Developer: Lazy Bear Games
Release Date: 24 May 2018
Price: $14.99 / £13.49
Reviewed by Phil Myth
Ah the 90s, the golden era of Saturday morning cartoons and 16-bit beat 'em-ups. Punch Club does a great job of tapping into the nostalgia of those halycon days, even if you're somewhat of a passenger for most of the largely enjoyable ride.
Part management sim, part point-and-click adventure, you're tasked with taking a rookie boxer from street brawls to a championship bout, unravelling the mystery of who murdered your father along the way.
I get that reference
If parts of that plot sound familiar, it's no accident. Punch Club is absolutely dripping in references to action films from Rocky to Enter The Dragon, and there's a clear love of the genre on show.
Similarly developer Lazy Bear Games clearly hold a strong affection for the SNES era, with the genuinely beautiful art style complemented by an excellent chiptune soundtrack. The references extend to pop culture too. For example, one side mission will see you delivering pizzas to some sewer dwelling reptiles. Punch Club puts a lot of effort into winning over those sporting rose-tinted spectacles with nods like these.
It's kind of the main appeal, as gameplay is rather rudimentary. Despite ostensibly being a fighting game, you don't actually do any fighting. Instead, you select various training apparatus in between bouts to boost stats (something your boxer does automatically), before seeing how those stats play out in automated fights.
Its basic, yet oddly addictive. As your stats decrease over time, its impossible to level all 3 attributes evenly. This forces you to specialise, and tailor your fighter's approach to one of the three fighting styles on offer. Progressing down these routes opens up more powerful moves with which to take down your opponents. You'll eventually hit some momentum and seeing all your hard work paying off in the ring is incredibly satisfying after the initial grind.
And grind you will, especially in the early part of the game. Training uses energy which you have to replenish by sleeping. Sleeping and training make you hungry, so you'll need to eat regularly to keep your strength up. Food costs money, so you'll also need to take on (also automated) jobs in order to stock your fridge. All of these things combine in a perfect storm to make it a real slog to progress early on.
It's almost completely off-putting, but if you stick with it the rewards feel much, much sweeter. A similar routine sets in towards the end of the game though which tarnishes the experience a little, and as the gameplay doesn't vary, the plot isn't quite engaging enough to make you desperate to see it through to the end.
Punch Club does a fantastic job of tapping into nostalgia. If you're a fan of 80s action films and 90s pop culture, there's more than enough to love here to make the basic though occasionally rewarding gameplay worthwhile. That said, the incredibly grindy nature of the early and late game sections stop the title from making the leap from amateur champion to heavyweight contender.
Pros & Cons
+ Beautiful 16-bit art style
+ Jam packed with easter eggs
+ Lot of fun when you're winning
- Beginning and end are incredibly grindy
- Passive gameplay won't be for everyone