Let’s make this very clear: Knockout League is about as close as you’re going to get to a VR iteration of Nintendo’s classic arcade-style boxing game, Punch-Out!! The developers at Grab Games know this, I know this — we all know this. But with that being said, it absolutely works here.
Knockout League is both thrilling to play but easy to learn. Anyone can pick up their motion controllers of choice and jump into the ring against one of nine different characters and that accessibility is a big part of what makes it feel so great to play.
Just like Punch-Out!! the characters in Knockout League get gradually more difficult as you go along. The first batch are extremely simple and likely won’t require any retries on the standard difficulty settings as you just need to evade and counter when you see an opening, but that isn’t the case for many of the later opponents. For example, Showtime is a pompous, shades-wearing, conceited, and arrogant piece of crap. Ever since I first laid my eyes on him I was dripping with hatred. He was extremely frustrating to fight, like all three of the final batch, and made me want to pull my hair out a bit.
Thankfully the difficulty curve feels just about right. The second and third batch of enemies is much more difficult than the first, but it doesn’t take such a drastic leap that it feels unbeatable. Having nine opponents is a good number, but it does feel like it could use a bit more depth. At the very least a handful more opponents, some alternate game modes, or especially multiplayer, would have gone a long way. Or at the very least a bit more excitement pizzazz put into the environments and rings themselves.
And one of the underappreciated features that Knockout League introduces are short, animated stories for each of your opponents. Watching them is totally optional and they’re just in flat 2D, but they do a great job of building up their personality and giving a backstory to the name and face.
In addition to fighting each of the nine named opponents there are four different training mini-games too that range from dodge drills, block drills, focus mitts, and the speed bag. They’ve got a very Fruit Ninja meets boxing vibe, which totally works for the tone the developers were going for here.
The presentation is very 80s-themed and reminds me of not only Punch-Out!!, but Ready 2 Rumble Boxing as well. Gone are the days in traditional gaming that sports games were allowed to be fun and silly — every sports game on the market now is obsessed with nothing but realism.
Let me tell you also — Knockout League will make you sweat. And I don’t just say that as an overweight, out-of-shape gamer, I say that as someone that really felt like they got a workout from playing this game. The training games really keep you active and fighting opponents is great exercise for your core and back due to all of the bobbing and weaving.
Knockout League is a VR game that makes no qualms with trying to hide what it is or fool you into thinking it’s something more. This is about as direct a translation of the classic Punch-Out!! arcade-style gameplay as you’re going to find and it absolutely works, even if it lacks some originality. There is no better option out there if you want to punch some silly, often irritating, cartoon characters in the face — just don’t go in expecting a revelatory application of VR technology.