The things you own end up owning you. This quote is 100% true when it comes to Punch Club, as it clung to my attention for the week I spent reviewing it. Every day I came home from work I would hop on my Xbox and spend time managing my virtual fighter, training him, feeding him, and experiencing some of the best pop culture references around. Punch Club is a fighting simulation game that takes everything good about 80’s and 90’s gaming and references and mashes it into a Sims like experience. With a story line filled with classic brawling movie tropes, you are a fighter keen on being both the best and getting revenge for the murder of your father. Day in and day out, you will progress towards that goal, and if you are like me you will appreciate every minute that passes in your journey.
First off, contrary to what you might believe like I did, players will find that they do no physical fighting in this game whatsoever. Bummer right? Well at first maybe, but once you realize that there is still a lot of fun to be had in the fighting system, your cares for hands-on fighting will have long fled your mind by the time the credits roll. In place of a traditional, button mashing fighting system, instead you get a sort of deck-building/skill placement scenario where you assign your fighter with certain tiles which represents his various moves and perks. Your fighter has three focuses when training: Strength, Stamina, and Agility; each of which have their own skill tree to follow when focusing on a certain move set. From kicks, punches, defensive tactics, and modifiers, there are plenty of options to try out while going through your career and climbing the ranks. Unlocking these skills takes time and a dedicated training structure, but we will dive into that soon. Your stats have a key role in fights, requiring that you sometimes rebalance your set to take down enemies with certain modifiers or stat levels. This comes with time, as early on you may not quite grasp what is necessary to win.
What also comes with time is figuring out how to balance your digital life. Each day consists of a limited amount of time, with a clock keeping track of your day count. To put it into perspective, it took me about 170 in-game days to beat, which my real time spent playing amounted to a little over 13 hours. Pretty hefty amount in my opinion for what I thought what be a shorter game, but I digress. Activities like training, walking, and working all cut into the time you have in an allotted day. No big deal right? Well each time a day ends, you lose some of your stats, which can be costly when going into fights. But training to get those stats back up cuts into your hunger and energy, eating to get that hunger taken care of costs money, and money is earned by fighting and working, so it is all about balance. I would not find a solid balance until about 60 days in, but after that the next 100+ days went extremely well. The game is surprisingly deep, and that notion carries over into its lengthy story as well.
As I mentioned earlier, the game follows a lot of classic tropes. Because of that, I initially thought the story would not be aggressively deep, and figured I could play about 100 days and start writing this review. The more and more I played, the more I realized just how much aspects there were to unlock. There is so much to explore, both for the main line objectives and side objectives, but the main way Lazy Bear Games go about letting you discover this is why it works so well. Everything feels naturally random. To expand on that, there are certain objectives or characters that you are made aware of only after reaching a certain perimeter. For instance, I broke my leg in an illegal fight, and after doing so was made aware of a healer in Chinatown. This subsequently unlocked Chinatown on my map as well as that healer as a shop of sorts. Though if I had not broken my leg, I may have progressed to this area later as part of the “crime-fighter” secondary story line. It is just a really great way to go about it, prompting you to try different things and explore outside the box a little to reach the story-line paths in your menu. Also, had I not played beyond what I thought was a reasonable amount, I would not have even known about some of the huge story arches that prompt big new introductions gameplay wise, like new scenery and new events like endurance fights which were a welcomed change of pace. So while it does take some time to ultimately get to this point, it is all worth it.
Some may not be patient enough to get here though. In retrospect, you have to be a patient and dedicated person to appreciate this game. It is not the most fun experience so to speak, as you just guide your fighter for the most part as opposed to physically controlling him, but fans of simulators will definitely appreciate it. It can grow monotonous if you can’t buy into the train, manage, fight, repeat set-up, but what carried me is the well written comedic writings as well as the goofy, cheesy story that is packed with references anywhere from Tarantino flicks, Fight Club, and even TMNT. Setting up your fighter for success is always rewarding, particularly when it comes down to nail biting sections where both fighters have low health. It is all about patience, structure, and dedication.
I absolutely loved my time with Punch Club. It is a great sized casual title, packed with value and humor. While not always the most engagingly fun experience, it is always entertaining. The writing and references alone are enough to sell me personally, but tack that on with a rich story and fighting structure, you get the complete package. For what it’s worth, the game will keep you busy, especially if played in short bursts which is the best way to play. With multiple ways to train and different story paths to take, it also has a surprising amount of replay value. Its aesthetic is so authentically retro, fans of old school gaming will feel right at home, although admittedly the repetitive two or three songs can grow extremely tiresome. Whatever way you look at it though, Punch Club is a knockout that will not go down without a fight.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of the review
Final Score: 8/10
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