Reviewed: August 20, 2002
Released: May 30, 2002
Published by Acclaim and developed by Full Fat, who also brought us Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX 2, Punch King is a stylish cartoon-style boxing game. Punch King is very similar to an older title for the Super NES called "Punch-Out!!". In fact, you might call it a knock off. Punch King stands alone as the only game of its kind on the Game Boy Advance. This is really the only boxing game I've spent time with in a long time, so it's difficult for me to compare it to other games.
The basic story of Punch King is pretty typical. You are a lowly beginning boxer with an old manager who gives you more or less useless advice from time to time on your way through the ranks to become the Punch King. You will travel around the world and fight in different locales. Each of the boxers you meet and beat will have a few things to say to you between each round to "flesh out" the story so to speak.
The game pits you against 12 unique and cartoonish boxers from around the globe that increase with difficulty as you play. Even the first boxer, a maddeningly polite old Englishman named Henry Jameson is quite a challenge, as it took me at least 10 or 15 trys just to beat him. This could put off beginners or casual gamers.
The trick to the game is learning the patterns of the boxers, and this unfortunately requires wrote memorization of their moves and timing, rather than any real skill. You do have to use the best combination of moves to try and knock the other fighter out before your time limit expires. You get three 60 second rounds to try and do this with some inane dialogue between rounds and some "advice" from your manager that doesn't seem to actually fit with what's happening in the ring.
During Arcade Mode, if you lose a battle, you can continue the game up to 3 times. If you actually manage to get good at this game, be prepared for extended gaming sessions because there is no save game feature. Yep, you have to fight your way through all 12 fighters to the end of the game with no saves or even password codes. This is rather inconvenient for a hand-held gaming platform which is typically used by gamers on the go when you have a free moment here or there. As I played this game during my mobile times over the course of a few weeks, I frequently found that I just did not have time to get involved in a full game of Punch King except for perhaps the odd Survival Mode or Vs Fight modes.
As far as moves goes, you can press the A and B buttons in combination of the D-pad to perform different types of swings. For example, you can do a left handed jab with a quick press of the B button, or a powerful right uppercut by pressing up on the D-pad and the A button. Which move you'll want to use depends on the stance of the opponent boxer as well as his particular weaknesses. Once you learn the pattern for a boxer you can usually beat him every time since the AI does not appear to adapt to your strategies. Unfortunately the controls seem a bit sluggish and unreliable at times.
Each of the 12 boxers hails from a different country of origin and is essentially a stylized, cartoonish representation of all of the stereotypes that nation might enjoy. Each boxer has a special move that you must be very careful to avoid by paying close attention to visual cues that warn you of impending doom. The game has a very pro-American bent to it. Your own character Tiger Armstrong and the leading champion Bucky Booth both hail from the good ol' US of A. Beat the snot out of all those foreign boxers so you can fight the champ, yeah. Well, it's a story.
One important aspect of game play is your Stamina Meter. You can only throw punches when you have some juice left in your stamina meter. This meter recharges if you are on the defensive, not punching. You can try to block punches by carefully memorizing your opponent's wind up moves and then pressing the appropriate block move as soon as you see it. Failure to block or dodge the attack will result in a lowered Health Meter. If your health meter empties, you can be knocked down, or sometimes, knocked out. Another important meter is the KO Meter. This meter fills as you land successful punches and goes down as you take hits. If the meter fills up, you can rapidly launch an aggressive all-out attack because at this point you do not have to worry about your Stamina Meter. This is the key to knocking out the opponent before the round is up. Your opponent also has these three meters so you need to pay attention to it and plan accordingly.
Aside from the basic Arcade Mode which pits you against each fighter in the same order and more or less tells a story of your road to victory, there are also two other game modes. One is the Vs. Fight, which is a single bout between any two fighters in any arena. You can only select boxers and arenas that you have defeated in Arcade mode. The third mode is Survival Mode, which is a random onslaught of opponents with no resting in between rounds. The object of this mode is to stay conscious as long as possible. There is no time limit in this mode, the only limit is your Health Meter.
Each of the 12 opponent boxers has a unique style and an arena which varies per their country of origin. Your own image is a translucent skinny guy with bad, green hair. The graphics style is very cartoonish, which provides some entertainment value. The animations are rather poor, though. There is no fluid motion of movement when a boxer makes an attack, just a few frames as if you were watching a comic book one cell at a time.
Some of the special moves of the opponent boxers was interesting to watch, and provided a little bit of flair to the game, but even those animations were not detailed or smooth enough to impress. On the plus side, the use of colors is very good, and the cartoonish style is attractive.
Punch King has pretty good sound effects of the punching if not a bit monotonous. Different types of punches have different sounds, naturally. The opponents each have a special move that is usually preceded by a war cry of sorts. There is an announcer that is sure to tell you each and every time that you are knocked out with a big "K.O.!!"
The best part about the sound is the music, which changes in style depending on which arena you are fighting in to match that country's theme. It's almost like you're going through a wacky version of the World Showcase at EPCOT Center, Disney World.
I am supposed to talk about replay value here. Well get ready to replay this game a lot. Again. And again. And again. Unless you're a master at these kinds of games, expect to have to combat the same fighters over and over until you finally beat them. Eventually you will discover a pattern that works really well against a particular fighter. Then the only trick is to execute that pattern flawlessly so that you can defeat that fighter before the time runs out.
And if the arcade mode isn't enough for you, go for the Survival Mode where you get to fight all of the fighters in a random order until you drop or beat all 12 with no Health Meter reset. Joy!
The sad part is, once you have memorized the patterns for each of the 12 fighters, there is virtually no replay value left. There are no extended modes. There's no way to hook up to your buddy's GBA for a little multiplayer action. No hidden features, at least, not that I discovered.
Overall, Punch King is a fun, but often frustrating diversion in the "genre" of cartoon boxing. While it does not have many of the features that modern games have, it has kind of a retro charm going for it. Probably this stems from the fact that it's essentially a clone of a 1984 arcade game.
If you liked Punch-Out!! and are looking for something like that on the GBA, look no further. Sluggish controls, poor animations, and a lack of real replay value (aside from playing the same stuff over and over again) mar a title that had a lot of potential if they had only modernized the concept. The artwork is stylish, and the music is quite good, at least, and there aren't a lot of similar titles available. Unfortunately for Punch King, there are a lot better GBA games out there that knock this game out cold.