‘Punch Club’ Review

Platform PC   Genre Simulation

Developer Lazy Bear Games   Publisher tinyBuild Games

Simulation games often have a very limited scope of activities or basic structure for improving your character’s statistics, but Punch Club takes this notion and tosses it out the window. For a simulation title, particularly one created by an indie developer, there is a fairly intricate system in place for winning fights, even if you have increased statistics. It results in a steep learning curve which may leave some frustrated and angry, but will undoubtedly please those in search of a deeper experience than the typical “perform x action and receive an increase in y statistic for automatic victory.”

The basic premise of Punch Club is a fighter attempting to become the best at what he does to learn about his father’s death. Fight clubs have rankings, the protagonist wants to stand atop those rankings in order to solve the mystery, and if he happens to make friends or find love along the way, so be it. There really isn’t much more to the plot than that, but the number of optional side quests and fighting styles makes the game more complex and intriguing than the concept initially seems. The traditional stat bars representing energy, happiness, hunger, and health are present and accounted for, in addition to three additional meters displaying the player’s strength, accuracy, and agility. The learning curve found within Punch Club stems from these last three meters as they deplete slightly at the end of every day. There are perks you can unlock which will help prevent the stats from decreasing beyond a certain point, but this mechanic forces you to focus on one or two strengths and use fighting techniques which fit that style. This is not the type of game in which you can simply try to unlock everything and become a god-like character, you must actively pursue a fighting style and strategically choose your abilities prior to and during each fight.

There are a certain number of available slots for abilities or moves during fights, and this number increases as you progress further down the skill tree. Each move will have a basis in offense or defense, and requires various levels of certain statistics. If, for example, your character does not have very high agility, trying to perform more acrobatic moves such as high kicks will drain significant amounts of energy and likely be too slow to hit your opponent. However, if you have a much higher strength skill, moves such as uppercuts can be devastating to land. While the game does its best to explain how these moves calculate damage and energy consumption, they are expressed through pictures and not exactly the clearest representation. The brief description each move is given is far more useful, generally explaining if it takes up large amounts of energy or should only be used by individuals with specializations in a certain statistic. Due to the unclear picture breakdown of moves, there will likely be many lost fights as you attempt to figure out which moves work best with your fighting style.

In addition to the personal statistics, money is also something you are forced to take into consideration. Obviously gym memberships and food aren’t free, so you have to work from time to time in order to save up. If you choose, you may also purchase workout equipment for your home in the hopes of saving money on gym fees over time. Once again, we find a balancing act within the game, but there is also a risk involved with having money. While navigating the city, you have the choice of reaching a destination by foot (which requires time out of the day) or bus (which costs money based on the distance traveled). Obviously paying to reach every and any destination gets costly very quickly, but if you walk through the streets while carrying more than $100, there is a chance that you will get stopped by street thugs looking to take your money. This results in a fight taking place in the street if you aren’t fast enough to run away, and upon losing, you forfeit half of the cash you had on-hand. Considering there is no way to deposit money to keep it safe, this can be incredibly frustrating as you attempt to save up for gym equipment. Working slowly decreases your energy, happiness, and nourishment levels, forcing you to leave and visit your house at least once as you work towards purchasing equipment, so having to pay for a bus to get everywhere simply in the name of not being mugged is incredibly irritating in the early stages.

The additional side quests or tasks mentioned earlier may range from underground fights to courting a friend’s sister, or even taking part in some Fight Club-esque moments with an individual who bears a striking resemblance to Tyler Durden. These optional activities help break up the monotony of training and fighting, particularly if you are waiting for an injury to heal. Their inclusion adds some extra charm, considering some of them have no relation to fighting whatsoever, although any time away from training and fighting means you likely have to spend that much more time training to regain any losses you suffered in various statistics. It’s this constant loss of strength, agility, and accuracy which can make Punch Club a chore more than anything. While trying to progress in fight clubs as well as the game itself, there is a lot of grinding that takes place, moreso than in typical simulation titles simply because of the stat loss experienced on a daily basis.

The fights themselves require no player input until the end of each round. Depending on the setting of the fight, there will be a different number of timed rounds, at which point each fighter regains a paltry amount of energy and can modify or swap their selected moves. Unfortunately, until you’ve spent a significant amount of time grinding and fighting, you don’t have much in the way of options. This causes the fight to be a spectator event more than anything, as you watch your fighter get his face pummeled repeatedly, get knocked to the ground and receive extra damage, or perhaps he finds himself on the giving end of those scenarios and you win the fight. Having no direct input within the fights is infuriating, as even bouts in which the two combatants have equal or similar stats, the AI will likely have abilities you do not possess, and will mop the floor with you until you’ve spent even more time grinding to unlock more skills.

Punch Club is a title which will leave gamers furious or immensely satisfied depending on how they feel about grinding statistics endlessly. The side quests and optional activities will provide enough amusement for those not big on grinding for a while, but eventually everyone must face the task of fighting their way up the rankings and training for in-game days on end as they watch their stats decrease every night. Forcing the player to choose a specific fighting path adds strategy to a genre which does not usually require much, although it is this very mechanic which results in the constant grinding. With how depressing this process can be, finally overcoming everything creates a phenomenal rush of satisfaction, but whether or not the player has the patience or dedication to reach this point is entirely dependent on how they play games. Punch Club is a solid fighting simulation title that those looking for a challenge within the genre will enjoy, but gamers who do not enjoy grinding as a core gameplay mechanic will probably grow bored or irritated with it after several hours.

The Good

  • Players being forced to adopt certain fight styles prevents mindless statistic increasing
  • Side quests and activities offer refuge from grinding
  • Charming pop culture references

The Bad

  • Steep learning curve due to unclear move statistics
  • Requires great deal of grinding in order to be successful
  • Game occasionally freezes up on the overworld screen

The Score: 7.5