For the uninitiated, Punch Club is a boxing tycoon management game that asks players to guide an up-and-coming fighter through the ranks of various tournaments. Tiny Build and Lazy Bear Games has also included the previously released DLC with the Xbox version of Punch Club, meaning there’s even more content available. No matter what part of the game you’re playing, it is important to keep in mind that Punch Club is actually a manager game, not a fighting game. This means players are in charge of when the protagonist eats, trains, works, sleeps, and fights. This distinction is important as the actual fighting plays out through various equipped skills, trained stats, and some luck. These fights will determine how our character will go about figuring out who murdered his father.
The mystery surrounding his father’s death is the main motivation driving our potential champion forward as the player dictates many aspects of his day to day life. After a short scene showing a small portion of our fighter’s childhood plays, we are shown that one of his father’s friends, Frank, takes him in. Several years later, after waking up on Frank’s couch, this same boy is told to look for a job so he can stop living off Frank’s goodwill. After training for a little while and lookingin the newspaper, our fighter finds a construction job he can take across town! This is where the tutorial really picks up and starts covering what to expect from the full experience. While this tutorial does a decent job covering most of the most basic mechanics, it fails miserably at explaining the importance of time management and some of the slightly more complicated systems that players will have to take advantage of to succeed.
While this tutorial covers how to get around the city, how to get ready for fights, and how to train your stats, it doesn’t shine a light on how working actually functions, how to keep getting skill points, or the ins-and-outs of the branching skill trees. Some other basic things players can expect to look out for includes buying food (and figuring out which is the most effective), deciding which type of fighter to build, trying to afford workout equipment for Frank’s house, and whether or not you will enter for next fight in the ongoing tournament. Of course, there are even more complicated things to keep in mind such as whether or not to abuse steroids, if you’ll participate in street fights or even the ultimate tournament think (illegal and bloody), how much time to spend with your friend Roy, or if you’ll fight crime (thanks to the built-in DLC). The entire time the player is juggling all these different things, there are still fights to be won. Players will set skills that their fighter will use once the fight starts and can change these skills between rounds. Other than that, the player doesn’t directly affect the fight in any way. In fact, the player has the most control over where the fighter goes and what actions he does there.
Despite looking like it was ripped straight out of a SNES, Punch Club’s world is actually fairly alive. The map starts with only a few locations but quickly fills with various areas to travel to that all have their own importance. Just a few of these locations include the gym, grocery store, cafe, bar, and even a biker hideout. Of course, these places would be pointless without anyone to interact with, to this end each of these places have unique NPC’s that can do things like sell you items, train you, give you a job, or just fight. To double down on their importance, some of these NPC’s even have sidequests that the player can choose to take on or ignore. Whether it’s checking in on a meat delivery, fighting behind a bar to test yourself, or punching an adolescent monster shinobi alligator, these distractions can quickly derail a tight schedule of eat->work->train->repeat. Luckily, these side activities are interesting and offer rewards that can help the rise to the top go a little faster.
While the game is interesting no matter what you choose to do, it can lead to one of my biggest gripes: there is simply too many things to keep track of. Now here me out, I understand that the game is a resource management game (main resource being time), but on my first playthrough, I had no idea what was important and what should be ignored. I also was unsure if I’d be kicked out of a tournament if I didn’t sign up for every fight in it and wound up getting beaten a lot while I tried to do everything all at once. This became much easier to handle once I figured some things out, but it still bothers me. My second biggest issue has to be how the fights use luck and random chance as much as they do. While this can net weaker players some wins earlier than they should actually get them, it also means that there are times when a fully ready player can still get beat by a weaker fighter occasionally. Other than those two issues, Punch Club just has various glitches that can really mess with the unsuspecting player. One of these glitches made it so I couldn’t interact with anything at all. This was fixed when I exited the game and reloaded it, but I was sure my save was done for at the time. If these could get patched out, this game would be far more welcoming.
To recap, Punch Club is a game where players manage a young fighter as he makes his way to the top, one way or another. Whether this means he trains hard and fights with pride or abuses steroids and beats people to near unconsciousness is unclear from the outset. This fighter’s motivations for fighting are cliché on purpose as the game references many iconic boxing and fighting icons from Rocky to the Ninja Turtles. Sporting gameplay that I’d describe as addictive (due to the cyclical nature of the time management), Punch Club also has the ability to hold the attention of anyone who is even slightly interested. This is compounded on with the world that forces the player to make choices that can shape the fighter’s path to the top. All in all, Punch Club is a very fun game that can keep you busy for hours if you can get past the various bugs and issues that are so in your face at every turn.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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