Grinders on Steam are a really weird genre. You see, to my understanding, a grinder is the type of thing you play while riding public transport and having literally nothing else better to do. So I’ll say right now Punch Club would maybe get a recommendation if I tried it on a mobile device. For a regular sit-down gaming session, I found it a little lacking.
As far as grinders go, Punch Club is on the upper end of challenge. Even with efficient grinding, you’re likely to lose some fights. It’s also teeming with a little more than the average amount of bugs, some of them game breaking. And for the abilities, they’re reasonable until they’re not. On a strength build, you better not get Ruthless Aggression, as it will make you completely useless in the late stages of the game, wasting a lot of your hard work. I did, and basically went into “Bollocks to this” mode due to that. Still managed to beat it, but the little fun I was extracting from it was well gone by that point. It is also incredibly god damn long for this sort of affair, clocking in at 6 hours. A jaded man may like to point out that makes it six hours without any gameplay.
Let me say that I defaulted to Normal mode for this one instead of Hardcore. Even with proper training, Punch Club is perfectly happy to let you become almost entirely useless, and the tactical rock paper scissors is a bit too strong at some points. Early game is hell, and late game picks up the difficulty again. It’s a game about becoming a fighter, which mostly entails a lot of training, energy drinks, and very little else. Like a clicker, the appeal is very superficial. Input said amount of time into game by clicking on thing, receive headpats. The headpats in this case are the fights. Now, I may be spoiled by bigger fighting titles, but Punch Club does not have good animation.
I went into the fights, since they’re all stationary with no input on your part anyway, expecting a big blowout of animation. The game is a little genre blind too. It makes no small amount of references to all sorts of media. You’re being trained by Paulie from Rocky. You’re dating a woman named Adrian. You work delivering pizzas for Steven Seagal. However, there’s not one fighter that reproduces the moveset of any game. There’s a Sub Zero clone, but you won’t see him freezing your fighter. No learning the Shoryuken either.
The animations in general are pretty lifeless. Punch Club recycles diligently as well, with a total of about 5 animations that represent a wide variety of punches and kicks. You might be surprised to hear that Uppercut, Clothesline, Hook and Powerful Uppercut are all just represented by the same move. It saves time for the dev team, I’m sure, but getting a special move should feel like a reward. I don’t expect a Final Fantasy summon, but have the guy lean into his uppercut more and call it a Wild Uppercut or something. This game is a lot like a Pokémon fight, but the only Pokémon allowed is a Ratatta with Tackle.
At one point, you may fight Bruce Lee as well, because reasons. But no one inch punch will happen. He’ll be happy to throw the same high kick and mid kick everyone else has thrown at you so far. Bruce Lee clones have been a thing in video games since the 90s. It shouldn’t be hard to give him a couple Bruce Lee-like moves and have him be fun to watch. Hell, Street Fighter 2 did it, and it had worse graphics and less tech to work with than this.
The music and outside the fight gameplay can be charitably described as a time waster. It does pass the time, but it’s repetitive and dull almost to a fault. Even hanging out with your friends is either the manliest playdate to ever exist, with ONE sentence said over a space of four hours (Decent beer, huh?) or probably altogether not worth it.
The story is generic and not particularly inspired. Basic fighter dude rises to the top and becomes a mobster or a film actor. There’s a medallion and a contrived family feud, but, and I think this is no spoiler, the game has the cheek to end up on a cliffhanger. It looks like we’ll never get to see the end to it either, but it’ll take about ten minutes for you to figure out who the man in black is.
Very little films are more apropos to our times than Fight Club, with it’s themes of male identity, aggression and rampant consumerism. A little part of me has always wished for a good Fight Club game. Well, we got Fight Club on PS2, and this got my hopes up a little bit. However, outside of five fights Tyler Durden will arrange for you, you’ll get very little fight club action.
The stat loss mechanic that makes you lose more experience points the more experience points you get makes it entirely possible to train all day to only get meager returns. Not particularly fun, and it goes against the age old gamer maxim “Don’t fuck with my progress” without really doing anything to earn that. With no story, no interesting fights, and just a bunch of references, Punch Club doesn’t hack it on Steam.
With plenty of unskippable cutscenes and plenty of reasons to reset, it’s sure to grate on your nerves. Still, winning feels passably good, and normal difficulty is bearable. Get it on your phone and use it to kick back the existential dread for ten more minutes. A solid mobile game that can’t really knock the Indie competition on Steam.