This fighting game refreshingly depicts characters who completely suck at fighting

An Early Access fighting game called Dust-Up got my attention with the gif above, which is posted on its Steam store page. It features a bar brawl between two guys, one of them named Alex. As you can see, Alex wins. It raised a question in my mind, which was: Why. Why did Alex win?

What was the deciding factor? Was it when he slowly pushed his fist into the opponent's stomach? When he appeared to rest his wrist on the top of other guy's shoe? When he kicked the back of the other guy's thigh? The finishing blow appears to occur when he lightly taps a balled-up fist on the other guy's bicep with the same amount of force I apply when using Touch ID to unlock my iPhone.

Suffice to say I was intrigued, and after watching the gif approximately 34 more times in a row, I bought the game. For my first fight, I used the same Alex character against a ninja named The Void. I don't know why a guy in casual business-wear would challenge a ninja to a fist-fight on a foggy night, but I've added it to the growing list of questions I have about this game.

Well. In this first round against the AI, things didn't go quite as expected. While I appreciate that this game accurately depicts what I would personally do when getting into a real fight—slowly backing away until I am completely out of the room and thus spared from fighting at all—it's not exactly thrilling. This is also an odd feature of Dust-Up: it's a real struggle, even while pressing, tapping, hammering, or holding the movement key, to actually move within striking distance of your opponent. The AI seems to have the same problem. The default characteristic of these fighters is a desire to move as far away from each other as possible.

As for The Void, you can see he sort of chucks a sphere of darkness (the Void itself, I suppose) as his special attack. I think it's the lazy, underhanded toss that makes The Void such an interesting ninja. He's got the arm speed of a man feeding a duck rather than of a warrior casting a spell to suck the life force from his mortal enemy (in this case, Alex).

Finally, after much pressing and smashing of keys, I manage to sort of silly-walk over to The Void so we can finally start hitting each other.

I'm asking you—imploring you, really—to turn on the audio for these gifs so you can hear the sounds of our mighty, frenzied blows landing. Tap, tap. Tap. As I find myself unable to rise from my Jean-Claude Van Damme action split, The Void steps gently on my knee, and then on my ankle, then literally bonks me on top of the head. I'm pleased to land three devastatingly mild jabs to The Void's shin, but he then kicks me, throws one of his patented Voids lazily over my head and out of frame, then bops me lightly twice more for a victory.

Maybe I shouldn't be tackling a vaguely magical ninja right out of the gate. Maybe I should just fight another unenchanted dude like myself.

There's no magic powers in this fight of Alex vs. Ziggy, unless you consider my ability to balance on one foot while doing half a split. My kicks are not so much kicks as they are suggestions that the other fighter should stroll slowly into the bottom of my shoe, please, if you don't mind. I do manage one semi-solid blow to his wrist, but after Ziggy does a reasonable moonwalk, he uses my own strategy against me, just sticking his foot out until I brush against it. Even my finest moment, where I briefly manage to kick him in the balls, doesn't save me.

Figuring my problem might be that Alex himself completely sucks, I start playing as other characters and fighting against Alex. Playing as Ziggy, I manage to figure out how to move somewhat reliably toward the right side of the screen and thus into the eternal glory of combat.

Alex proves pretty capable, nudging me with his loafer, kicking me behind my knee, and in front of my knee, and then behind my knee again—basically, he's focusing his rage on my knee-region, with a few moments where he seems to be trying that thing where you tell someone they have something on their shirt and then when they look down you slap them on the nose. After sitting down (accidentally, not strategically), I manage a few knee kicks of my own but Alex finishes me off by kicking my forearm, thus rendering me unconscious.

Finally, finally, a victory. I use a character named Bob who feels more nimble, capable of balancing on the toes of one foot while teetering back and forth with his leg out. Alas, he's moving even more violently in the wrong direction than Ziggy did. I get a couple of decent face-bonks on Alex. He takes me down in one round, I take him down in the next, and then I drop an elbow on his face in what may be the only move in this entire series of gifs that looks like it might, potentially, maybe actually hurt another person.

Bob Win. Bob, indeed, Win.

Unfortunately, Dust-Up doesn't have online multiplayer, only local, or I would be right now messaging everyone I've ever met online to please fight me in this weird-ass game. I'm hoping online matches are added in Early Access, though I'm not sure if this game needs any more refining or tweaking. The controls are terrible, but that's kind of what makes this game so wonderful. Just look at those ninjas going at it like they probably don't really care who finishes off who.

Maybe you're into Mortal Kombat's flashy finishing moves, but me, I'll take the gentle face-taps and knee-pokes of Dust-Up any day.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.