๐ŸฅŠ Review: Punch Club "Comes out swinging but struggles in the last rounds" ๐ŸฅŠ #IndieGame #GameDev

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Game Title: Punch Club
Developer: Lazy Bear Games
Platform Reviewed: Nintendo Switch
Rating: Melting
As I played Punch Club, the game that came to mind was World Championship Boxing Manager, a personal classic that I loved back on the Amiga 500.
Whilst the games differ in many ways, the essentials of building skills up to rise through the rankings remain the same and it’s a genre that is quite thin on the ground, more so with an injection of humour.  
After a strong start and an interesting setup, Punch Club stumbles more and more the longer it is played and eventually the heavy grinding and micro-managing wore me down.
"John only went to the supermarket for 15 lemons, he didn't bank on having to fight for them, so he hid behind the gumball machine"
The story that acts as the framework for Punch Club is that the (nameable) protagonist sees his dad (a fighter) get shot down in the street by a mysterious man with a glowing red eye. After being taken in by a police officer, our hero grows into an adult who is determined to find his father’s killer and also plans to carry on his legacy of being a great fighter, thus begins the game in earnest.
The tutorial at the start of the game is cleverly built-in to give you an idea of how the game works. You have three statistics that can be worked on and levelled up:
Strength – This controls how hard you hit and which power moves are unlockable.
Agility – This controls your attack accuracy and the more nimble moves
Stamina – This dictates how many attacks you can make/sustain before tiring out in the ring
Alongside these stats which can be built up in your home gym (initially just a rug on the floor of your garage) or the town gym (ten dollars entry each time…) are the other gauges that can alter depending on how you spend your time (each day is split up into twelve hours) you have:
Health – Naturally this is affected by fighting and also injuries sustained
Hunger – You need to keep a stocked fridge if you want to work out!
Mood – earning cash at day jobs and losing fights can seriously inhibit how hard you train
Energy – Separate to stamina, this is more a ‘tiredness’ gauge outside the ring.
"Ken's MMA Career meant that he had to change his name to Rio, his first fight was against a mug called New Test..."
One thing I noticed is the difference between the superficial aspects of the game and what goes on behind the scenes. For example, the writing of the dialogue is pretty basic and minimal, it’s a very simplistic aspect of the game and most characters exist purely to serve a purpose. Combine this with the numerous 80s / 90s pop culture references in the game, Jay & Silent Bob, TMNT, Fight Club etc. along with the light-hearted visuals and bouncy chiptune score and it’s completely at odds with the clearly extremely in-depth stat-degradation system that works throughout Punch Club.
To explain this as best I can, I’ll explain a couple of days in the game:
You wake up on your couch and decide to work out in your garage, after a while you get hungry so you eat the last of your frozen pizzas. Cash is low, so you waste precious time walking to your job at a construction site, you can’t afford the $4 bus fare. Whilst there you earn $50 but you are tired so you spent money on an energy drink to get through the rookie league fight that you have today, which you win! After the fight, you spend some time with your girlfriend to end the day…but that training in your garage in the morning didn’t amount to much and your stats are lower than they were yesterday. You need to hit the gym…but you are injured from a prize fight a couple of days previously…is it worth spending the ten dollars in the gym if you’re hurt? Hmmm…maybe sparring would help to earn some tokens to unlock new moves…but you are running low on cash again…
"Mick decided to build himself a statue in honour of himself right opposite his house-office"
It all seems quite dynamic and it is, at first.
The way in which the fighting in Punch Club works is that you earn tokens to unlock new moves and fighting styles which you can set as the move-set in fights. You start off with a standard punch and kick but soon earn enough points to unlock uppercuts, dodges and many more (the list is VERY expansive) the genius here is the ability to switch these around mid-fight in the round breaks. If you notice that your opponent is a heavy hitter but tends to wear himself out, add a load of blocks and dodges but also a low kick that also reduces his stamina to ensure a more likely win, it really is in-depth and satisfying to win the fights in the game.
The issue is that the micro-management of stats and time gets really full-on the deeper into the game you go and it can be a real grind to raise your stats even a single level after a few hours and everything starts to fall into a repetitive rhythm which takes the fun out of the proceedings, somewhat. The film references and little breaks in training and fighting don’t feel enough of a reward over the monotonous nature of the later game and the sheer grinding involved.
The longer you play, the more the game opens up but does a love interest or prize fighting or the threadbare story hold enough variation to keep the balance as you juggle your stats for weeks on end?
It didn’t for me and in the end, I got tired and started a new game on the ‘suuuper easy’ setting in which the developers warn you multiple times that the game will be unbalanced and too easy due to the fact that every algorithm in the game is designed for stat degradation. Admittedly the game became very, very easy as I trained daily and didn’t lose stats overnight as you do in the normal mode, but you know what? It also became fun again and I can safely say that without this easy mode, I would have put the game down after my original 4/5 hours.
"One day George would figure it how to use that magic carpet"
Punch Club is a fun game and I thoroughly enjoyed the first few hours and the easy mode is enough to get me working through on a pretty breezy level to see how everything ends, this is definitely a game for people who like stats and grinding.
Whilst I was playing, the repetitive nature of the game and the general design gave me the feeling that it would be more suited for a ‘dip in and out’ on a mobile device. The game is controlled entirely by two buttons as it is all choice based and there’s no reason that the game couldn’t be touch-screen.
Punch Club is a fun game for a while, but if grinding and repetition aren’t your things, the energising music, satisfying managerial bouts, unlockables and cheery tone of the game will only get you so far before you get tired of the gameplay and put it down.
Right, I’m off to have a fight in a car park.
Ratings Explained
ICE COOL (Great Game Recommended)
MELTING (Recommended with reservations, one to consider if you are a fan of the genre)
MELTED (Not A Recommended Purchase)

Review By Britt

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