It was initially the pixel art of Graveyard Keeper that convinced me to give that game a try. It was the gameplay that kept me playing, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. So, when a new game was released by Lazy Bear Games featuring the same high quality pixel art and similar gameplay, I wasn’t going to turn it down. Can Punch Club 2: Fast Forward live up to surprising expectations?
Punch Club 2 is a direct sequel to the first game, Punch Club. Don’t worry if you missed that though, you are quickly caught up on the action in humorous fashion. And, if you are familiar with any Lazy Bear Games titles, you’ll know that humour is a bit part of them. And it usually hits the spot.
At its heart, Punch Club 2 is a management sim. There are experience bars aplenty to fill, various currencies and activities galore that all need your attention. First of all though, you need to venture outside for the very first time.
You play as a young man who, for twenty years, has lived in your garage, being overly protected by your mother. Your father disappeared long ago, but there are people out there who may know about him. But in order to find them and talk to them, you need Good Person Points, or GPP for short. This is similar to the rating system in the Nosedive episode of Black Mirror, or the real-life Social Credit System in China, but the primary way to increase your GPP is through fighting, weirdly. Beat the crap out of people and it increases your GPP. It doesn’t make much sense, but many things in Punch Club 2 are questionable; this is a cyberpunk dystopian future where asking questions usually lands you in trouble.
It would be foolish to think you can easily step into the ring and button mash your way to victory. Punch Club 2: Fast Forward doesn’t work like that at all. Your primary stats to increase are strength, stamina and agility. These should be fairly self-explanatory what they do in context to fighting, but it is up to you to put the time in to increase these. Your garage starts off with a treadmill to run on, but as you progress you can buy more equipment and locations to increase the stats further.
There are also the gyms where most of your fights take place. Here you can see rankings of your competitors and gauge where you are in comparison. At the first gym, it doesn’t matter too much if you don’t want to enrol in the next fight, but later gyms can punish you by reducing your GPP. And if you do enrol, the fight doesn’t take place straight away, giving you a chance to prepare fully for it. Something you will need to do.
Punch Club 2 has various different fighting disciplines and moves for you to unlock. The fighting schools seem less important unless you are selecting moves unique to a specific one. Each individual move has a school and you are able to mix and match; choosing more moves from the same school allows you access to some minor perks.
Choosing the right moves and blocks could be a lot better explained. Punch Club 2: Fast Forward doesn’t hold your hand from the very beginning, so it is down to you to work things out. Still, the description for each move is anything but helpful. Each pop-up has a calculation at the bottom that I assume is meant to tell you the stamina cost of a move, but it isn’t explained and doesn’t make much sense. And I got an A in GCSE Maths, I’ll have you know.
Crucially, even the fighting is heavily reliant on management. You are passive in the fights themselves, only able to influence them in-between rounds when you choose your moves for that round. It is quite reactive too in the sense you really need to read into your opponent’s plan for that round before making your own choices. You may be able to brute force your way through the first few fights, but this tactic will quickly see you being caught short.
As well as all this, you need to maintain health, hunger and energy. The first and last of these play a major role in the fights themselves, the middle one being just another parameter to control. And, fights can happen at any time too, not just in the gyms, so keeping these as high as possible is advisable.
This may sound like fights are all over the place, but you still have plenty of time in between bouts to progress the story. Similar to Graveyard Keeper, there is a diverse cast of NPCs with plenty of tasks to keep you busy. Their conversations are full of references to various forms of media. Within the first fifteen minutes I had seen references to Blade Runner, Demolition Man and Jay and Silent Bob, and there are tons more.
A few of these NPCs will offer you jobs, but here is where Punch Club 2: Fast Forward lets itself down. These ‘jobs’ just involve you watching bars fill up for quite a long time. After an amount of time, you can ask for a promotion to earn a bit of extra money and some loyalty points to the various groups, but until you reach the highest promotion, these moments are frustratingly tedious. Unfortunately, if you want to proceed through the in-game chapters, these highest tiers need to be reached.
Sadly, this bar watching is an issue throughout Punch Club 2: Fast Forward. From working jobs to improving your stats and even an element of the fights themselves (though in this instance you are watching bars deplete), everything involves experience bars. Unlike Graveyard Keeper’s loot heavy collectathon, this incessant bar watching doesn’t make Punch Club 2 anywhere near as engaging.
Thankfully, the story and everything else is just about good enough to keep you going. There are upwards of twenty hours of game time in Punch Club 2: Fast Forward, depending on how eager you are to rise through the fighting ranks. Just don’t expect to be pressing buttons all that often.