Punch Club first got everyone’s attention with an extremely transparent Twitch-based marketing scheme. Ever since its release, however, it’s been one of the top games on Steam. Is it actually any good? With some reservations, I’m gonna say yes.
Punch Club is a boxing (or fighting, really; there are also kicks involved) management tycoon game where you bring a young pugilist up through the ranks. I’ve been playing for a few hours, and I’m digging it so far — which is to say, I wish I was playing right now even though it can be kinda grindy and monotonous sometimes. Also there are crocodile men sometimes.
Watch me play a bit of it in the above video.
In the game, you control every element of your boxer’s life, from his (shitty) diet to his (shitty) sleep habits. You also control his name, so you can be like me and name your guy CM Punk if you’re feeling topical. Oh, and of course there’s the gym. You go there, get so shredded that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles leap out at you and frantically ask, “OK, WHERE IS HE?” and then you take fights. In between, you work jobs and make money to maintain your glamorous “young bachelor who is constantly on the verge of starvation” lifestyle.
But the game’s not quite so straightforward. Thing is, all of your stats are in constant flux. You don’t just hit the heavy bag once and become perma-ripped, nor do you take a super great nap and gain the energy of ten thousand suns. Activities — whether you’re training or working or even sleeping — lower meters like hunger, energy and health, while your core fighting stats — strength, agility and stamina — drop slightly at the end of each in-game day. So it’s about striking a daily balance between training and Life Stuff, and then ramping up training right before fight days.
To be frank, it doesn’t take a master tactician, or a rocket scientist, or even a particularly well-organised baby to sort out. The basic rhythm of it all is satisfying though — a slow upward progression interspersed with fights and story events like confrontations with criminals (or, if you so choose, becoming a shady criminal type yourself). The writing’s clever — though occasionally clunky — the characters are fun, and the game looooooves its references (you may or may not share a gym with Literally The X-Men). It’s a game that pretty regularly makes you feel good about something.
As for the fights themselves, they’re… OK. It’s an automated deal where you pick attacks and skills you’ve learned over time, and then your character does them until he gets all tuckered out. Between rounds you can change things up — for instance, switching out a heavy kick for a regular kick to conserve energy — which adds a slight tactical layer. It’s all pretty simplistic, though, and as a fan of actual fighting, I can’t help but find myself wishing for more elements: positioning and angles, timing, greater striking variety (jabs could counter crosses, for instance), etc. As is, fights are still fun — and sometimes nerve-wracking, especially if you’ve got a character like my guy who starts strong and fades fast, allowing opponents to Rocky their way back to nearly beating him — but they’re pretty simple.
Really, the whole game is pretty simple. But it’s also deviously addictive and satisfying. It’s the sort of game you can lose hours to while thinking you’ve only been playing for 30 minutes. It can be repetitive and grindy, but you also never completely know what’s just around the corner. There could be a particularly nail-biting fight, or an interesting story choice, or a moment you weren’t expecting. It’s not a ton, but it’s enough. Or, in fighting-ese, it’s not a knockout, but Punch Club does enough to take home a pretty clear decision win.