(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)
- The Game Itself
- 3 Stars
- The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
- 4 Stars
- The Audio: Rating the Sound
- 2.5 Stars
- Replay Factor
- 3.5 Stars
- Bottom Line
- Worth a Look
- Street Date:
- January 8th, 2016
- Reviewed by:
- Sophia Edwards
- Review Date:1
- March 16th, 2016
- Game Release Year:
- Lazy Bear Games
Digital PC Version reviewed.
'Punch Club' is a life sim that sees players working hard to raise a character from a deadbeat into the world's greatest fighter in pursuit of the man who killed his father. Along the way, players will train hard, find love, fight crocodiles, and, with the addition of a free expansion, 'The Dark Fist,' become a superhero and fight the monsters terrorizing the city.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
The idea of a 'Rocky' life sim is genuinely really novel and kind of great. We've had the occasional boxing game, but nothing that focuses on Rocky's life outside of the ring. 'Punch Club' might not be a faithful adaptation of that franchise, but it's a game that was clearly developed by people who love it dearly, and it works as a good natured parody. Even better, the developers have even added in free superhero-themed content that delivers some of the most charming content in the game. It's just a shame 'Punch Club' drops the ball in the gameplay department in a few ways.
The game revolves around players being tasked with raising up an impoverished man from practically nothing to becoming a world-famous boxer. This is done by finding a manager, constantly training, working a day job, keeping the main character well-fed and rested, and competing in title fights as often as possible. The basic loop of 'Punch Club' doesn't really deviate from this, and mostly involves performing the same activities each day once the player figures out a routine that best suits their playstyle. Every action taken in the game uses up time, so it's vital to find a routine that'll see players becoming the best fighters around as quickly as possible. You can work diligently and save up for your own home gym equipment, cutting the time and cost involved in heading to the game's actual gym and giving yourself more time to focus on exercise once you've saved up enough, or you can work the bare minimum needed to stay healthy and happy, becoming as strong as possible as quickly as possible. 'Punch Club' may not offer a huge variety of activities, but it gives more than enough freedom to change up each playthrough a fair bit.
When it comes to training for fights, the main character has three attributes that determine strength, speed, and accuracy. At the end of each day, some of the player's stats are lost in each category, making it impossible to level all of them equally without seriously gimping the odds of winning in fights. I focused on strength and speed, which worked well for me up to the point where I was suddenly missing just about everything and had to restart, instead choosing to focus on strength and accuracy. It's a shame that the game encourages players to pick which stats they'd prefer to level, but doesn't quite allow the degree of freedom in that regard that it initially appears to. Additionally, the loss of stats isn't a bad idea, but it absolutely could've been handled better than it has. Losing a chunk of every attribute every day feels too harsh, and I personally think it would've made more sense if attributes dropped only if they weren't trained frequently. I'd often spend an entire in-game day doing nothing but strength training, only to lose a huge chunk of the day's progress. You can eventually unlock perks that stop certain stats from falling beyond a certain point, but after a while, it felt like I needed to constantly train, any other side activities simply led to my stats falling faster than I could maintain them. Ultimately, I ended up grinding stats as much as I possibly could, which got boring quickly.
The fights themselves are interesting enough, though the game desperately needs a fast forward button for these segments. Fights are divided up into rounds, and at the start of each round, you're able to pick your character's fighting style and the moves in his repertoire. Winning fights gets you skill points that can be spent to unlock further perks and fighting techniques, so after a couple of fights, the game gives players enough points that they can fine tune their character to their specifications. Each move you pick in combat will have different effects and drawbacks that need to be taken into account. In early rounds, when the stamina meter is at its highest, I'd go all out with strength moves, but that drains stamina quickly, and it's wise to keep in weaker moves that can be performed using at less meter cost. Opposing fighters stats can be viewed before a fight starts, so planning for fights ultimately comes down to managing stats efficiently and setting up a list of moves that can best counteract them. When it works, it's extremely satisfying, and while a decent chunk of the fight is left up to luck, it never feels unfair. It's a shame that evenly matched fighters often take far too long to really deal any damage to their opponents, leaving you standing by and just watching them fight for far too long, but outside of that, the combat works nicely enough.
I wish that the game's writing was better. It's really just a parody/homage to 'Rocky', but the jokes themselves feel limp more than anything else, often just repeating something practically verbatim from whatever it's parodying. The free expansion the developers added, 'The Dark Fist' throws in a subplot that sees the character becoming a superhero and fighting monsters, adding a goofy charm to a game that desperately needed it. The main story often feels hollow (though it admittedly takes some absurd turns that I enjoyed well enough), but the superhero parody element works nicely. This expansion is also nicely integrated into the main plot, feeling like a natural addition to the game that only enhanced my time with it. Additionally, the expansion adds new features like Twitch integration allowing viewers to bet on fights and a hardcore mode that sees opponents level up when you do. While it doesn't fix the problems of the base game, it definitely goes a long way towards making this a far more charming game than it would be without it.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
The spritework is lovely, and gives each location in the game a huge amount of character. Where the jokes seen in the writing fall flat, the visual gags work extremely well. Things like Jay and Silent Bob hanging around outside of a convenience store or a bar that looks exactly like the one seen in 'Fight Club' are a nice touch, ensuring the game has plenty of personality.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The main theme of the game, an obvious 8-bit riff on the soundtrack in 'Rocky' is amusing at first, but when it becomes clear that the same song loops throughout almost all of game, it quickly became incredibly grating. There's not enough music here, and almost no audio outside of the music. While the music isn't bad, the audio desperately needs more variety.
The game offers a large amount of branching plotlines to check out, and a bunch of skill trees that can't be filled out on a first playthrough, so there's a lot of replay value here. 'The Dark Fist' also sees the addition of new modes that gives dedicated players reason to give this at least one or two more runs after the credits have rolled.
I didn't enjoy 'Punch Club' as much as I wanted to, mostly due to mechanical gripes that bugged me throughout my entire playthrough. Despite these issues, it's a charming little game that the developers have only improved with the addition of free content. While it makes a few missteps in some critical areas, for fans of life sims or boxing movies, this is definitely worth checking out.
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