Your father, a boxer, was murdered by a mysterious figure when you were young. Naturally, in order to discover the killer’s identity, you must become a fighter yourself. You have an old manager named Mick, a love interest named Adrian, a best friend who is also a fighter, a nemesis who is a large, angry Russian…stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Okay, okay so the story of Punch Club has a blatant yet charming style that references dozens of things, not just including Rocky but also Fight Club, The Godfather, Pulp Fiction, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and plenty more. The real question comes down to if the gameplay itself can stand apart like the game’s unique style does.
When you get right down to it, Punch Club is basically a boxing manager RPG/simulator played in a style like The Sims. You must train up your boxer’s abilities and upgrade skills while also paying attention to needs like hunger, energy and fun. You have to weigh your time and money just as carefully to make sure you have enough to afford food and trips to the gym but also enough time to dedicate to working out. It’s a tried and true system that works well here.
When you do actually step into the ring you might be surprised to learn that you don’t actually control the fighting in Punch Club. Instead you deck out your character in attacks, dodges and abilities and watch him go toe to toe against your foe. In between rounds you can change your strategy but usually you’ll be able to tell up front, based on stats, who will win. Win or lose you’ll get skill points to unlock new abilities.
The game makes it pretty clear up front that you need to plan out how you want to build your boxer. There are three training areas: strength, agility and stamina. In order to succeed you’ll need to focus on one main attribute and train the other two as complimentary. Unfortunately the game is biased towards agility builds, although a couple patches have tried to address this by buffing strength/stamina or nerfing agility. It got to the point where I was considering ditching stamina for agility but by the time I thought about it, it would have taken hours upon hours to gain enough experience to change.
There are two distinct paths in the game: professional or underground. Both include boxing and kickboxing but leave out MMA stuff like ground attacks and submissions. Professional will have matches scheduled in advance with time to train up to be at your best by fight day. As you win you will earn points and climb up the ranks. Choosing underground has you fighting illegally. Fights happen more often but come with risk of personal injury and tougher situations, like fighting two enemies back to back. In the beginning there isn’t a problem with going into both paths – in fact it can be quite beneficial because you’ll get more experience and money this way. Eventually the game will make you choose a path and stick with it, resulting in unique story moments that vary drastically.
The real disappointment of Punch Club comes after this pivotal point in the story. It’s at this point where much of the management aspects like money and needs become minimized, with instead the focus moving to training and building up your fame. You’re given what amounts to unlimited food and money and a fully decked out training room. Basically your routine changes to train, eat, sleep, train, eat, sleep, etc. Also throw in some movies, ad shoots and parties to help raise fame. This cycle is quite boring and becomes a major grind.
This is made worse by how the game treats training in-game. You work out on various pieces of equipment, raising your stats. However at the end of each day your stats regress based on how high they are. In other words the higher the particular stat, the more it drops. It got the point for me with my stamina build where I wasn’t able to defeat my next opponent with my current stats but with spending nearly all day raising stamina I would barely make any headway compared to how much I lost at the end of the day. In other words, I can see a path where I might raise my stamina a couple of points but doing so would likely take weeks and weeks in-game of doing nothing but grinding.
This was the point where I unfortunately had to quit Punch Club. The saddest part about that statement is that up until the home stretch I was quite enjoying my time with it, having just completed a great sequence involving training in Russia, fighting an actual bear and defeating someone who looks suspiciously like Zangief. With some minor tweaks I can easily see how much fun Punch Club could be. Who knows, maybe if I had simply focused on agility I would never even had these issues to begin with. Either way I can still say I enjoyed the game. I’m a sucker for movie references and the time management/training simulator starts out fun and compelling, but my final enjoyment will always be ultimately tinged with an unfortunate end game loop that provides little fun.
SCORE: 6.0 out of 10
A code for Punch Club was provided to Pixel Related for review.