Punch ’n’ Click
Several years ago, back when covering PlayStation Vita games was still a viable option for gaming websites, I took a chance on a review for an indie adventure game called Demetrios: The Big Cynical Adventure. Not to rehash bad memories, but like many of the reviews I go out on my own to find, I didn’t care for it too much. Clearly, others did. The game has been ported to just about every major piece of hardware on the market, including a 4K version on the PlayStation 5 and Japanese localization on the eShop.
While the game’s creator, Fabrice Breton, and I didn’t see eye to eye on the game, several months after my review was published, he invited me to take an extremely early look at his next project. Squeezing out an unoptimized Mac version of the demo, I thought the concept of combining the classic point-and-click puzzle solving of Demetrios with beat ’em-up action game showed some promise. It was a bit rough around the edges, but its potential was extraordinary. I wished him good luck with the project, not really knowing if I would even be writing for Destructoid by the time it came out.
Five years and some change later, I’m still here, and that little demo has blossomed into a full-fledged game that might be worthy of being on your wishlist.
BROK the InvestiGator (PC)
Developer: COWCAT Games
Publisher: COWCAT Games
Released: August 26, 2022
BROK the InvestiGator is an example of a game where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s set in a dystopian world where society is divided into two groups: the Drumers, those who live in a domed city where life is pretty easy, and the Slumers, those poor unfortunate souls who have to survive in the toxic wasteland that surrounds the dome. Set over a tumultuous three-day period, players will take control of two characters whose fates are linked. Brok is an anthropomorphic alligator who works as a lowly detective for people in the slums. His adoptive cat-son, Graff, lives with him and is in the final week of exams at a school that will guarantee him a life in the dome if he passes. Over the course of six chapters, players will explore the lives of these two characters and the shared trauma that defines their relationship.
And actually, the game goes harder into the trauma than thought it would. Brok is continually haunted by nightmares of a fuzzy past he may not fully remember. Graff tackles unanswered questions about his parents while trying to escape the hell that is the slums. Their journey together will shine a light on some of the revelations of their past. I think the narrative handles these concepts with care even if the dialogue for some characters could use a little brushing up.
Except for RJ. He’s perfect in every way.
Fight with your brain and your fists
For both Brok and Graff, players will make their way through the world in classic point-and-click adventure fashion. You’ll talk to a lot of different characters, complete some intelligently conceived puzzles, and collect clues to solve the mysteries Brok is faced with. You’ll also need to find time to help strangers, pay bills, and do a little fighting, and I’ll be honest, getting the best ending for this game will probably require multiple playthroughs or extensive use of the game’s many save slots. BROK can be a bit brutal with how it doesn’t let you fix your mistakes, but it isn’t unnecessarily unreasonable. Just be sure not to accidentally kill someone like I did.
That “whoopsie” death happened when I inadvertently hit the button to switch Brok to his action stance, which constitutes the “punch” of this punch ’n’ click adventure. Brok and Graff can do a little fighting throughout the game and they’re pretty decent at it. Both characters feature a simple one-button combo with a few special attacks, but there are some significant differences in their abilities. Graff is far more capable of fighting in the air than Brok with a dive kick worthy of Iron Galaxy Studios. Most of the fights will have you squaring off against the different robots that are meant to keep order inside the dome, but you’ll fight some Slumers and cops as well. Or, you can do your best to avoid the fight.
At many points in the narrative, you’ll be given two paths on how to escape a situation: with intellect or with violence. Naturally, the violent path is far easier than trying to piece together the often too-many steps you need to take to avoid a confrontation. As I said, the fighting here is pretty simple, even simpler than what we got in Super Punch Patrol. But it holds up well. And it would hold up a lot better if Breton approached this game from a different angle.
Not always a peanut-butter-in-chocolate situation
BROK is primarily a point ’n’ click adventure title. It has the feel and presence of those classic Sierra games from the ‘90s. Beat ’em-up action is thrown in where possible, and for the most part, the adventure side of the game doesn’t get in its way. But when it does, it can be aggravating.
Let me give you an example. In the game’s second chapter, Brok will be in jail. One of the ways you can get him out is by fighting his way through the police station. Now, the jail and police station are designed in a way that makes them ideal for an adventure game with plenty of interactive objects and some great scenic design. But for a beat ‘em-up, they’re too clustered and claustrophobic to work that well. From the vantage point, it can be tough to tell if my characters are in the enemy’s attack line and I had to go through a lot of game over screens to make it through this section. If you fail enough, you will have the option to lower the difficulty, but that wouldn’t be necessary if the action portion of BROK was a bit more fine-tuned with increased immunity frames and more useful dodge.
If anything, I wish this game were developed primarily as a beat ’em-up, rather than an adventure game, because I think the whole package would have benefitted from that approach. I know one of the themes of the game is about avoiding violence, but when you are forced to resort to fisticuffs, it would be nice if the gameplay were the best it could be.
I want more of this
And that’s what I mean when I say BROK the InvestiGator is more than the sum of its parts. I charted little issues throughout the game (as well as one big one where it will consistently needle you if you make a mistake in an investigation) but none of them overshadowed everything I enjoyed about it. I really like what Fabrice Breton has put together here. He did an outstanding job bringing this world to life with outstanding character art, a well-realized world, and a story that’s worth seeing through to the end.
I think Brok is a brilliant little creation, Graff could very well be the star of his own game, and Ott, Graff’s best friend who is a half-breed, is the perfect little sidekick for this adventure. When comparing it to Breton’s previous game, this is leaps and bounds better and I would love to see this mash-up of genres further explored and evolved in the future.
BROK the InvestiGator is very much an experiment, but it’s an experiment that works. As the second title out of COWCAT Games, it shows real growth and actually has me looking forward to what comes next from this one-man studio.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]