You know those days when you’re forced to decide between going to the gym or staying at home and playing video games? Obviously the allure of your favourite character wins over and you put that strenuous exercise off for another day, but what if you had the luxury of choosing between work or a workout and nothing else? Punch Club gives you control over your own little fighter’s life and makes you find balance between the money/training sides of his otherwise rather boring existence.
Punch Club is a management sim that asks you to build a champion prizefighter who will fight crime and beat up some rather Teenage Mutant Ninja-ry looking Crocodiles. With tons of humorous references throughout the game and a highly in-depth RPG mechanic you would expect to find hours of enjoyment in building up and fighting with your Rocky wannabe. Unfortunately, the gameplay is where Punch Club falls down for the count. If watching stat bars slowly fill as you train is your idea of fun then look no further than this game! However, if reverse sims is not your cup of tea then Punch Club may not be the game for you.
Punch Club is a hard game to get along with at first, opinion here at Xbox Sector is divided as some of us got on with the realistic daily grind of a struggling fighter and others felt that the lack of interaction was a bit too much of a turn-off before the in-depth RPG elements shone through.
Graphically, Punch Club is reminiscent of Final Fight or any other 2D retro fighter. The ‘Retro Effect’ mode found in the pause menu simply sharpens the colour pallet of the game, not really improving the look or feel that much. The charming sprites are well animated and, regardless your choice of move-set, every offensive or defensive move looks different and smooth. A lot of Punch Club’s attraction and charm is found in the graphics as the simple map and levels work brilliantly with the art style to create a good looking retro-styled game. There are plenty of different characters to meet who you will recognise from a number of Guy Ritchie films or other movies such as Fight Club.
The soundtrack for Punch Club is a different story, however, as the tinny and repetitive themes rattle around your head for hours after you have turned your xbox off or muted the game. Taking its inspiration from every uninspired 8-bit soundtrack created, Punch Club has 3 variations when it comes to background music. There is the work, fighting or training motifs and each is repeated non-stop until it grates and drills its way into your skull. Every hit that lands or misses is rewarded with a satisfying thud or swish but even this isn’t enough to balance out the incessant drone of the repeated 8-bit background music. What I can say is that its fitting with the games design and the 8-bit ancestry Punch Club obviously holds in high regard.
The story of Punch Club is surprisingly deep, with the promise of multiple endings hidden away through your journey from skint wannabe to Millionaire Tyson. Hidden within the menus there is a story-tree with the goals of your story progress laid out for you to plan accordingly. The story progression is disjointed and hard to follow without constantly referring to the map menu, yet enjoyable if you ignore it and stumble across story progressive conversations naturally as you play. You have the freedom to choose how to plan your day, and the constant niggling reminder that you need to eat and sleep to have the energy needed to work or train effectively.
Several times this freedom found me too tired and hungry to work and too skint to buy the food needed to work or even sleep. Punch Club takes the realistic model of a managing simulation and turns it up to 11 forcing you to budget your time and money in the game more than you do in real life. For a recent graduate like myself, being confronted in-game by the same time management conundrums I faced at university is a shock and annoyance. I play games to escape the grueling decisions between work, gym and girlfriend, not to struggle with the balance virtually as well! This being said, once I had worked solidly for a good couple of weeks (and only been mugged twice!), I had the capital to transform my garage into a gym that almost rivaled the one I was supposed to be training at and my stats began to grow at a much healthier rate.
At this point Punch Club shines through as a unique and challenging management sim that takes a little bit of getting used to. Once you have learnt where and when to train and at what point to take a small dip in stats and generate some income to buy food or gym equipment.
Punch Club is a frustrating and difficult game to master, yet rewards those who commit plenty of time and accept any set-backs such as broken limbs or a lack of money with a pinch of salt; after all, it is just a video game and not actual real life. Real life is much easier for a start.
At first Punch Club seems like a frustrating and difficult slog to stardom as your fighter claws his way up from a pitiful weakling to a rich multimillionaire, but providing you can find the time and effort in real life to drag your character through his many life decisions and find an effective balance between work and working out it flourishes as a deep management sim that requires streamlined tactics to beat. Setting you back a cool £7.99, Punch Club is most definitely a cheap game. For this price you can’t really find any other games on the store that will give you the same longevity as Punch Club, however, most of this time will probably be spent starving, tired and skint whilst you try to rush your stat building to develop a stronger fighter. Once you get past this hurdle, the game opens up and you begin to enjoy it a lot more. Punch Club is cheap enough for you not to worry too much about buying it, you may not like it at first, but once you get into the flow of the game you will soon realize that its well worth the 8 quid. And let’s be fair, these days eight pounds doesn’t really get you THAT far, who doesn’t want to become a virtual boxing superstar for the price of a small round in the pub?
The lack of input throughout the game killed a lot of the enjoyment I found in Punch Club as fights seemed random and the tedious process of training is literally spent watching the same animation play out and changing gym equipment when the xp gain started to dwindle. This being said, the RPG elements and the deep story make up for the gameplay shortfalls and you won’t really realize the lack of immediate interaction when you are looking at the larger picture of stats and your blossoming fighting career.
Side Note: You can get spoiled burgers from the bin outside the bar if you are REALLY struggling for food and your manager will only help you out a limited amount of times, so only ask him when you are REALLY REALLY struggling.