Last week Grab Games released an arcade-style boxing game for the PSVR and PC-based VR units called Knockout League, and if you loved Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out on the NES, then you may want learn more about this virtual reality boxing game.
When I first heard about Knockout League I was intrigued by what it promised to offer — true 1:1 motion tracking in an arcade-style boxing game — but I had doubts that it would feel like a precise boxing experience. After having my bell rung a few times, while ringing the bells of my digital opponents, I can say that with a little practice and tuning, Knockout League does indeed offer a very lifelike feeling boxing experience, albeit with the arcade antics of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. For all intents and purposes, that is what Knockout League feels like once you’re acclimated with its mechanics and VR nuances. It’s hard not to channel your inner Little Mac as you square off against the game’s nine unique fighters spread across three different title divisions.
In terms of its presentation Knockout League opts for an over-the-top cartoon style, which is somewhat similar to Punch-Out’s oversized looking competitors. Your trainer for example looks like Doc from Punch-Out, but one that had gastric bypass surgery, because he looks a bit deflated. The boxers you face all have unique appearances as well, which again is very similar to how each boxer differs from the rest in Punch-Out. Some even have props such as masks to hide their moves, or electric stilts to give their kicks an extra jolt of power. Graphically there really are no complaints, even on the PSVR running on a standard PS4. The visuals were clear, and made me feel immersed in the world, so I had no complaints with this game’s visual style.
The mechanics on the other hand aren’t perfect, but work well enough to provide a solid VR boxing gameplay experience. The game requires precise tracking to match your moves in a 1:1 setting, so having your camera and distance from it dialed in will make or break your experience. When you do get the VR gear dialed in though, Knockout League really does start to make you feel like an arcade boxing legend in real life. It’s very rewarding to hold two Move controllers and use them as your gloves to pummel your competition, or to train with your trainer Doug. You must block, dodge, and throw punches with expert precision, or face the incoming blows from your opponents with just your teeth to block them.
You can’t just wildly throw blows either, which a part of me would have liked to have as an option, but I also appreciated the strategic approach Grab Games went with. This game, like Punch-Out, requires you to become familiar with a fighter’s rhythm. Each of the nine fighters have move sets that they repeat, just like a boss in a traditional arcade game, so you must learn their patterns and react accordingly to knock them on their asses. You can only land consecutive blows if you perfectly block or dodge one of your opponent’s attacks, so just like Little Mac had to do against his competitors, you must also exploit their openings and be patient for attack windows. Randomly throwing punches will not fair well for you in this game, so while a free play fighting mode would have been fun to go HAM in, the standard gameplay offers much more strategy and the need for quick reflexes over furiously thrown random punches.
In addition to the fighting mode, Knockout League also has some enjoyable mini-games and a built-in calorie counter, so it can serve as an exercise aid as well. The mini-games range from dodging, blocking, and punching items being lobbed at you from canons to a full on digital speed bag, so there are activities for everyone. The built-in calorie counter also shows off how intense this game can get physically, so you can expect to burn plenty of calories while playing Knockout League if you really let yourself become one with the experience.
Knockout League truly is a VR homage to Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, so if you liked the boxing arcade action from that title, but want to experience it for yourself in a VR arena, then I do recommend picking this game up for the PSVR, Oculus, or HTC Vive. For the exercise benefits alone it’s worth the $29.99 asking price, but it also packs in a challenging, yet rewarding VR boxing sim, so it truly is a worthwhile VR experience investment.
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Review Statement: The author of this review was provided a PS4 code by the publisher for the purposes of this review.