Nintendo set the standard for casual boxing games back in 1984 with Punch-Out!! — a game that’s still beloved for its simple controls and zany characters. Gamevil’s Punch Hero is cut from the same canvas, but it adds a few twists of its own.
There’s no story to get hung up on here, so all you have to do is give your fighter a name and enter the arcade mode. You’ll then face 18 opponents, unlocking a new challenger each time you beat your current fighter.
The fighters are not as over-the-top as Nintendo’s characters, but they gleefully partake in every national stereotype you can think of (the Chinese fighter even wears a coolie hat). By the end of the arcade mode, you’ll be taking on football players, samurai, and even a ghost pirate. Each fighter has his own strategy, which you will have to learn and counter to win.
“Ladies and Gentlemen…let’s get ready to make friends!”
Not all of your opponents follow Marquess of Queensberry rules — we’re pretty sure Brian the football player’s spin move would not pass muster in the WBA — but most of the game depends on tapping out jabs, hooks, uppercuts, blocks, and weaves. Timing is critical, and your biggest hits will come from sidestepping an attack and launching a devastating uppercut of your own.
As you progress through the fights, you’ll earn experience and gold, both of which can be put into training, new skills, and costume items. This is where the game shines. There are lots of ways to customize your fighter, including ‘mega-punches’ and other special abilities. Play long enough, and you’ll get exactly the look and fighting style that suits you.
You may have to play a long time, though. Punch Hero pushes hard for in-app purchases. Useful items and skills are expensive, and you don’t earn much gold per fight. Free players will find that their opposition always has heftier stats, and they’ll have to fight the same guys over and over again to advance.
It gets easier to earn gold later in the game when the amateur and professional leagues unlock. Each league puts your fighter and the opponents from the arcade mode into a series of 14 matches. You’re still fighting the same guys– though you can add new fighters using customized photos from your camera roll– but the money is much better. You can even collect bonus cash from special missions like ‘win the match without using uppercuts,’ which is a nice variation on the same old fight.
Even with this variety, though, you’ll be seeing a lot of a limited pool of opponents. The game feels repetitive when played for long stretches, and it can be frustrating to get battered by a tough opponent over and over again. There’s also no multiplayer, though that’s understandable given the complexities of network code in fighting games.
Then there are the characters. Most of the stereotypes are innocuous, but Punch Hero’s black fighters have the full-lipped, wide-eyed ‘Sambo’ look that unfortunately still pops up from time to time in Asian cultures. We don’t think the game’s Korean developers were trying to be offensive, but some gamers are likely to find this unacceptable.
That said, if you have patience with Punch Hero’s flaws, or a few spare dollars to bypass them with, you’ll enjoy a fast-paced boxing game with a surprisingly deep skill system. All the game needs now is a mode where you fight zombies– and since there’s a mysterious graveyard lurking on the right side of the game’s main menu, there might just be one soon.