Your father was murdered twenty years ago by a stranger and you want revenge. You are struggling to make ends meet, and balancing your time between work, training and your love life is tough. Your dream is to annihilate any guy that dares to step up to you in the ring. Well, if you can even afford to get into the ring, that is…
Punch Club, from developer Lazy Bear Games is a sim/tycoon game brimming with 80s and 90s pop culture and style. With its ridiculously attractive pixel art and chirpy 8-bit sound, it is sure to tickle your nostalgic taste buds and leave you laughing (and maybe even cringing a little) at its cheesy game and movie references. It is these small yet frequent jokes that make Punch Club enjoyable. But do not let this fool you. This game takes serious time and dedication. Despite the fact that it is dripping in all that retro glitter that we so love, Punch Club soon becomes pretty tedious.
With every fight that you lose, and believe me, you’ll lose more than your fair few, the game loses a little more of its appeal. What makes the game true to its genre is both its superpower and its Kryptonite. As the protagonist, your character will depend on you to manage every aspect of his life, from buying groceries, to focusing his efforts in the gym. Lazy Bear Games has gone even further, too, detailing your decisions by giving you the option to decide what kind of food you want your character to consume, or which ability you would like him to concentrate on next. This level of depth provides you with plenty of choices and encourages you to explore all of them. However, I found that after a while, these decisions became less important to me. I soon found the optimum choices and conditioned myself into a grinding routine; sure, it was efficient but it was not exactly fun. What lifts Punch Club from this somewhat monotonous practice is its unpredictable and seemingly limitless storyline, even if it has been borrowed from elsewhere.
One minute, you are in Casey’s pizza parlour and the next, you are in a sewer, sizing up a Teenage Mutant Ninja Alligator. Yes, alligator. Punch Club‘s mashup of pop culture therefore allows its story to transcend any linear boundaries. Despite the fact that many of these twists and turns were incredibly familiar, I still felt surprised and actually, rather refreshed by the path that I was following. Even if your day-to-day activities feel boring, the story certainly does not. Yet to say that the main theme in the story (that fighting and becoming the next Rocky dream) fell short of my expectations is a bit of an understatement.
So after scraping enough money together to go to the gym, I started to work on my character’s strength. In the gym, working out with different equipment will help your character to build different stats: his strength, agility and stamina. These will increase as you train and will appear as little bubbles that fill up the bars at the top of the screen. Train too much and you will affect your character’s health, food, mood and energy bars, causing him to grow tired and hungry more often. Train too little and your stats will deplete. In fact, your strength, agility and stamina will deplete every day no matter what so, unless you are keeping up a grueling workout regime, you should probably just save up the skill points that you earn by fighting and buy the skill that keeps your stats from dropping too low. Then again, you will earn between four and nine skill points per fight to begin with and as you unlock more skills, they will become more expensive. So if you want better moves to choose from in fights, you will want to save up your skill points and buy these instead. These are tricky decisions and due to how costly new skills are at the beginning of the game, this can be quite time consuming. For this reason, one may assume that the fights in Punch Club enable you to calculate every dodge, punch and kick that your character makes. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
At the beginning of each fight and between rounds, you will be able to choose your fighter’s skills, deciding which tactic you would prefer to use, whether it is a fast-paced, agile tiger or a heavy-hitting bear. However, when the round begins you can only sit back and watch your character’s AI call all the shots. Upon realising that all combat was pretty much out of my hands, I got a little frustrated. You have the option to sign up for fights in the Rookie League and the Ultimate League (Fight Club) every two days so you will observe many fights whilst having, arguably, very limited impact on their outcome. What is even more frustrating is that Punch Club has a reasonably high degree of RNG (Random Numbers Generation), meaning that even when it seems that your fighter has the advantage, he can still fail miserably. Nonetheless, you could also argue that on the few occasions that you beat a fighter that is far more skilled than yours, this does provide a small helping of satisfaction.
Overall, I found that playing Punch Club left me with a strange mix of emotions. On the one hand, I felt determined to overcome the obstacles that lay before my character, and I was intrigued by the main plot. Yet on the other hand, I soon felt disengaged and no longer wanted to chip away at it. I cannot help but feel that the game has a lot of potential to be more engaging, particularly during the fighting scenes. If this could be developed further it would drastically improve the game, as a whole. I did not get the chance to play the mobile version of the game however, I feel that maybe that platform would be better suited for Punch Club. I do not believe that there is enough to keep players occupied on the PC, but I think dipping in and out of it regularly on your phone would provide you with a much better experience.
Hours Played: Nine