Fist fights are ugly. Not the choreographed, clean hits of an action movie, nor the long trained-for hooks and jabs of a boxing match. I’m talking pure, unadulterated fist fights. Going slug for drunken slug with some guy you just met in a back alley. Real(ly exaggerated) fist fights. Those things are sloppy; unrefined; indeed, ugly. Fitting, then, that Midnight Fight Express, a game built around such fist fights, exudes almost the same qualities.

I should clarify, Midnight Fight Express is not ugly in its aesthetic. The brawler sports a simple art style, with isometric shapes and matching perspective. While the finer details of outfits are lost, colours pop nicely, which goes a long way in a title clearly trying to induce the flow state. When the outfit is as pretty as the complex string of moves, combos are that much more satisfying. In the looks department, I must give Midnight Fight Express due credit.

Unfortunately, the compliment train stops here.

A player character model in Midnight Fight Express wearing funky pants.
These pants were a highlight of my playthrough.

Narratively, Midnight Fight Express has little to offer. As protagonist Babyface, players must brawl their way through a city overrun with thugs of all kinds. The goons of every level all claim different factions, but they are united in one mission: Babyface shall not pass. There’s a lingering mystery behind your sole companion, a floating AI drone who guides you throughout the story and provides each new objective. With banterous dialogue being thrown against a silent protagonist, though, the drone’s character falls incredibly flat. I was left not caring about our narrator, nor the story he had to tell.

As such, Midnight Fight Express’s length immediately comes into question. The beat-em-up is a whopping forty missions long. Given the eventual lack of gameplay variety, this number of missions feels like it’s there solely to allow the narrative to fully play out. I respect the commitment to storytelling, but given how flimsy and uninteresting that story actually is, this length only makes the game feel bloated. For an express, this train definitely overstays its welcome.

A group of animal-themed goons surrounding a car and burning alley.
The furry frenemies of Midnight Fight Express.

With that, all that’s left is to punch your way to the top. The central mechanic of Midnight Fight Express is, naturally, its combat. Initially, the brawler shows great promise. There is a fluidity to the combat that, after a few upgrades, almost harkens back to the Batman: Arkham series. Once further into the combat skill tree, Babyface will leap and flip between enemies across the screen. He can parry, counter, dodge roll, throw random debris, and even enter a rage mode, offering resistance to interruption and greater power.

For all this early variety, however, Midnight Fight Express does little to avoid becoming a repetitive slog. The controls are the worst culprit of this. Combos are mapped to the same buttons and stick inputs, with the only difference being which direction the left stick is pushed at the last second. Combo finishers and your ace-in-the-hole one shot weapon, which has quite the cooldown, are also mapped to the exact same button. This led to more than one frustrating instance of accidentally using my secret gun in place of a regular finisher, all because the very combo I was executing had pushed the enemy too far away. It almost feels as if you’re being punished for playing the game with its basic combos.

A combat encounter in a bar in Midnight Fight Express.
GET OVER HERE… So I can do the exact same thing to you I did to the last three guys.

Of course, fists are not the only weapon at Babyface’s disposal. The city of Midnight Fight Express is absolutely littered with all sorts of guns. Pistols, tasers, assault rifles, shotguns, even grenade launchers. There is an interesting assortment of weapons to choose from, and various guns are placed in different, context-appropriate levels. That’s one point for environmental storytelling. Unfortunately, none of them control particularly well. Even with an auto-aiming reticle, zeroed in on an enemy at point blank range, I found a large number of shots missing their target. Aside from grenade launchers with AoE damage, most every projectile weapon is inconsistent to an egregious degree.

This sorely lacking gunplay does not bode well, then, with the multiple lategame missions that suddenly become entirely gun-centric. Babyface takes on a tactical SWAT team at one point, and is forced to use their own weapons against them. That doesn’t really go well when their weapons simply don’t hit half the time. This is to say nothing of other gimmick levels, like the boat and motorcycle chases, which are nigh unbearable without the former’s boat-hopping exploit. The switch to gimmicks for the sake of variety is noticeable, and does Midnight Fight Express no favours.

A motorcycle chase sequence with bikes, cars, guns, and explosions.
If only the plot moved this fast.

Should you manage to get through all that, there are then boss fights which await you. As a fan of big boss fights, I had high hopes for these ones. Those hopes were promptly dashed. Every boss encounter does the classic cheap trick of throwing more regular henchmen at you for “extra difficulty.” These peons end up being worthless as enemies, yet just annoying enough to get in your way so the boss can get a hit in. What’s most upsetting is how in some boss fights, such as the Scorpion Queen, these regular enemies will sometimes pop out of nowhere. On more than one occasion, I had a sister with a shotgun appear from the shadows AFTER I’d killed the boss. With a sudden pump to the cranium, I was killed and forced to do the entire boss fight all over again.

Killing the boss should always end the encounter.

Midnight Fight Express protagonist Babyface running across a rooftop.
Goin’ nowhere in particular.

Ultimately, Midnight Fight Express is a brawler fundamentally built around encounters, yet clueless as to how to properly build those encounters. The gameplay becomes bland, boss fights become dull cat-and-mouse tapfests, and the story for which we are made to stay for so long goes nowhere interesting. A respectable effort, but some trains should wait a bit before leaving the station.

Sarim reviewed Midnight Fight Express on PlayStation 5 with a review code. Midnight Fight Express is also available on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Nintendo Switch.

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