Review: Punch Club

Publisher: tinyBuild | Developer: Lazy Bear Games | Genre: Rocky Simulator | Release Year: 2016

The First Rule of Punch Club is You Click Everything

I’ve been spending the day working at the construction site, trying to get some cold cash. After wasting all of my energy, I visit Apu to buy some food and then go home to crash out on the sofa. When my energy is full, I get up and take some food from the refrigerator and then I go to the gym. I use the weight lifting equipment to increase my Strength as I reckon that I don’t punch hard enough to take down my opponent. I repeat the same activities for two days to prepare for an oncoming match and then it occurs to me “Man, this is really tedious.”

When I play a video game, I expect something that can distract me from the mundane life of mine. I can fight a dragon, lead an army and become a hero and yet in this game, I play as a fighter who spend most of his day working at a construction site or training and then pass the night at home watching TV or sleeping. Suffice to say that, in a way, the game incorporates the dull routine of real life. This monotonous undertaking, however, is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it actually emphasizes the struggle of managing life while at the same time trying to be good at something that you love.

Punch Club at heart is a time management and simulation game with a mix of RPG. It’s also an homage to many 80s and 90s’ movies, video games, and popular culture, so you may find some easter eggs and references in the game. It uses pixel art and 8-bit music to capture the retro graphic and sound of the 80s and 90s games. Fans of some classic movies or video games may appreciate references included in the game, although some of the easter eggs are all over the place.

Teenager: Uh, perhaps. Mutant: checked. Ninja: He wears a mask, so yeah. Turtle: Well, I guess they try to avoid copyright infringement.

Since the game is an homage to many 80s and 90s movies, the narrative and the characters are mostly a mix-up of references and movie tropes which may entertain those who have fond memories of the old days. The references are neat and some of it manages to make me grin. While I appreciate all of the references, I’m a little bit disappointed that the game relies heavily on evoking nostalgia rather than developing its own story and characters.

As a fan of simulation games, I really enjoy managing the fighter’s life. Fulfilling needs, unlocking skills, and improving skill points become a satisfaction of mine. The pleasure, however, doesn’t last long as I find out that the attribute points are decreased with every passing day. I understand that in real life if I stop training, my body wouldn’t be as strong and agile like it used to be. But it’s just frustrating that I lose about half of what I gain in a day and the effect would be much severe if I don’t train for a day or two, making the game becomes really grindy as the progress of increasing attribute point is really slow. The fact that there is no way to fast forward the game only makes the whole training process feels like a chore.

Time is essential in this game. It costs me time to do an activity or even visit other places, so I must make a plan ahead of time. I have to decide whether I want to spend the day at work or at the gym. If I decide to work, I risk losing many percentages of my attribute point. Skipping work, on the other hand, means that I can’t buy food or pay the gym fee. It’s hard to achieve a flawless routine in this game, but it’s really rewarding when I finally get the perfect balance of working, training, and doing other stuff. The game encourages me to learn by trial and error, experimenting to find which activity that benefits the most; which training equipment that actually helps me in gaining attribute point effectively; which skill that I need to defeat my opponent and so on.

Mr. Red Pant vs Mr. Black Suit: The Match of the Century

While the mechanic of degrading attribute points is really annoying, it actually highlights the best part of the game which is specializing the fighter in certain fighting style. Since the game forces me to focus on one attribute as it’s impossible to reach a high level in all of the available stats, I need to develop my own playstyle that relies on my main attribute. There are three types of martial arts: Way of the Bear, Way of the Tiger and Way of the Turtle. Each art has its own advantages, disadvantages and its own set of skills that caters to my desired playstyle. For example, Way of the Bear deals brute force but has a low accuracy while Way of the Tiger has a higher accuracy but deals less damage.

The implementation of different playstyles is a redeeming quality that the game really needs to make its flaws bearable. By forcing me to focus only on one attribute, it helps me to make the best use of the attribute and skills as efficient as possible. It also encourages me to try different skills and fight style in each playthrough, adding a good replayability value into the game.

Having higher attribute points, however, doesn’t necessary mean that I can beat the opponent easily. Sometimes I even lose to a fighter who has lower attribute points. Skill is actually the one that helps me winning the fight and unlocking it is not easy. In order to get skill points that I need to unlock a skill, I have to participate in fights that are held every few days. The cost of unlocking skill gradually increases until it reaches its maximum level which means I have to, again, grind to get skills that I need.

Punch Club Offers a Surprisingly Wide Selection of Skills

The fighting gameplay mechanic itself, unfortunately, is not really fun. I can’t control my fighter directly as he is controlled automatically by AI. I can only choose which skills that he needs to use in every round just like a fighting coach. How the fighter uses his skills entirely depends on the calculation of his attribute points and, perhaps, other factors that aren’t described in the game. It is irritating that sometimes he’d just stand there getting beaten up without being able to fight back. I understand that the developer wants to encapsulate the experience of watching a fighting match. I do feel a bit of excitement whenever my character manages to hit back the opponent and it gives me a big satisfaction when he’s able to knock down him. But the random nature of the fighting mechanic makes the match is often frustrating to watch.

It’s rather hard to love Punch Club. There are many things that I love and hate about the game. I like its appealing art pixel and references included in the game. The simulation gameplay is enjoyable and I love the big amount of skills that I can choose. There are many flaws in the mechanic of the game, however, that prevent the game from being fun. The grindy aspect of the game may turn off a lot of people. It’s hard for players to invest in the skill and attribute development of the character if they lose half of what they gain. The fighting itself is often frustrating as it’s randomly generated. But beneath those frustrating mechanics, there’s a fun simulation game that rewards those who are patient enough to endure all of the flaws.

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