My favorite fighting games are simple affairs. Super Smash Bros. doesn’t require that I learn any complicated combos, and even though I love Mortal Kombat’s violence and goofy story, I’m not going to memorize Scorpion’s move set. One Finger Death Punch 2, a new brawler on the PC from developer Silver Dollar Games, only has two buttons. That’s the kind of simplicity I can get behind.
In One Finger Death Punch 2, players take control of a stickman facing an onslaught of other stickmen. You’ve got two buttons to choose from—attack left and attack right. There’s no movement, and the enemies come to you. When they’re close enough, you hit the corresponding attack button to kill them. Attack too early, or too late, and you take damage. Take ten hits, and you die. Kill everyone, and you move on to the next stage. It’s a simple setup that offers a surprising amount of complexity.
The tutorial is 16 stages long, and each tutorial level introduces a new wrinkle to the formula. Some enemies take multiple hits to kill, some take a few hits and then change sides, and some require you to enter a quick combo before they die. But you never button mash, because in One Finger Death Punch 2, button mashing gets you killed. Instead, you read the signals the game is sending you and fall into a rhythm.
I just spent 40 hours slogging through Days Gone, a PlayStation 4 exclusive that probably cost several million dollars to make. There's nothing in that game that felt as exciting as a single stage of One Finger Death Punch 2.
The end result is a game that feels like Guitar Hero, only you're shredding hundreds of bad guys with your feet instead of shredding a guitar. It's a simple premise, and a simple visual style, but the pacing, over-the-top sound effects, and ridiculous visual flourishes make it feel like the violent doodles on the margins on your notebook come to life. It's like those early viral stick figure action animations, but in video game form.
It’s not easy to make a game that does so much with just two buttons as input. “It's actually very complicated,” developer David Flook told me in an email. “There was a great deal of trial and error involved. We'd get an idea, try it, discover it wasn't fun, and scrap it…over and over, until we got a set of mechanics that worked.”
After trying a little bit of everything, Silver Dollar Games created a tidy little brawler. After the tutorial levels end, players wander a map clearing out bad guys, fighting bosses, and hitting two buttons to the rhythm of the fight. The stickmen are simple, but the animations are excellent and the blood flows.
In just a few minutes, I was ripping out hearts and cracking skulls in violent displays of gore that recalled both early Mortal Kombat games and the stickman flash animations of yore. Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.