Title: Punch Club
Platform:Windows, Android, iOS, Steam
Reviewed on: Windows
Genre: Simulation, Management
Players: Single player
Written by Dragoon 29th February 2016
Punch Club by Tiny Bear Games is a loving tribute to the 70’s action films that it is so heavily inspired by. Your job is to help manage and train a deadbeat kid whose father was murdered when he was just a child. He thirsts for vengeance and the only way he knows how to get it is by beating the hell out of everything and anything, including sewer crocodiles, all the while juggling his everyday life. Does Punch Club deliver a knockout blow or is it better to just throw in the towel?
The first thing you will notice about Punch Club is the art style, it’s fantastically crafted pixel art instantly grabs you and fills the game with life and energy. The characters are animated well with a great amount of detail put into how they react in the world. The backgrounds are all vibrant and detailed, creating a believable backdrop for the game and complementing the overarching theme. The soundtrack is also very well done and fits the era the game is trying to portray. While it might look and sound good it doesn’t matter if the gameplay itself doesn’t match and unfortunately this is the case.
The biggest issue with Punch Club is how grindy it is. Gameplay revolves around managing your young fighter by training up his fighting skills, split into three different categories which are Strength, Agility and Endurance. These can be increased by completing various tasks in the world but after each passing day your skills will deteriorate by a hefty amount. This wouldn’t be an issue if training was the only thing you had to do but you must also work to earn the money needed to feed your boxer which can take a whole day meaning a big drop in points. These drops can be lessened through skills which you can obtain using points from fights but these don’t come frequently enough and stop you from taking a different skill which would help more in fights.
The fights themselves are very hands off, at the start you choose a set of abilities and from there you watch as the two fighters square off and pray to the gods of random chance that your boxer will actually punch the other guy. The way fights play out is completely random so it can feel quite frustrating when you just can’t win a fight no matter what you try, in the end it’s mostly down to chance and your stats. How hard you hit is dictated by your strength stat but it’s no good hitting hard if you can’t actually hit anything which is where your Agility stat comes in. Finally how much health and energy you have, which is expended by every skill your fighter uses, is determined by your Stamina. Due to the daily stat drops it’s impossible to level all three of these so your best bet is to just focus on one style and try to keep it as high as possible. The game has been plagued with balance issues with some styles just being outright better but the developers have been trying to balance it out.
As mentioned earlier the game's story focuses on avenging your father’s death but how you go about this is up to you. There are multiple story paths to take which offer different styles of play, you can stick to the professional fighting path or strike out into the seedy underbelly of street fighting. Honestly the story is full of clichés but this to be expected considering the stories it is inspired by, it feels like it’s straight out of an old action movie, cheesy one liners and all. Punch Club references these iconic mediums very well, there are all kinds of subtle nods to classics like Pulp Fiction and Rocky which help build the world without feeling like they are out of place or used cheaply.
Despite its flaws Punch Club is a fantastic ode to the classics it borrows from while still being a challenging, if somewhat frustrating, experience. The design is brilliant and while the gameplay may be a tad repetitive it’s still satisfying and strangely addictive. You’ll share in your fighter’s victories and yell at him like a grizzled old trainer when he gets knocked down. You can really feel the developer's heart and soul in the game and this carries over to their fans, they are very active in the community and are always fixing issues whilst also adding new features and content. This is one club you’ll definitely want to join.
Good use of references,
It can be a grind,
Punishing stat drop system.
While it may not be a champion just yet, Punch Club is well on its way with a Heavyweight 8/10.