuts! and the difficulty probably needs an adjustment.
Lead with your fists. Not with your face!
Thunder Ray is absolutely gorgeous and oozes style with every pixel on the screen. You can tell Purple Tree has taken pain staking care to ensure you enjoy what you’re seeing on screen at all times. Even when browsing the menu. From the title screen, pause menu and within the fights themselves, the game’s style is top notch. Font choices and design cues exude a visual harmony not often seen even in AAA titles, let alone in most indies.
The game uses a beautiful hand drawn animated style that to me looks like a gorgeous amalgamation of the Fleischer style more recently used by Cuphead and pop anime. As good as the 2009 Wii reboot looks, this is exactly how I’d want a modern day Super Punch Out to look. The animation is stunning and attention to detail is second to none. Get hit enough and Thunder’s face will bruise and bleed and your enemy will show the same signs of wear and tear as fights go on. Super attacks are appropriately bombastic and if you finish a boss with a powerful enough super? You will literally explode them in a shower of blood and guts.
The audio in the game is now slouch either. Punches and special attacks have real oomph to them and the music is serviceable and unobtrusive without being overly memorable. It does the job. The voice actors for the narrator and your coach are both velvety smooth with a Barry White quality to them that never gets tiring to listen to.
Keep your guard up!
Thunder Ray does a solid job of giving Punch-Out fans something to tide them over until Nintendo throws us a bone, or until Purple Tree potentially works on a sequel. But I don’t say this as a way to disregard the game. But know from the outset that it’s short, very short. Eight fights in total which as fans of the sub-genre will know can be over in a minute or so. But the asking price here isn’t egregious for what you’re getting. Replayability is a foundational element of Punch-Out and so applies here.
It does have a couple of peculiar quirks, such as the aforementioned lack of classic control scheme and slight input delay as well as an oddity where if you quit the game even after making your way to the final boss, you have to start up the first fight again to re-unlock all the bosses again. But you don’t actually have to complete the first fight…just start it and quit out of it to see the other bosses. It’s not a deal breaker or anything, but a mild annoyance that seems easily solvable.
Long time fans of Punch-Out should definitely check out Thunder Ray as it provides a stunning and fun modern day fix at a welcoming price of admission.
Review | Thunder Ray
Xbox Series X
- Absolutely beautiful visual style infused into every bit of the game
- Scratches that Punch-Out nostalgia itch
- Straight up fun to play
- Could use a
- Crazy final boss difficulty spike
- Very slight input delay makes