Trio the Punch retrospective


Beat-em-ups, we love them. At their best, they’re responsible for some of the arcade’s most revered visuals, soundtracks and gameplay.

Trio the punch - a look back at a forgotten classic by

Look back at the gritty neon cityscapes and funk-tinged house tracks on Streets of Rage, the vibrant co-op chaos of Turtles in Time or even modern classics like Guacamelee. At their worst, though, they’re a linear launchpad into slogging monotony. I tend to picture the visually muddy dourness of diluted home computer conversions, clunky, sad and dated even on the day of their release. Today’s title is neither the best of the bunch, nor is it a trudging affair, in fact the one thing I can offer in its favour is that you’re definitely going to remember it. 

Trio The Punch Retrospective Screenshot 2

Enter Data East, arcade aficionados with a legacy steeped in iconic excellence. They gave us Burger Time, masterminded Robocop’s gaming debut (to critical acclaim) and introduced us to some Bad Dudes along the way. They’re also responsible for some of the best-selling home computer titles in American history, Karate Champ holds the distinction of being the first home computer game to sell over 500,000 games in the United States. When Robocop landed on the ZX Spectrum, it defiantly sat on the sales chart in the UK for over a year and a half.  Impressive resume, sure, but like most of the big players in the arcade world, their zaniest titles lie beneath surface level- and it doesn’t get any weirder than Trio the Punch: Never Forget Me- released in 1990. 

Reading the game’s puzzlingly poignant subtitle, you might think this is the kind of game to take itself seriously, you’re seriously wrong. A beat-em-up in spirit, Trio the Punch plays out with all the oddity of a psychedelic trip. You’re given the choice of three gruff looking protagonists (a brawler, a swordfighter and a ninja each with their own attacks) from there, you’re flung straight into a beach themed level without context. When I first played this game, I found myself lost and unsure of my objective, endlessly running through enemies. Eventually I realised that the game played by its own (often changing) rules and the only way to progress was to clear the arena of enemies in search of yellow hearts they drop. Collect the hearts and you move on to another level. This was my first of many signs that I wasn’t playing your standard side scroller, but I didn’t expect the signs to beat me harder over the head the further I progressed. 

Trio The Punch Retrospective Screenshot 1

After every level, you’re brought to a roulette screen of sorts, stopping on a certain square relating to power ups for standard attacks, special attacks and health increases among other (not always helpful) categories. The brawler, for instance, will lug around a punching bag upon a normal attack increase, making for increased range and a comically absurd combat visual. Should you upgrade your special attack enough, you’ll get an unfair screen wiper that dispenses enemies with the push of a button. It’s the simple kind of combat you’d expect and want. That’s about the last normal thing you’ll notice about this game. 

Enemies and backdrops are changed regularly, randomly and without rhyme or reason. Mechanics and ideas will come and go as they please, totally arbitrarily without regard for pacing. You’ll be fighting milquetoast goons one minute, before taking on a turtle disguised as your karate master the next. Some levels have two enemies, some far more. The only constant is that you’re given the number of hearts remaining at the bottom of your screen, whilst a harsh timer will hurry you along to kill enemies as fast as possible. 

It gets weirder, of course. Enemies include grotesque zombies, giant Greek statues of feet, towering waving lucky cats, actual cats, crocodiles, ninjas and more. One level sees you fighting a giant pink sheep shooting you with other pink sheep, only to then become said sheep in the next level. Another section has you fighting the actual Colonel Sanders- no, seriously- the boss is the founder of KFC who is revealed to be controlled by a chicken in a robotic suit.  

Trio The Punch Retrospective Screenshot

You’ve conquered the counterfeit colonel, fought every kind of enemy you wouldn’t expect and traversed a variety of maps. You now find yourself in what could easily be the last section of the game: A city teeming with zombies, demons and punctuated by a scarlet sky. In any other game, this kind of level spells climax, but Trio the Punch doesn’t care about your basic notions of progression. You beat the boss, now have a laboratory level. Here you fight translucent blobs, some armoured and others shapeshifting into dinosaurs. Resist the urge to find cohesion in this game, enjoy the ride. 

 It’s not all fun though, there is some vertically scrolling platform climbing to be had, riddled with off screen attacks that will rip your credits from your still aching hands. Movement is fraught with inconvenience, with damage animations often locking you into an unfair death. Enemies strike with the movement patterns of frenzied flies on kitchen windows, some enemies won’t even take damage when you’ve clearly hit them. As catchy as the music is, there is only one soundtrack for each character you play, so have fun listening to half an hour of a 15 second loop when you’ve found your favourite play style. As frustrating as these elements can get, they can hardly make a dent in the quirkiness on display and this is, after all, an arcade game from 1990. These kinds of negatives come with the territory. 

All in all, Trio the Punch is a location hopping, unconventionally hysterical journey with surrealism at its core, from the start all the way to its continue screen (The head of Michelangelo’s Dying Slave, which becomes a cartoony abomination when you insert another credit). I won’t spoil the last level or ending, go and experience them yourself; besides, if I tried to explain it then it wouldn’t make sense anyway. Much like its subtitle suggests, you won’t be forgetting Trio the Punch: Never Forget Me. You can pick the game up thanks to a recent re-release on all major consoles.

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