Developer: Grab Games
Publisher: Grab Games
Release Date: Out Now
Platform(s): PlayStation VR (Reviewed), Oculus Rift, HTC Vive

Since the launch of PlayStation VR, it seems to have been missing one vital title: a boxing game. With the motion controls offered by the Move controllers and the immersive nature of the headset itself, it seems like the perfect combination for a realistic, gut-busting boxing sim.

You won’t get that with Knockout League, the new release from Grab Games. Sure, it’s a boxing game, but it’s one that feels more like Nintendo’s Punch-Out series than it does an actual realistic boxing sim. You’ll still get to unload punches upon your foes, but it’s more like a puzzler in-which you figure out each opponent’s weakness as opposed to swiftly picking them off with shots.

Is that a bad thing? No way. I’ve had a hell of a lot of fun with Knockout League, and even after conquering all of its fighters it still keeps me coming back for more.

Knockout League

Fighting in the game is simple, with a Move controller assigned to each hand for punching. The controls are intuitive and work well, with natural movements allowing you to throw a jab, throw hooks, land uppercuts, and hit body shots with ease. You’ve got the freedom to punch an opponent wherever you want, and, given the puzzling the nature of the game, it’s important that you figure out the best way to throw each shot.

Your defensive work is just as important as your offensive though, so you’ll spend a lot of time dodging or blocking your opponent’s punches. It’s a natural set up that’s easy to figure out – you simply work out the direction that your opponent is going to punch in, and then move your body out of the way. Blocking is a bit more complicated though, as you’ve got to time it perfectly. If you hold a block for too long, the next shot you throw at your opponent will be ineffective. If you time it just right though, you can land a clean counter that’ll hit them for six. It’s a ‘risk versus reward’ kind of situation, though the game clearly indicates when your blocks will be effective.

Knockout League

You’ll come up against nine very different opponents in Knockout League, with each one having their own strengths and weaknesses that you’ll have to figure out if you’re going to stand any chance of knocking them out. As mentioned, the game plays less like a bona fide boxing title and more like a puzzler that’s similar to Nintendo’s Knock-Out series – you’ll still be throwing plenty of punches though, so who’s complaining?

The fighters are well varied both in their fighting style and their appearance, with some incredibly unusual characters thrown into the mix. You’ve got the likes of the pirate Scurvy Jones who uses a sword and hook rather than boxing gloves, the octopus Sir Octopunch who has an unfair advantage thanks to his eight tentacles, the fitness fanatic Barrage who unleashes… well… barrages of punches upon you, and even The Great Magician who uses magic to knock you out. The game is certainly full to the brim with personality and it’s a lot of fun working out how to best your eclectic opponents in the ring.

Knockout League

It’ll take a bit of work to figure every fighter out, and admittedly the learning curve did bring a few frustrations on the way – fights are drawn out, so getting knocked out by an unexpected combo of shots late on could be annoying. It doesn’t stop the game being fun though, whilst it never stops being satisfying to hit your foe with that final knockout blow either.

Outside of the main fights, you’ll also get to play around in some training mini-games which test all of your skills. You’ve got the likes of the Focus Mitts which see you sparring with an opponent and simply picking the right shots to throw, the Speed-Bag where you’ve got to unleash a flurry of punches as quickly as possible, and (my personal favourite) the Reflex Alley where you’ve got to hit a bunch of colour co-ordinated items that are launched your way with the right coloured glove.

Knockout League

Each of the mini-games are a lot of fun and have multiple difficulty options that offer different levels of challenge. I was surprised at how much time I actually spent with them – my first few hours with the game were mainly spent toying around with the Speed-Bag and Reflex Alley before I actually got stuck into the main game, but it just goes to show how fun they really are.

One thing that’s worth mentioning though is just how much of a workout you’ll get from the game. I remember the strain I felt after ploughing hours into Wii Sports when I first got my hands on Nintendo’s innovate console – well, those memories came flooding back after spending a few hours with Knockout League. The game gives a genuine workout, and with all the flailing of arms and ducking and dodging, you’re guaranteed to have a few aching muscles after a long time playing the game.

Knockout League

Knockout League is also very nice to look at, with the cartoony aesthetic looking really sharp and impressive in the PlayStation VR headset. It actually reminded me a lot of the classic (but utterly brilliant) title Ready 2 Rumble Boxing, with its emphasis on vibrant visuals and larger-than-life character designs. It all looks incredibly charming though and it perfectly suits Knockout League’s quirky premise.