Knockout League (2017) is a single-player, arcade-style boxing game that promises to get your heart pumping as you duck, block, and punch your way to victory. Harking back to NES classic Punch-Out!! (1987), you learn pretty quickly that a storm of punches—the moral equivalent of button-mashing—will get you nothing if you can’t time them correctly to your opponent’s repertoire of moves. So while Knockout League can’t promise what you might call “boxing sim” realism, it definitely delivers a lot of fun along with the stark realization that I clearly don’t get enough exercise.


Knockout League Details:

Developer: Grab Games
Available On: Oculus Touch, HTC Vive (Oculus Home & Steam)
Reviewed on: HTC Vive
Release Date: January 24th, 2017

Note: This game is in Early Access which means the developers have deemed it incomplete and likely to see changes over time. This review is an assessment of the game’s current state, and will not receive a numerical score.


Gameplay

The game starts out with a simple training session that details all of the moves you need to know as you go against the 4 available opponents; Brazilian fighter ‘Tri-Tip’, warrior princess ‘Crimson Fang’, saber-wielding pirate ‘Scurvy Jones’, and posh English octopus ‘Sir Octopunch’.

Each of them has a signature power move that they unleash, oftentimes after you attempt a KO. Of course, taking one of these to the face can mean a near instant game over, but dodging a few punches afterwards thankfully lets you recoup your health automatically. You’ll know when you’re almost down for the count though, as each punch landed on your soft, baby face makes the world a little less colorful and also applies a ‘punch-drunk filter’ to further distort your vision.

The moment you time it just right though, and successfully dodge or block the move and deliver a series of counter blows, you really can’t help but feel like Rocky Balboa (the times he didn’t get beaten, obviously).

Knockout League really seems like its ready for prime time with its patently smooth scene modeling and character animations, but the paltry sum of only 4 AI opponents means you can complete the entire game in about an hour. This can be forgiven somewhat since it’s still in Early Access, and the developers have said they’ll be adding more unique opponents and additional game modes in the next 3-5 months. Hopefully it will be enough time to add more features, because as it stands currently, there isn’t any type of spendable in-game currency or any other customization options outside of picking your own name.

SEE ALSO
'Racket: Nx' Early Access Review

That said, this is one of those games you’ll force on your friends and family to try, because while definitely a shorter experience, it’s something that is sure to get plenty of laughs while testing the aerobic ability of everyone involved. Playing through each boss is certainly a workout, one that left me heaving a little more than I rightly should.

Immersion

Since this isn’t a boxing simulator, you should know there’s a few limitations put on you from the very beginning. Firstly, don’t think that you can back away from a punch in Knockout League or use the whole ring’s space to your advantage, because the game only provides you with about a square meter of space to move in—and that’s regardless of how large your room-scale setup can manage. Leaving this pre-set area will pause the game, so this forces you to actively engage your opponent in a few ways that the AI can react to, necessitating ducking and moving either to left or right of punches instead of instinctively backing up.

Fights are forward-facing, so besides ducking and moving out of the way of punches, you’ll have to block too. This wasn’t exactly my strong suit, as I could rarely activate a block in time. I couldn’t really tell if it was my fault, or the fault of the game, because quickly bringing my hands up to cover my face and activating the split-second blocking mechanic usually resulted in a smack to the jaw. I quickly learned to block though on the last boss, Sir Octopunch, because he would toss multiple impossible-to-dodge, boxing-glove clad tentacles at a time.

knockout league boss

Punching, like in Punch-out!! is extremely mechanical, and relies purely on your ability to find out when the AI opponent is vulnerable—usually before a signature powermove, leaving them wide open to a sock right in the kisser. This, again, is another time when you have to abandon your real world expectations of fighting. There was zero reaction because I didn’t punch at the AI’s specified time, even when opponents seemed vulnerable and I clearly landed punches to an unprotected spot like the stomach or the head. Knockout League is an arcade-style game, so you’ll have to train your reptile brain to accept all of that as the punches fly.

SEE ALSO
Preview: 'Racket: Nx' for HTC Vive

Comfort

There is no artificial locomotion in Knockout League, meaning there’s little chance that you’ll feel any different from walking around in the real world. This makes this, and games like this, an exceedingly comfortable experience to play for extended amounts of time.

Through no fault of its own, Knockout League can get your VR headset a little sweaty after a while, so if you’re seriously thinking of playing the game for more than 15 minutes, you should consider some sort of removable cover to protect your headset’s facial interface from absorbing your smelly, bacteria-laced face goo. Both Best Buy and individual sellers on Amazon offer suitable solutions should you want to stop living like a grease-faced ham demon.


Summary

While still in Early Access, and in need of more features, opponents, and general customization to bolster replay value, ‘Knockout League’ is by far the most fun you’ll have getting punched in the face. The game’s art direction and atmosphere is extremely competent and the opponents movements, although necessarily predictable, give you quite a workout. There’s no denying the game’s charm as it harks back to arcade boxing days of old.

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  • Brandon Smith

    I really kind of hate that stuff like “points to spend” has become standard and expected in video games. I get that SOME people really love that kind of thing, like collecting widgets in Rare games, but the does it really need to be expected in ALL games? I feel that if a game is properly designed, it shouldn’t need meaningless carrot-on-a-stick widgets to keep you interested. Even just 4 fighters could be enough for me if the AI was good enough, and challenging enough, to make me want to beat it.

    I honestly think it would be pretty rad to be working out at the gym in real life with a picture of an octopus man taped to a heavy bag as you train to beat “level 3” in the video game.

    • George Vieira IV

      I’ve always enjoyed earning stuff through gameplay. Ever since James Bond on the N64 came out. I thought it was a great way to encourage alternate play styles, adding replayability, aside from the added content that you’ve earned.

  • Robbie DeRoo

    lol@octopus man taped to a heavy bag. Check out my perfect first round. I haven’t seen anyone beat it yet. https://youtu.be/6R_oWEYba_E Do your worst!

    • Brandon Smith

      That looks so fun. It reminds me of Ready 2 Rumble for the dreamcast. But way better.