Do you remember Rocky II? That moment when Adrien awakens from a coma, and asks Rocky to win the fight?
Rocky begins training like crazy while we hear a very motivating music. We want to be there, we want to enter the movie and train with Rocky in order to teach that cocky Apollo Creed a lesson,
Well, we can do it now... Welcome to Punch Club!
At first, the game appearance can be misleading. Beautiful pixel art graphics and catchy music could make us think of an arcade (both aspects retroact me a bit to Streets of Rage). But it is not a beat-em-up or a fighting game, but a simulator. Specifically, a boxing simulator.
This means we won’t control our character during the fights. Our work will be to increase his stats, train to learn new moves, and then study the rival’s fighting style to counter it and overcome it. But beware, this task is not easy. If we play on a routine basis, like a zombie, Punch Club will slap our asses and make us pay. In other words, we will lose the fights.
Gameplay is based on the distribution we do of our daily time. Training consumes energy, energy is restored with food, food is worth money, money is earned through work, and work takes time you can’t use for training. The daily cycle of a perfect boxer.
The concepts that influence our routine are health, hunger, mood, and energy. If one of them falls too much, our character won't be able to train, or work. We will need to rest, go to kiw-e-mart to get food, or watch some TV. Combat stats are strength, agility and endurance. The character’s development is tied to these factors. They will affect the way we fight. Strength will make us hit harder, agility is linked to our ability to hit and dodge the opponent’s blows, and energy is consumed with every movement of our character, to the point that when it falls to 0, our character will need time to recover. More important, if he gets hit, he will fall down with an extra damage.
After each combat or sparring practice we will be awarded with skill points. Such points will be used for learning new attacks and traits that improve our character as a boxer (or Kick-boxer, because in Punch Club kicks are allowed). In other words, basically we play the role of Mick, Rocky's coach. Yes, it will be our coach also in the game, although that is not the only easter egg that appears in Punch Club. The game is an obvious tribute to the 80’s and Rocky Balboa’s saga. But the wonderful thing about this game is not only his nostalgic aura. The gameplay has been carefully developed in order to make Punch Club an addictive experience… like very few others has ever done, believe me.
In my opinion, one of the game's great successes is the sequential rhythm in which new areas and possibilities are unlocked while we play. This prevents Punch Club to fall down into a boring routine. There is always something new to do, a new quest to accomplish while we train and progress in the boxing leagues. About the areas to be unlocked in the game, I won’t say anything, because discovering the new places in the city is one aspect that I really like about the user experience of Fight Club. Neither I won’t speak about our rivals, who are inspired by martial arts personalities, and characters from movies and video games. This is a great thing of Punch Club and is up to you to discover!
The whole game has this tribute feeling to it. A continuous wink to the player. As a simulator, it works very well, as it raises challenges without turning the game into a nightmare (although I have not tried the hardcore mode). Most importantly, the game system makes our decisions important, and our mistakes a thing that we will definitely pay for. There is no game over, but I assure you one thing: losing a fight after days of preparation feels like a real defeat. As it progresses, difficulty increases exponentially.
I want to emphasize three aspects of this boxing simulator: graphics, addictiveness, and tributes. I am among those who think that less is more and that pixel art is true art. This game, at least to me, it’s completely visual, attractive. I guess not all should be positive speech in a review, but it is hard to find any mistakes in Punch Club. Maybe the idea of our protagonist's fiancé is an aspect to be improved. I think it offers many possibilities that have not been exploited: a better personality, sidequests... Luckily, TinyBuildGames has shown they intend to publish interesting DLCs, as in the case of Dark fist, for example, that offers additional 4 hours of gameplay with the possibility of becoming an urban hero.
Therefore, it seems that Punch Club will be EVEN BETTER in the future. Although the stakes are very high, hopefully it will happen, because it may mean Punch Club is gradually renewed, and will keep us all hooked on the beautiful dream that the golden 80’s, and its carefully pixel-by-pixel crafted games remain.
As if this were not enough, Punch Club is completely replayable. At some point, we are able to choose from one of the three fighting styles of the game, each with its advantages and weaknesses. This will make you wish to start over sometimes, for retracing your steps and changing the way you set up our character.
In conclusion, this is one of the most original and carefully developed games I've been fortunate to play in many years. A jewel in the whole independent games movement.
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