Punch Club is a simulation game where you must train a mixed martial artist up the ranks. You micromanage many stats; health, hunger, energy, happiness, alongside your abilities of strength, agility, and stamina. You will need money to help maintain many of these aspects.
It's not a trivial task as everything depletes pretty quickly. Working in a job saps your fighting abilities, as does the in game clock switching between days. So some days you will work your job, work out, purchase food and eat it. Then, when the day ends; you will have basically broke even, or gained little. It often feels like you are taking two steps forward, and one back. Or maybe one step forward and two back. Progress is very slow.
The main gain I found was by winning fights. You gain points to spend in new abilities and you cannot lose these abilities. This may give you new punch or kick moves, defensive manoeuvrers or some kind of passive trait. Some of the abilities give you a minimum attribute so “strength cannot go lower than 4”. This is good to get, then start levelling a different attribute. The trouble is, what happens when you want to increase strength? When you hit 5, then you have to keep training it to maintain it.
In the fights, you pick a few of your abilities, then watch the fight play out. You fight until one of your health bars are depleted. At the end of each round (if you survive long enough), you get to switch out your abilities. I was expecting some deep tactics here, but for 95% of the game, I never bothered. The time I did bother was when I was going through a time when I was struggling for stamina. So I had a punch move that depleted opponents stamina, but it was a high stamina cost for me. Then later in the rounds, I switched it for a cheaper punch.
Stamina has a high importance; if you empty your stamina, then the opponent can hit you for major damage; sending you to the floor. This allows them to regain stamina themselves. I often found this swung the outcome of the fight.
There were times in the game where I felt like giving up. Like when I marginally lost in one of the underground fights and came out with a “broken arm” which reduced my training gains for a few days (sounds minor for a broken arm). It was a struggle to maintain my attributes as it was, so receiving a penalty was brutal. There was an option of paying a healer to remove it, but it wasn't like I had much money, and even though I raised the money and paid it; then I was struggling for food.
There's plenty of 80's references in the game such as Rocky and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Punch Club is fairly shallow, but I found it fairly addicting and played it for long periods. I think the game will be difficult for everyone, but can be more so depending on the abilities you select. I think there are quite a few opportunities to really hinder your development, and it can end up taking up to an hour of real time to rectify. I'd imagine there will be even game-breaking mistakes you can make. I think it's quite hard to recommend because of this.