Looking at Punch Club, it’d be easy to think that it’s a beat ‘em up that’s come straight from the 90s. I mean, everything is there – the over-the-top fights, the 16-bit visuals, and the quirky personality.
A closer examination will reveal that it’s something completely different though, with the game instead more of a time-management-fighting sim than anything else. Is this a good thing? It can be, though it is guilty of feeling too much like a grind as you guide your fighter through his pop-culture fuelled adventure.
Punch Club puts you in the shoes of a fighter who not only wants to become the best in the world, but also find out who murdered his father when he was younger. This isn’t an easy task though and requires both dedication and the patience to manage almost every aspect of your life. Of course, there are only limited hours in a day, so you’ve got to balance out earning money, training to fight, and keeping yourself happy during your quest for revenge.
To become a better fighter, you need to keep upgrading your core stats,which are strength, stamina, and agility. As you improve and expand upon them through training, you’ll open up a skill tree that’ll allow you to unlock extra moves and abilities. It almost takes an RPG-like approach in a way, with the player dictating which stat most of the work goes into.
However, Punch Club is fairly brutal as far as stat degradation is concerned, and you’ll slowly see all three offensive statsdwindle awayif you progress through days without working at them. Because of this, it’s often best to focus on one particular stat and base your character around it – do you go for all out assaults with strength, try lasting the rounds with stamina, or simply try to out-manoeuvre your foe with agility? Trying to balance all of them out is a tricky (and unenjoyable) task, so simply dedicating yourself to one stat is the way to go.
As far as fighting itself is concerned, you simply equip your fighter with moves and they battle it out themselves. You’re left watching rounds play out and hoping that they go your way, though that doesn’t mean there isn’t a strategic element involved –between rounds you can change up their move set as a means to preserve energy, defend themselves, or even hit an assault as a means to end a fight quickly.
In theory it’s a neat idea, but in practice can be a bit hit and miss.There were plenty of occasions where a fight could’ve ended in victory if I’d been able to choose my moves, but instead I’d watch my fighter wasting time without throwing any punches. It’s more than a little frustrating to see a foe cling onto life all because your fighter doesn’t use the appropriate move that you’ve equipped them with, whilst watching a fighter throw punches instead of preserving energy other times is also a bit of a pain. It just doesn’t always work.
It’s not just your fighting stats that you have to manage throughout the game, with your hunger, health, happiness and overall energy playing a big role too. They’re not only affected by your actions though, but the situations you find yourself in – for example, you can get a girlfriend in the game who’ll make you happier, but you’ll also find you won’t be able to train as much. You won’t be able train if low on hunger or health too, so you’ve got to make sure you’re well fed and healthy. How? By working in a job to buy food and medicine. Of course, your fighting stats will be dropping in the meantime, so you got to keep everything in check.
It’s all a bit of a juggling act as you’ve also got to keep an eye on the time and how much energy you have, though in honesty it can be quite satisfying to be on top of it all and seeing your system work – it’s certainly where the management side of Punch Club is at its finest. As you progress through the game though, you’ll slowly find yourself slipping into a repetitive routine that can end up feeling like more of a grind than anything else.
At least the quests you undertake add a bit more variety to the game, with each main and side quest giving you different objectives to complete and full of pop-culture references. It might be a case of wooing a girl who’s aptly named Adrian, fighting some Teenage Mutant Ninja Tur- I mean, ‘Crocodiles’, or even finding the game’s spin on Tyler Durden – you’ve got to give Punch Club the credit for wearing its creative inspirations like a badge of honour.
Punch Club’s simulation-like approach to its fighting adventure is an intriguing one and it can provide some entertainment, but it’s not long before it starts feeling like a grind. You’re often frustratingly depending on luck as far as the outcome of battles is concerned too, whilst the stat degradation is so fast that it’s hard to simply maintain your fighter’s skills. It can be a real pain.
That doesn’t mean that Punch Club is a bad game though, because at times it can be a really fun and charming experience – especially with all of its pop-culture references. Unfortunately though, there are too many annoyances scattered throughout the game for it to be considered a must-own Switch release: even if you ARE a die-hard fighting fan.
Developer: Lazy Bear Games
Publisher: tinyBuild Games
Release Date: Out Now
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo 3DS, PC, Mac