Knuckle Up is a masterpiece of simplicity. With an elegant control scheme and old-school, pattern-oriented gameplay, Knuckle Up is universally playable and invariably fun. Veteran gamers will hail the game as the mobile answer to Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! for the NES. Newcomers to the genre will enjoy Knuckle Up's lighthearted approach to character design and its strategic sparring.
Knuckle Up is basically a series of boss fights in the classic, video game sense. Each of your opponents has a distinct fighting style and pattern, which, once learned, leads you to victory. For example, one character, The Mole, will fiercely guard his face and body, rendering him invulnerable. Occasionally, though, after blocking a few blows, he will unleash a torrent of punches on you. If you are able to dodge these, you'll have a chance to hit him a couple of times before he returns to blocking. Rinse and repeat.
The best feature of Knuckle Up is its no-nonsense control, which uses only your phone's five-way directional pad. The up key performs a quick jab; the down key blocks; the left and right keys control lateral movement; and the "OK" button launches a haymaker. While this system does not allow for a great degree of punch variety, it is infinitely preferable to the more complex control of competing games, such as Sorrent's Fox Sports Boxing, which requires the use of number keys in conjunction with the directional pad. Knuckle Up's limited repertoire of punches is not a big weakness. It is far easier to manage two punches than it is seven. After all, Knuckle Up is an arcade-style game, not a boxing simulation.
The game's graphics are appropriately cartoony. While the visuals aren't going to trigger fits of ecstasy in gamers, the goofy character sprites might elicit a few laughs. I found Pretty Boy, a scrawny blond of exceptional pallor, to be particularly amusing to look at.
The only thing keeping Knuckle Up from obtaining a higher score is that the game ends too soon. The final boss, Tubby McGraw, is fairly easy to overcome, once you learn his formulaic approach to butt-kicking. A greater complement of characters would have made a welcome addition to the title. Better still (dare we say it?), a multiplayer mode could have been added to allow a player to challenge an anonymous combatant on the Sprint Vision network. Such a feature would have made this game immortal. Alas.
Nevertheless, Knuckle Up packs a lot of classic flavor into its mobile punch. Its simplified, robust gameplay makes it a great game for the medium. Highly recommended.