The brutal simplicity of One Finger Death Punch

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In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Tom enjoys some easygoing martial arts action.

One Finger Death Punch is a rhythm action game. Your martial artist stands in the middle of the screen as enemies charge in from the left and right edges. A right-click causes your little guy to swipe to the right. Left click sends him after the nearest enemy on the left. Your blows will only connect if the opponent is within the range indicator on the floor.

Successfully completing a round increases the speed of the game. Foes rush in in greater numbers as you move through missions. Sometimes they drop weapons that you can use to spear enemies. Sometimes there is a "light sword" round, which happens in silhouette against a background of explosions. Sometimes you encounter a boss, and must defeat them with a flurry of left and right-clicks as the two stick men exchange blocks and parries at superhuman speed. Once everyone is defeated you receive judgement, in the form of a medal, for hits taken and strikes missed.

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With this simple setup One Finger Death Punch creates the spectacle of a frenzied bout from your favourite martial arts flick. There are abilities that you can unlock to throw more knives, or use a bow more effectively, but One Finger Death Punch is happy to be shallow, in the best possible way. It's immediate and responsive, and wants nothing more than to cure your boredom for five minutes.

I enjoy its purity, and the way it translates simple inputs into fight choreography. The flurry of stick-arms and gratuitous use of intentionally hackneyed punching sounds creates a sense of complicated organised motion. It implies skill beyond the simple left-or-right decisions you're making. I enjoy martial arts movies enough to be cheerfully fooled by this.

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It also gives me a nostalgic kick. One Finger Death Punch is the latest in a humble tradition of stick man games that goes back to the late '90s. If your school network didn't block Flash or Java, a world of competitive local multiplayer was available. The games were primitive and ugly, but viable enough to sustain serious competition. Reputations were waged on the courts of Slime Volleyball. Reaction speeds were tested in earlier iterations of Falldown. I see echoes of these amateur experiments in successful modern games like Divekick, and on mobile in the simple-but-moreish Desert Golfing.

Like One Finger Death Punch, they're not glamorous. They aren't widely written about, perhaps because they're fun in ways a scientist might better appreciate. There's nothing in One Finger Death Punch for the empathic frontal lobe to chew on. There are no character arcs or moral decisions. The most developed thought I'll have while playing OFDP is "mmmm, nunchucks". These are games of instantaneous call-and-response that tickle the ape-brain, and they deserve to be loved just for that.

Tom Senior

Part of the UK team, Tom was with PC Gamer at the very beginning of the website's launch—first as a news writer, and then as online editor until his departure in 2020. His specialties are strategy games, action RPGs, hack ‘n slash games, digital card games… basically anything that he can fit on a hard drive. His final boss form is Deckard Cain.