Any RPG with quirky characters or a humorous, modern setting will inevitably be compared to Earthbound at some point. For Knuckle Sandwich, that point is now. It has the rubbery-sounding tunes, the funky battle backgrounds, and the NPCs who reveal their lives with comically charming non-sequiturs. During the demo, I spoke with a sassy job counselor/game show host, a pair of gentle picnickers, a gym rat, and a dog. With the surface elements of comparison out of the way, it's safe to say Knuckle Sandwich is no trained ape; based on the demo I played it has its own goals and identity.
Knuckle Sandwich's humor feels grounded in the late-teen/early-20's aimlessness and malaise. For example, the game's purple-skinned MC/narrator asks for the protagonist's name during character creation, only to forget it because it's probably not important. Terrible jobs and self-deprecating jokes about video games are not unknown. At the job center, many NPCs are represented by colorful, smiley lumps. The more caricaturish main characters stick out from these undifferentiated masses, filled with extra shares of agency and the neuroses to go with them.
Mechanically, Knuckle Sandwich sticks out with its minigames. My demo began at a job center, where the red-nosed protagonist spun a rigged wheel to determine his job aptitude. Each challenge, except for video game journalist, had a minigame: the dancing challenge was a match-the-arrows rhythm game; the space cleaner piloted a tiny spaceship in a vertical shoot ‘em up against a disembodied screaming face; and the exterminator caught a bunch of insects in a net before getting into a tussle with some bees. The battle against the bees was the only example of the core combat system. It was a standard turn-based combat with funny descriptions, but the preview video suggests mid-battle minigames are in the works.
It's difficult to tell where Knuckle Sandwich will go based on the demo, but it's poised to be an unexpected, silly ride. Its website complicates this silliness with mention of a dangerous cult, mystery, and plenty of ways to intrude in the lives of side characters. Bizarre grab bags like this are always welcome on the PC, even when their release dates exist in the nebulous future.