By: Justin Hobley
Punch Club is a story-driven character management and development simulator developed by Lazy Bear Games and published by tinyBuild. In an unusual twist, it was released on Steam after viewers on Twitch.tv collaborated together and completed the game in early January (with an Android release following hot on its heels). Time to do some road work.
The controls for Punch Club are very simple and completely mouse oriented. As a character management simulator, the need for interaction and input is minimal. The game’s entire interface is point and click, barring the optional use of the escape key to get into the options menu for saving and exiting.
This control scheme makes for a game that one can run in a window alongside something that requires more presence of mind, but it leaves players who like to use their keyboard a bit put out.
The graphics in Punch Club are fairly simple, and for those of us who grew up with the style, reminiscent of afternoons spent in front of a TV, controllers in hand as we marveled at what the popular game consoles could do. The Retro effect in the menu adds a scanline effect to most items on screen. That effect does not carry over to the menu icons on the left or right side, or to any menu item that is opened, however, which is somewhat disappointing.
The music style is also a hat tip to the ’90s, with what feels like a nod to the Super Nintendo and its SPC-700 chip, with a distinct chiptune vibe and refreshingly crunchy sound effects. Entering and exiting menus, along with interacting with people and objects are accompanied by a distinctive tick, reminding you that your action is triggering something. This tick is absent when you’re simply moving around in a room.
The story starts off on an encouraging foot, with your character’s father giving an inspirational speech while practicing Wing Chun, and a transition into a rainy night. You watch your father get shot in the chest by a mysterious cloaked man with a red eye in the pouring rain, huddling behind a dumpster to avoid being seen.
As your father bleeds out, his last breaths ask you to train hard, improve yourself and be ready when the time comes. His cryptic message is something that sticks with you as you grow up under the watchful eye of a police detective that is also a family friend.
Skipping forward a number of years, you wake up to the sound of your phone ringing. The wake-up call brashly tells you that you need to get a job, and prompts your first decision.
From here, Punch Club takes you through a few mandatory steps to get used to the gameplay, including exercising, eating and looking for employment to keep yourself paid well enough to at least eat. That search for a job is very important, as it’s the last stop on the rails that guide you through the beginning paces of the game: fighting! You’re jumped on your way to work by someone bigger and tougher than you are, demanding all of your money.
A cameo from the 1990s appears at this point: It looks like you’re trying to win a fight. Would you like me to help you? A paperclip, reminiscent of the Office Assistant from decades past pops up, explaining how combat works, guiding you into your first altercation, and setting the wheels of fate into motion.
From this point on, you’ll wander around the city map, going to work, training hard, eating anything that’s not nailed down and training some more. You’ll need to train a lot to progress through Punch Club, but much like real life, repetition is necessary for improvement.
The story presented by Lazy Bear Games is slightly cheesy by today’s expectations, but for those of us who grew up in the 16-bit era, Punch Club is a teasing whisper to our inner child. The simple gameplay ensures that one can sit down, spend a few minutes improving themselves and then hop back up, continuing on with their day.