Welcome to This Is Not A Review. In these articles we discuss general impressions, ideas and thoughts on any given game, but as the title implies, it’s not a review. Instead, it’s an exercise in offering a quick recommendation (or dismissal) after spending enough time to grasp the ideas and gameplay of a thing without necessarily playing it from A to Z.
The subject of this installment: Punch Club: Dark Fist for 3DS, developed by Lazy Bear Games and published by tinyBuild.
I didn’t play Punch Club when it originally released sometime in early 2016, but it stuck in my head as something to keep an eye on. It seemed like everybody I knew was talking about it for a week or two — usually a good sign — and I filed it away for future reference. When the opportunity came to check it out on 3DS, I was more than happy to accept… Although now that I’ve spent some time with it, I can’t say that I understand what the hubbub was all about.
For something called Punch Club, it’s a surprisingly passive experience. While the premise is to step into the shoes of an up-and-coming fighter with a troubled past, the player doesn’t actually do any fighting. Instead, nearly every moment of active play is related to managing a bunch of meters — the fighter’s hunger meter, his energy meter, his power meter, how much money he has, how much time is left in the day, and so on.
After getting through a poorly-written tutorial which fails to do its job properly, It’s up to the player to click on a bunch of locations where the fighter can interact with certain things, but mostly they’re about training. Click on a weight at the gym to increase one bar while another one goes down, go home and eat a frozen pizza to fill up a hunger meter, click on the guy’s couch to sleep and regain lost energy. It’s just a lot of tapping and watching simple animations play out.
After a short while, Punch Club will prompt the player to join some fights which crop up every couple of days, and believe it or not, the fights are when the game is at its most dull and tedious.
After selecting unlockable abilities to use during a match, the player’s character faces off with whoever’s up that day, and they just stand there and automatically punch and kick at each other with the outcome determined by stats. To be perfectly clear, the player has no active control over the fight — all you can do is watch it play out and hope to come out on top. When the fighters are evenly matched, the matches drag on and on and on and on, with nothing exciting happening… I started to dread the fights because it felt like they were a drawn-out waste of time.
I won my first bout although I didn’t feel as though I had earned the victory. I lost the second fight without having a firm understanding of why, since we seemed to be about equal. Clearly the opponent punched me more often and harder than I punched him, but I didn’t have any guidance about what I would do to fix that, nor any good strategy about how to obtain a better outcome next time, apart from grinding the meters higher.
After a an hour of tapping, meter-raising, earning money (more tapping) and eating a pile of frozen pizzas, I found myself wondering why I was bothering to continue, and I couldn’t come up with a good answer.
I love the idea of Punch Club and I’m no stranger to games where leveling up is important, but this game is nothing but leveling up. There’s no excitement or thrill here, and Punch Club feels like it’s barely a half-step above being a cookie clicker. If I had been able to throw a few punches or been asked to press a few buttons with good timing, that might have been enough to keep me going for a while, but with nothing to do but click and manage meters? I tapped out.