The first rule of Punch Club is don’t talk about Punch Club. (Seriously? Everyone reviewing this game thought of making that joke, the difference is the good reviewers exercised restraint–Editor). It really isn’t, but it should be because I don’t know if I can explain the premise of this game in a way that does justice to how good a game Punch Club actually is. The protagonist is training to become strong enough to avenge his father, and during the game you need to find balance in eating, sleeping, working a job, managing finances, training, fighting, maintaining friendships, and looking for very rare flowers for a chance to hook up with your buddy’s sister. What I described does not sound like a fun game at all, it sounds like the mundane hell that is more commonly referred to as my life which has a much larger portion of time devoted to the working a job portion and I still receive bank statements that are printed entirely with red ink. But my life does not involve any magic amulets, which could be my first mistake.
The game begins with you meeting with someone named Mick who steers you to a gym where you meet up with Silver, a trainer who runs an amateur boxing league. Climbing the ranks of this sports club seems more glamorous than your current existence of essentially being a tumor on the couch, but deciding to become a professional fighter makes time management complicated. The people who have any kind of rank in the league are much better than you, and you need to train in order to beat them. Aside from doing push ups in your garage, all exercise equipment and gym access costs money. You can’t train without a good night’s sleep, nor on an empty stomach, and wouldn’t you know it food costs money too. Mick helps you out with some meals early on, but he gets sick of your free loading ways pretty quickly so you do need to work the day job.
You don’t stay at the bottom for too long though. As you navigate the social network of the boxing league you end up meeting people that open up new options for you on ways to pass the time of your days, though how beneficial these activities are is debatable. Roy is another fighter you befriend, and if you hang out with him you meet his sister Adrian. Adrian is not remotely impressed by your machismo, but she likes flowers and since you are a testosterone fueled animal and she is hot and lacks a Y chromosome, the option to hunt for certain flowers in order to woo her opens up. More in line with the main story, you also end up having the option to fight in an underground UFC ring that seems to have ties to organized crime. Then there is your friend Tyler, he is kind of weird but a snazzy dresser. He likes to talk about self destruction and has a street fighting tournament behind a bar he frequents.
With this busy schedule you have, finding time to train to move up the ranks in the competition is difficult. This is further complicated by the fact that much like real life, if you skip a day exercising to recover or go to work you lose all your gains and end up being weaker than you were a month before you started training. But don’t let the fact that most of your hard work only leads to temporary stat increases discourage you, for you can purchase “potions” that temporarily improve your stats from a fellow who looks like a roided out Heisenberg. These potions may have some mild side effects that may include psychotic episodes but as anyone who does any physical training knows, no pain, no gain. Besides, haven’t you ever wondered what the house cat might say to you if it could talk?
The game is entirely point and click, which makes combat a largely spectator event. You assign skills to your fighter that he will use in his fights, and as you gain points from winning fights you can unlock more skills to use in battle. The skills you select make a world of difference, I went from an endless losing streak to being virtually unstoppable by just swapping out some attacks. While playing this I found myself doing what I often make fun of hardcore sports fans for doing, which would be yelling at the computer monitor at how stupid my character is because he was just dodging attacks for the last half of a round when his opponent has 2 hit points and the fight could be over if he just threw a punch. As I have come to expect from any game that bears the tinyBuild logo, the story is filled with unusual twists. The story advances by completing fights and advancing in the tournament, and as you win more fights you learn more about your father and the mysterious medallion that is mentioned with no explanation in the prologue. There are times when the progression lags, but these are temporary setbacks that you will eventually be able to surpass by training. Over the weekend I found myself so wrapped in balancing my in game life I neglected every real life parallel of my own. My pets are starving, I think my car got repo’d, and my girlfriend may have left me. Or maybe she just went to the store, I couldn’t really hear her over the game when she left, not that I was even paying attention. But none of that matters, because I was able to become champion in Punch Club. Twitterpate me