Return of the (Little) Mack! Knockout League Brings Familiar Action to VR! (REVIEW)
As a lifelong gamer, the yearly trends haven’t exactly inspired confidence on the consumer level. From the latest microtransaction-laden misfire, to Battle Royale games like PUBG and Fortnite, as well as e-sports in general, division amongst fans is beginning to be reminiscent of the “Console Wars” of the late 80’s and 90s. Now that viable virtual reality experiences are commonplace, another contender steps into the ring. Inspired by one of the undisputed giants of the Classic era, Knockout League seeks to add more bang to the “sweet science” by bringing arcade-style boxing to living rooms the world over. A bit of a warning before you go partying like it’s 1989, it may help to rearrange some furniture.
Knockout League, by Vive Studios and Grab Games, is the closest to Punch-Out!! as you can get, licensing aside. You play as a new student of fictional Boxing trainer Doug Johnson, as you fight your way up a series of virtual bouts leading to the Knockout League Championship Title. There are nine fighters total in the PlayStation 4 port, up from three fighters in the initial PC release. Players duck, dodge, juke, jive, and work up a considerable sweat in just the first of the game’s puzzle-like battles. First and foremost, this is in no way a virtual Boxing simulator. In the vein of Punch-Out!!, each opposing pugilist represents a unique physical puzzle to solve. As tempting as it is to land a custom combo on a dazed opponent, Knockout League is a game and wants to be played a specific way.
As of the time of this writing, Reflex Alley has become a part of my daily workout regimen — all kidding aside, its practically created it!
That small caveat aside, the gameplay being offered is where the fun lies, even down to the Tutorial and Practice modes, more on that later. The game’s main offering, Fight Mode is straight-forward. The fighters displayed are stylized and caricature-like, representing a variety of pop culture archetypes. Players start off battling the standard brawler, but soon opponents include Pirates, Stage Magicians, even a peculiarly civilized Cephalopod before it’s all said and done. As unique as each opponent is, the same can be said of their “tells,” telegraphed actions that give a quick-bodied player the chance to land the counterattack. Later fights will be a test of both the efficacy of electrolytes, and your own cardio as the fights get more intense. Once each of the fighters is toppled, there is a Grudge Match mode, think of it as Knockout League’s New Game+ option. The initial nine fighters return, all with new moves as well as speed and strength upgrades.
As is the case with a lot of VR games, there appears to be a high focus on replay value. Once players master both of Knockout League’s Championship brackets, Practice mode could become a new way of life for more ambitious gamers. Trainer Doug Johnson is back with a series of exercises, three in total. The Speed Bag mode is just as expected as gamers use their virtual mitts to hit the bag in time amidst various tempo changes, and Doug’s own instructions. Focus Mitts mode sees players stand toe-to-toe with Doug as he calls out various Boxing combinations using numbers one through six. This mode requires quick thinking and a bit of practice before the frustration wears off. Last up is Reflex Alley, and my personal favorite among the three. Through a series of tubes, objects are propelled towards the player. Depending on the object, a specific movement or punch is required. Dumbbells, for example can only be dodged, while a medicine ball must be blocked. As of the time of this writing, Reflex Alley has become a part of my daily workout regimen — all kidding aside, it’s practically created it!
Rare is a case where game progression is directly tied to physical fitness in such a way, and this is where Knockout League functions as an outlier. There’s even a built-in counter to track calories burned during a play session! The practice modes each have Easy, Medium, and Hard settings, as well as a fourth “Stamina” option allowing players to engage in the activity of their choice for as long as they’re physically able. After playing for just a week at 20 minutes a day, I’ve already noticed an increase in Cardiovascular function! Bearing that in mind, those with serious health issues or concerns may want to consult a health professional before extended play sessions, you will feel the burn. Knockout League was released on PlayStation VR in mid-February of this year and is the first VR title available for all 3 major VR platforms, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation 4. While not a true Boxing simulator, Knockout League is a worthy successor to Nintendo’s beloved franchise, just be wary of your surroundings.
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