Monday, May 28

Review: Punch Club [Nintendo Switch eShop]


An inevitability of the success of the Switch, specifically in terms of how well many indie games have done on the platform, is that we’re seeing a lot of games that have been around get ported over. While there’s nothing wrong with this, and for people who simply have missed the games to this point it can still be great, some ports feel like a more natural match and make great use of the system and others simply come over as they are. Punch Club is one such game, a hybrid of RPG and time management elements blended with a boxing/vigilante hero theme.


In the game you’ll take on the role of the son of a slain boxer who is somewhat destined to follow in his father’s footsteps. Or something like that. For the most part the story is a loose construction of boxing/fighting tropes, pop culture references of all sorts, and a somewhat weird sense of humor. Considering the game’s age some of these references have begun to feel a bit dated but at least I wouldn’t say any of it is necessarily cringeworthy. The humor and oddness of it all tends to be a part of the hook though and at least some of the included nods made me laugh a little.


The meat and potatoes of the gameplay is a bit more indirect than most would probably assume or be used to, as you don’t actually control the fights directly, you instead train before fights, trying to get your guy in shape, and then you’ll dictate what core moves he’ll use in the fight, always trying to work the best you can with the training areas you’ve focused in the most. There’s actually a bit more to this than there would appear to be on paper, especially as you move along and get to higher levels. There’s a real art in maintaining a bank balance through doing jobs, staying well rested, training optimally, and then delivering yourself in the best possible shape to each fight. Your opportunity to tune you current skills can also make all the difference between rounds as well. In particular keeping an eye on your energy and that of your opponent will make or break you in the tougher fights. If you use expensive skills or fail to properly counter the right attacks your energy will deplete and you’ll eventually begin to get knocked down, losing quite a bit of health in the process. This can absolutely turn the tide in a fight that, to that point, looked headed in the other direction.


While there’s nothing particularly wrong with Punch Club, as a whole, it’s also a game that has been around for awhile and is showing some signs of its age. First, the action is, for the most part, a bit limited as it has been on both handhelds and smartphones. Everything is played out in a pretty limited way and nothing in pushing the power of the system at this point. Next, you absolutely should be sure you’re coming into the game with the proper expectation. This is in no way a “boxing game”, which would imply there are arcade-like skill-based sequences of some kind. It is, instead, a time and resource management game first and foremost, and the bulk of your time will be spent trying to ensure you’re making progress but also have a roof over your head and food to eat. Once you lock into a solid routine it can then get a bit more rote but fights always have a degree of challenge to them as you ponder as they start whether your fighter is really up to the test. Fight results will vary from a razor thin margin to an all-out blowout, depending on how well you train, so never give up and try to pick a style and skills that suit your preferences so that everything is in alignment.


While Punch Club isn’t a bad experience by any means there’s no way to get around its limitations. If you enjoy its somewhat relaxed “play it on the cough while you watch TV” style and haven’t already indulged in it by all means give it a look. If you’ve dabbled before or are looking for something  action-oriented it likely won’t be worth considering though.

Score: 6

Pros:
  • If you enjoy time management games it has an appeal
  • The more 90s pop culture you know and appreciate the more likely you’ll like it

Cons:
  • This isn’t an action-oriented game, it is about managing your time and resources effectively and then executing that plan
  • It is readily available on any number of platforms and there’s nothing special about the Switch to dictate it should be the preferred platform for the game
  • Later fights can be aggravating, trying to manage your health and skill levels,often needing to change your skills between rounds to keep things optimum