One Finger Death Punch is the greatest two-button kung fu game ever made

Proclaiming something as the ‘greatest of all time’ can be contentious, so first I’ll play it safe by simply naming One Finger Death Punch as the greatest two-button kung-fu game ever made. And it really is a wonder; magnificently simple to learn, electrifyingly compulsive to play, intimidatingly difficult to master.

Channelling the XiaoXiao stick figure animations that memed across forums well before anyone thought about cats and Impact captions, One Finger Death Punch unified XiaoXiao’s minimalist charm with further trappings from Hong Kong kung-fu cinema; Shaw Brothers in Flash vectors. The game’s staccato action recalled the kata-on-kata fighting style of 70s Kung-Fu, the general gist of each Mob Round essentially Bruce Lee piling through that dojo in Fist of Fury. This is no accident – this is love. A real love of that cinema, of its old masters in hiding, of villain bosses, the animal styles and the unstoppable hero, all translated via two buttons.

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At full throttle, few games can match One Finger Death Punch’s intensity, or its rapidity of successive micro-satisfactions. A wham-blam-blam juggernaut interspersed with gloriously excessive highlight finishers. It hits such a rhythm that it intoxicates the engaged player. You want to do it faster and faster, fight more and more goons, making less mistakes. It’s one of those rare games that genuinely pushes you to your limit. Not one of rote memory and perseverance, but raw hand-to-eye and sensory processing – the actual bleeding edge of neurons and muscle. This comes from the controls and the setup. Enemies come from left or right, and once in range, you press a key to attack left or right. It couldn’t be simpler, with bars beneath your character to tell you which way to attack. All is obvious, and your choices are binary as the game ramps up and up with each level.This is a recipe for twitch gameplay that is truly primal. At it heights, you have to rely on your peripheral vision to keep up – that’s how intense it can get. And the sense of reward for taking it on and winning is supreme.

Released through Xbox Live’s Indie Games for the 360 in 2013, OFDP came to Windows in 2014. It’s the work of two brothers – Jon and David Flook – who together comprise Silver Dollar Games. They’ve spent the last five years working on a sequel, One Finger Death Punch 2. Released through Steam this week, it’s currently available for under a fiver – and it’s OG Death Punch with ridiculous madness on top. Where fat has been trimmed, boombast has been added. It’s frequently bonkers, far more than the original, and it’s way, way faster. For me, acing the 16-level tutorial lead to the game going 208 per cent speedier than default. Naturally, it was a total blast.

The sequel is nicely expanded in all sorts of areas – Levels mode is much the same, but the survival mode has a tiered tower system, and fights are generally more varied. You can alter the speed manually and there’s an additional roguelike ‘Gauntlet’ mode, with modern conveniences like online leaderboards and (sort of) character customisation. With the starting level of intensity set to ‘full on’, it’s hard to see how One Finger Death Punch can get any more crazed. I’ll have to find out, provided RSI doesn’t claim my wrists – I’ve already had to swap to left-handed play thanks to the frantic pace. I don’t really care. I’ll play with my toes if I have to. It’s the greatest game of all time, after all.

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