The first rule of Punch Club, you don’t talk about Punch Club. I had toyed with the idea of this review just being that first sentence and a score, but I guess that wouldn’t be proper or whatever. This sporting management sim is developed by Lazy Bear Games and published by rapidly growing publisher, tinyBuild. Since the Hello Switch digital event in which the game was announced for the Switch I have been eagerly anticipating this different approach into the sim genre. Does it have that hook or is it punching just a bit above its weight?
In the opening scenes we are introduced to a tragedy that has befallen our playable character, the boxer with no name. His father, the very man who trained him up, was victim to a murder and much like Batman, our protagonist uses this as his driving force going forward. It’s something certainly seen before but just in a different way with a unique context.
When you take control of the fighter you do so knowing you have to care and look after him, take him on walks, keep him exercised, well-fed, ensure he gets enough sleep, that sort of thing. All jokes aside though, you in fact do all of that and a bit more. It was surprising to me just how much depth was present, fighting is the core, but to fight and win, you need to exercise. To be able to access the gym and exercise, you need money, which you can earn by doing some odd jobs like construction or delivering pizza. To even be able to work your character needs enough energy which can be charged through sleep, plus you need to eat enough to prevent hunger, if your tired and/or hungry you cannot exercise or work. There is a cycle that has multiple requirement gates to access certain points of the chain. It’s quite incredible how thought out the entire system has been put together.
It then came as a bit of shock that with all this depth, the fights are shallow in comparison. There is a set number of rounds, and between each round you get to set which active skills you want to use in that round, be it a punch, kick, block, dodge etc. Once the round begins it’s just completely automated and does its thing without any further input until rounds end. This is unfortunate because everything else keeps your attention with things to do and when it comes to the core main reason to play it’s almost boring.
Don’t worry there is redemption in the story and how it unfolds. There are multiple paths dependent on whether you go for the minor league boxing championship or finish the underground fight club, and without going into spoiler territory what happens after whichever path is specific to said path. But these then join back together for what feels like the third act in a completely smart and thoughtful way that leads to a damn great finale in terms of storytelling.
From beginning to end, prepare for a long journey ahead, it can be a bit of grind to improve your skills to the point you are competent enough to start winning more fights than you lose. When you begin this win streak the game picks up but you still have to look after your stats which can decay if you aren’t regularly exercising. But you aren’t always in the place to do some gym work if running low on food, money or energy, so there is what feels like a lot of padding just from mechanic design.
Wow, what a great looking game, the pixel art style is the perfect match with the tone and genre. Thanks to the fine detail and bright, varied colour palette you get this timeless look which yes, reminds me of the SNES days whilst also having this polish that makes it feel current gen. The animation is well executed and delivers life into each scene. The music is catchy, upbeat and genuinely memorable. It got me pumped and at times I felt was the reason I kept going through the grind, it egged me on.
Something I definitely got from playing was that the developers love entertainment and above all care about it. This can be seen from the numerous easter eggs you can encounter, none of which I am prepared to spoil, they come from not only gaming but films too.
Punch Club is a quirky sim game that brings a compelling story and mixes it up with a fun gameplay loop. The auto-fights I can accept when taking into account the level of depth everywhere else. The visuals and sound combine to create this retro-like atmosphere that is right at home in 2018. If you can deal with the grind, absolutely join up to the club that you shouldn’t be talking about, just go tell your friends about it.
OVERALL: 7.9/10 – GOOD
Reviewed by Rhys Baldwin.
(Disclaimer: CONQUEST received a review copy of Punch Club, however this does not in any way affect the scoring of a game or our thoughts on the game itself. We believe in total honesty and being transparent with you.)