I’ve always been a big fan of competitive fighting. Since i was young, I’ve made the weekly trip down to my local Karate studio in order to take up a sport that many see as nothing more than attacking thin air with the art of Wu-Shu. In more recent years the addition of the Sports TV package allows me to catch–up on the latest in physical sports all around the world. When it comes to games however, I’m not always as excited by everything on offer. Sure, there are some smashing games out there with Mortal Kombat X, UFC and Tekken amongst the many others, but some games can really question your love for the sport.
I say this because my first thoughts when Punch Club dropped in on my Xbox were cast back to the ultimate pasting I received when playing Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, back in my younger days on the NES. How I hoped that wasn’t about to happen again. Nevertheless, I dusted off the gloves and took my best shot.
So, what’s it all about? Revenge and glory sums it up pretty well.
After an opening cinematic in which your father is killed by an unknown assailant, you are met with the dying words of a father whose love for boxing is like no other. And with his dying words, he places great expectancy on you, the son, to take his place and become the greatest.
Following his wishes, you are placed into the thigh high gym shorts of an up and coming boxer. It’s up to you to make sure your training is kept up to scratch, your diet is balanced, and your income managed in order to pay for the equipment to train, and the food that you eat, with the end goal being to rise through the ranks of boxing and become the champion, hunting down the man who put an end to your father’s life.
This all sounds great, right? Sure, until you realise you won’t actually be taking part in any boxing whatsoever, and in actual fact you’ve now arrived at the latest game to bring you a taxing grind to the top. You see, Punch Club isn’t actually a game to test your fighting skills at all, it’s a management sim, and that’s where the real challenge of this game comes in. Fortunately, there’s plenty in place to keep you occupied along the way.
Whilst those who were looking for the next fighter to tide them over till Tekken and Injustice join us in a few months may well be a little miffed with Punch Club, those who aren’t dissuaded by the term management sim may well find one of the best experiences to arrive amongst the many indies in recent months. You see, Punch Club has some unmatched magic that is just waiting to be experienced.
Throughout the game, you have various things you need to do, various characters you’ll need to meet, various jobs you’ll need to complete to earn money, and various milestones to reach in order to gain progression through the story. This will all need to be worked into your daily schedule of training, resting, and eating, which takes up a surprising amount of your day.
There’s no obvious limit to how long it takes you to reach the top, but there are a couple of achievements tied to how long you take to become champion. If they aren’t something you’re bothered by though, then Punch Club is a relatively easy going experience that allows you to learn by your own mistakes. And you’ll make a lot of those.
In the early days of your career, you’ll find yourself training hard, learning how different foods affect you, and learning just how quickly your money can run out if you don’t attend enough of your work shifts. Alongside this though, you can apply to take part in the Rookie fighting league which can be accessed by the local Gym, and it’s from here the story really kicks off.
After losing, or winning, a few fights (which include kicking as well as punching), new characters are introduced, and it’s here that I really found Punch Club to be a complete gem. Unlike other games in which you’re plastered as the upcoming superstar and given the notion you will be the best regardless, Punch Club takes a bit of more serious approach. After all, you’re starting as nothing, with no name for yourself, no fights on your belt or friends to speak of. After things branch out and you gain access to new areas and new friends, training can easily slip your mind, and those not focusing on their day can find themselves on the bad end of a losing streak.
Fighting does still happen in the game, but as mentioned before, you don’t control it. Instead, the training you do goes towards three ratings – strength, stamina and agility. As you would expect, the higher your ratings, the better you will do in a fight, and if you’re higher than your opponent, and have the right moves for your abilities equipped, you can be pretty sure you’re onto a winner. However, it’s not as simple as raising all three ratings to become the best. A good fighter is someone with a clear strength in a certain area and this is something you find yourself being reminded of should you immediately go racing to get everything to the top. Each rating is improved by different actions, and different exercises, and it doesn’t take long to make a difference with those that focus on stamina and agility noticeably different to those that focus on pure power.
Training isn’t the only way to progress however, as making the most of the various characters you meet will go a long way to helping you. For example, when you progress enough, the guys in the sports store can offer equipment, which if bought, can be used at home allowing a saving on the cost of using the gym. Meanwhile, making friends with others can bring free sparring opportunities and various other things that can help cut expenses. Should you have lacked a little something extra in the fight before, others can offer a short training boost with steroids to improve your abilities for the next fight, and it will be up to you to make the best choices for your character.
This is exceptionally important given that almost everything you do in Punch Club costs money. Travel, food, equipment, if you need it, it’s probably going to cost, which will mean putting in several hours at the various jobs that are available throughout the story. Of course, without resting, tiredness can set in and jobs and training can’t be finished if you’re tired. But then, not working will mean no income and a lack of food, so those expecting an easy ride may want to think again.
One complaint I must make with the game, is that whilst it would be nice to take part in the fight myself, all the training required to be on top at all times feels like an extensive chore when mixed with the other goings onch in the story. With so much going on, it can take an awfully long time to progress should you wish to focus on everything at once – and that occasionally gives across the feeling that you are missing out with certain parts of the game. Whilst those that spend time hitting several playthroughs will certainly find no problem with this, those wanting to enjoy everything on offer straight away will struggle to keep up and it would have been nicer to have things spread out a little more. That said, Punch Club, despite offering a rather unexpected challenge, is certainly one that has many positives for those looking for the next management simulation experience.
Another nice touch to the experience is the addition of the countless movie references. With Terminator, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and various others thrown into the mix, Punch Club is brings to life what would usually feel like a rather serious game. The cleverly placed hints that are obvious enough for even the most casual movie watchers are something to enjoy.
I must also mention that, at present, some users are experiencing difficulty unlocking achievements. This obviously won’t affect your experience with Punch Club, and is something that the developers are aware of, so hopefully be something that will be fixed shortly.
Overall, Punch Club may not be the fighting experience we were expecting, but what’s missed on the fighting side is more than made up for by the exceptionally well worked management aspects of the game. It can take a while to get to grips with just how everything works, and just how you’re going to find time to fit everything into the day, but those that spend enough time will quickly find themselves enjoying one of the best management sims currently available.