Although Punch Club has been available on other platforms for over two years, I was not aware of it, let alone had I played it. Based on the title alone, I had hoped Switch owners were getting a solid Punch-Out!! clone, but Punch Club plays nothing like what I expected. Instead it is an extremely unique life/fighting simulator packed with an ‘80s and ‘90s vibe. The premise is simple, you desire to train hard and become a dominant MMA-Style fighter, all while managing everyday life and uncovering clues about your father’s murder. OK, so maybe not so simple.
You begin the game inside your small house where you have some hard-hitting choices to make. You could do some push-ups, go to sleep, watch some TV, or eat anything in your refrigerator. Your adoptive father Frank, mentor Mick, and gym owner Silver are all on hand to offer you advice and help guide you early on. You can’t really do much in life without money, and to earn some greenbacks you’ll need to find a job. With money comes great responsibility – or something like that. You’ll need funds to purchase food, pay for training, buy bus tickets, and gain gym access. However, you can’t just grind your job for 24 hours straight! In fact you can only partake in any given activity for a short period before you need to sleep, eat, or improve your mood. Luckily, by getting out and doing these activities you’ll be able to build your character’s stats – more on those later.
You’ll spend a lot of time early in the game at home, work, the grocery store, and most importantly the gym. There you meet Silver, whom your can spar with (for a price of course). Training with him will give you medals, which you can use to gain new skills – also more on that soon. The gym offers a workout room which you can access for $10 each visit (did I mention you’re going to need lots of money?). Here there are many different machines and activities to perform to increase your stats. You can partake in an activity for a short while until you grow tired of it and need to move onto something else. Eventually you’ll become too hungry or tired, and will have to leave to get some food and rest. It should be noted that any activity you perform (sleeping, weightlifting, working, etc.) is done with a press of the button. Then you just watch the activity and your stats adjust, this just takes a few seconds in real-time. The game starts simple, but as the days go on there are more and more new people to meet, things to do, and places to visit.
The three main statistical areas are strength, agility, and stamina. Each benefits you differently during the fights. You can train your fighter to be strong in one category, or go for a more balanced approach depending what kinds of activities and exercises you perform. Time is certainly not your ally in this game. As each day passes, all of your stats take a small hit and it is possible to actually see your level decrease. Luckily, if you play in Easy Mode this does not occur. Every single thing you do in the game takes time. Even just getting out of the house to go somewhere is a choice. Do you take the bus, which takes less time, but costs money, or do you walk somewhere and see the minutes tick away? Plus there’s the danger of being robbed in a street fight if you walk everywhere! I guess we live in a bad neighborhood.
Finally, onto the main event: the fights! There are 3 main areas in which to brawl. At the gym you can sign up for the organized amateur league. There are league standings and the fights take place every two days. Competing in and winning these fights earn you medals, which you will then use to cash in to buy a more robust set of moves. Next, there is an underground fight club ring. In these you can earn money as well as medals, but there is a higher chance for serious injury and encounters with known criminals. Finally along the course of the game you become a vigilante of sorts, taking on missions to fight crime throughout the city. Competing in any of these missions unlocks new quests to tackle and new people to encounter. Your path will change depending on how you choose to spend your time.
Of course fighting drains your health meter and if you are badly beaten you may be injured, which will keep you from competing or even working out for a time. Again, this plays nothing like a boxing game or a Punch-Out!!-style game. All fighting is done automatically and is based on your stats and skills. You set which skills you want to use and you can change them out during rounds depending how the fight is going. Starting off you just have a very limited move set: a punch, a kick, and a dodge.
I can’t say enough great things about the music, sound, and graphics. This looks and plays like a high-end Super Nintendo game and is filled with dozens of exciting characters to encounter and a wide variety of locations. You’ll hear a lot of the main theme, but it’s the perfect fit for this game, and the battle music is quite iconic.
The writing in the game is packed with humor and is full of movie and gaming references from the ‘80s and ‘90s. The dialogue is short and quick, getting you right back to the action. The controls, simple menus, and easy to navigate map system makes this a very easy game to pick up and play.
On a critical note, this game is probably not for everyone. There is no action or hands-on skill required; both things most people would expect from a fighting game. This plays more like an RPG, with a focus on quests and stat building. There’s quite a bit of micromanagement with time and money constantly impacting what you can and cannot do. In this way, the game can be tedious and repetitious at times, constantly working, eating, and exercising. I chose to restart the game twice before I really got a handle on how to balance things evenly. Although it wasn’t anything like I was expecting, Punch Club managed to win me over and I played way more of it than I thought I would. Give this one a try. You might be as surprised as I was!
Punch Club was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher.
Aaron got his NES in 1991 and has loved and collected video games ever since. In addition to gaming, he enjoys Stephen King novels, Twins Baseball, and his cats.