After months of hilarious teases and trailers – many of which went viral across the country and racked up thousands of views – local developer Califourways Games have finally released their debut game, Boet Fighter. The game’s marketing virality wasn’t surprising; with its striking art-style, slick animation and perfectly pointed stereotypes of several facets of South African culture, it was always bound to strike a chord with an audience that’s largely been starved of games with a distinctly South African flavour. Despite racial tensions, failing state-owned enterprises, a weak economy and an imploding political landscape, we’ve always been able to laugh at ourselves – especially when we’re in on the joke.
That’s always been the biggest question surrounding Boet Fighter though. Would the joke be enough to carry the game, and is there more to it than just “moering okes?”
It’s a bit of a mixed bag there, to be honest. There’s a lot to like about Boet Fighter. The art, as mentioned, is genuinely delightful. The animation is slickly produced, and the game’s filled with visual gags that range from being a little on-the-nose to subtly brilliant. Even the story, such as it is, is entertaining. Out on a jol one night, muscle-bound walking cliché Hard Eddy loses track of his “binnet,” (a colloquial, perhaps even derogatory term for a girl). She’s seen heading off with another, apparently incredibly “alpha” bloke, so in the name of masculine pride, Hard Eddy heads off to find her, beating the snot out of everyone in his way, whether they deserve it or not.
Mechanically though, Boet Fighter is a bit of a mess. I understand the concept; I get it, and I love it. It’s an attempt to make an old-school beat-up in the vein of Double Dragon or Final Fight; coin-op classics that were designed to suck up whatever coins you had floating in your pocket while you munched on a packet of hot, vinegar-laden chips and sucked Fanta orange from a glass bottle in a corner café. It’s a noble attempt, but the problem with it is that it’s just not actually fun to play.
Part of that is because of the limited move set. Hard Eddy (and co-op partner Mod-C) can kick and punch, as well as do jumping kicks. His arsenal is bolstered by a run (yes, with a running PK) and a special attack that clears a room of standard enemies. You’re kicking and punching, or jump kicking and punching, or running and punching…and that’s really it. While that doesn’t seem too far removed from old-school beat-em-ups, they at least have a throw move, or a special attack with more player agency that makes the minute-to-minute gameplay more engaging.
It doesn’t help that you’re running through some delightfully realised satirical takes on famous Johannesburg haunts and landmarks – Like a popular gym, an infamous night club, one of the best places for a drunken, Friday evening pizza and one of the city’s most famous sports stadiums – if you’re really there as a tourist that is, smashing the same buttons ad infinitum just so you can move on to the next area to do it all over again. There are attempts to break up that monotony with sections that are right out of an adventure game, with dialogue choices and Monkey Island-influenced repartee. I liked trying to bribe an Afrikaans spietkop, and having a chat with a Durban Shark that was more piscine than expected, and definitely more Debbin than anticipated – but these interactions don’t really feel consequential; they’re just a diversion and a vehicle for jokes and stereotypes.
And that’s okay, really. The game is meant to be just that, a vehicle for jokes and a mirror that we shine on ourselves to have a bit of a laugh, and perhaps a bit of self-reflection. That’s largely what I was expecting. What I wasn’t really expecting was that Boet Fighter would have something to say. While it’s ostensibly about an idiot out to find his missing girlfriend, it’s also a subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle takedown of toxic masculinity; the sort of things we as men are taught to believe that sometimes keep us from doing things like recognising our feelings or being empathetic or sympathetic to other people and theirs. And while that’s noble, I just wish it was executed better. We’ve seen Boet Fighter’s great “aha!” moment done before, executed better, in superior games. Worse is that despite the lessons that get directed at us as players, Hard Eddy doesn’t find any redemption himself. I imagine that’s sort of the point; too many of us are never really self-aware enough to be cognisant of our faults and want to fix them, letting life lessons pass us by. In that sense, Hard Eddy is us at our neophobic worst. Or perhaps I’m just reading too much into things, and it really is all just a joke, stretched too thin.
That aside, Boet Fighter has a few irksome technical faults. Perhaps a design choice or perhaps the result of budgetary constraint, but the game lacks any real sound effects and audio work beyond the moering, the handful of repeated techno songs and the constant, too-often-repeated quips from Hard Eddy and the hordes of enemies he faces. They’re funny the first dozen or so times you hear them, but incredibly tiresome by the hundredth. Gord Laws does a sublime job as Hard Eddy, with his distinctly Jo’burg “Fourwegian” affectations, while comedian Mo Mothebe puts in a good, purposefully subdued performance as Mod-C, and there were some entertaining performances I wasn’t expecting – but much of the rest of the voice acting is inconsistent. Some of it sounds like it was professionally recorded, while other bits sound like they were recorded over the phone or through a headset microphone, with inconsistent gain and volume levels. It’s a weird thing to get stuck on, but it hurts the overall presentation and is especially jarring when juxtaposed by how well-produced the animation is.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy I played through Boet Fighter. I laughed at and with its jokes, I marvelled at its incomparable art and I even had a bit of a think. I just wish it was more fun to actually play.
Boet Fighter is out now on PC (via Steam) and is headed to mobile phones soon, and later consoles.
Last Updated: November 1, 2019