Developer: Lazy Bear Games
Publisher: tinyBuild Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Category: Simulation, Fighting, Strategy & Role-Playing
Release Date: May 24, 2018 (EU & NA)
Train the AI to punch you into the top!
Due to the popularity of games like Sim City or The Sims, life management games have risen in favour and come in various forms over the years. From creating a new species in Spore, to helping the inhabitants of your village/city in Animal Crossing, but one of the most interesting concepts in the management genre, however, comes in the form of the indie game called Punch Club. In it, you control a fighter, looking to become the best there is and avenge a personal debt. But is it just a good concept and does it make Punch Club a good good game?
Developed by Lazy Bear Games and published by tinyBuild Games, Punch Club was originally released on PCs and mobile in January 2016. After the initial release, the game caught the attention of many YouTubers and became popular through it. Almost exactly 1 year later, the game was ported for the Nintendo 3DS, and after that came to other consoles and eventually the Nintendo Switch on May 24, 2018.
The 16-bit style is the base for this game’s visual and it fits well with the aesthetic of games from the 80’s and 90’s, (the two eras that it is intentionally focusing on representing.) The 16-bit sprites are very well produced and feature a very detailed work that will catch and impress you upon entering the game. This also applies to the animations. They are normally very fluid and represent the characters’ actions even with the limited resolution. One interesting addition to the visuals, is that the game plays with the screen and image quality of recent games, but it also offers a filter that adds a retro style to the image, with each of the pixels more visible. I ended up playing almost entirely with the retro filter activated and it gave an even more interesting atmosphere to the 16-bit visuals.
To complement the 16-bit visuals, the audio effects and music are chiptune tracks that come across as the kind of soundtrack and sound effects that one would hear produced and reproduced on a NES, SNES or Sega Genesis game. Above the well-done music reproduction, they also fit very well with the story moments, but also with the gameplay or fighting sections, making for an audio experience that I almost never muted and really liked to experience on the headphones during my portable session with it.
Story-wise, you control a 20-year old boy that is the son of a boxer and, who, when he was a child, saw his father being murdered by an unknown figure. After being raised by a cop, you plan to continue training every day and getting better so that one day, you can get revenge and take down your father’s murderer. Along the way, new and surprising events open up that can change your path is unexpected directions.
The initial story is basic, but serves as a good introduction and character initial motive to kick-start the game. Following that, many events will happen as the days go by, as you visit specific locations and complete some requirements. There are also some random events that can occur as you move from place to place. One thing that it is a double-edged sword for me is that these events don’t have a specific order to happen, which can lead to a multi-layered story with a personal order. But it can also sometimes feel very confusing, as you will probably have many stories happening at the same time and on different development levels. In the beginning hours of my playthrough, for example, there were around four concurrent stories happening and I felt confused when I a new development happened on them and that feeling didn’t get much better with time. But to help comprehend a little better, the game provides a branching tree.
I also have to emphasize the number of references that this game packs, which starts with the title being a reference to Fight Club. That is one of the gigantic amount of references that this game throws at you, that range from Rocky to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That is interesting, but there are some occasions that this feels a bit excessive and damages the individual identity of the game.
Punch Club’s gameplay and controls revolve around the management aspects. Your character needs to practice 3 characteristics that will help you fight better: strength, agility and stamina. These 3 characteristics will directly affect the result of the battles. But something that the game took a lot of time to tell me in my first playthrough, is that I had to focus on one or two of these attributes, which led to a very frustrating first playthrough.
But the game isn’t just focused on these 3 attributes, you also have to manage your character’s health, happiness, hunger, energy and money on a daily and limited time basis. All these attributes correlate to others and to actions that you do. To train, you will use your hunger and energy, and when they are low, you can’t train. So, you have to eat and sleep, but sleeping also reduces your hunger. To eat, you need money to buy the food, so you have to work and that reduces other stats and money can also be used to not lose so much time moving from place to place.
With this, you have an elaborate and always demanding loop system that you will (considering that you already know what to do and how the game works) get accustomed to. But this looping system can cause two of my main issues with the game. The first is that if you don’t know how this game works (which is normal in your first playthrough) or mess up the loop system, is very easy to get in a situation of low status and always losing fights that is very hard to reverse and will require you a lot of determination and patience to reverse it. And, second, even when you get the right loop system, it can get really boring to do the same routine over and over again, especially a few hours into the game.
After a few days of training or when certain events happen and you choose (or is forced) to fight, then you have to participate in fights to rise in the ranks or defeat a specific rival. During it, you have no direct control over your character. You only set up which abilities it will use in that round and watch. This system can lead to two scenarios: one in which you are happy and get very satisfied with the character and AI choices and another where you get frustrated by the choices the AI does during the fight and that cost you the victory.
Finally, as the game were directly ported to Nintendo Switch, there are no noticeable additional function such as HD Rumble, but the game does run rather well in TV Mode and as excellently in the handheld or tabletop mode. Also, the controls are very simple and almost perfectly well mapped out on the Joy-Con controller. So, there is that.
Let me be clear: Punch Club isn’t a bad game. It can be a good, interesting and attractive game, but there are a few things that block it from being an excellent one and that can frustrate and hinder your experience in the first hours and after a good amount of time into the game. If you can tolerate some frustration and repetition, dedicate some time to learn all the necessary stats and abilities and like managing a person’s life, then I can happily recommend this game to you.
THE VERDICT: 7/10
*Review Key Provided by tinyBuild Games
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This post was written by Renanp2