'Knockout League' Hands-On: It's Like 'Punch-Out' In VR

Knockout League is the latest virtual reality (VR) game title from Vive Studios and developer Grab Games, which consists of a team of industry veterans previously from Konami. The new boxing simulator draws inspiration from some of the industry’s most-beloved gloved-grappling games, including Ready 2 Rumble and Punch-Out, with unique animated characters that will push your pattern-deducing skills and physical reflexes to the limit.

We couldn’t resist lacing up the gloves (Vive controllers) and going toe-to-toe with these new hard-hitting virtual opponents, so we stepped into the (also virtual) ring and joined the Knockout League.

Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive, And Dodge

In Knockout League, you start as a would-be boxer in training under the tutelage of former champion Doug Johnson, or Sweet Dougie J, as the posters in his gym refer to him. He will guide you through the tutorial--which automatically starts after you calibrate the video graphics and HMD height at first launch, create a ring name, and create your first save file--explaining the varying methods used to block, dodge, and counter your way to victory.

However, don’t assume you can punch your way out of this lesson, as undeserved cheap shots to your mentor will get you a verbal reprimand, which also makes Sweet Dougie J start from the beginning of his explanation. You can skip through the tutorial by pressing the menu button above the touchpad, but it’s not a bad idea to take a few practice swings to familiarize yourself with the mechanics and attack timings. Once the tutorial is over, you’ll be instructed to access the main menu.

Unfinished Business

Currently, the Fight menu is the only playable part of Knockout League, with the training section only giving you the option of replaying the tutorial. The other features in this menu, the Speed Bag and Coach Drills, are labeled as “coming soon.”

We were disappointed we couldn’t access these training simulations (it would have been nice to play around before getting serious and going straight to an actual fight), but Knockout League is currently an early-release game, so we weren’t surprised some functionality and gameplay were incomplete.

Here Comes The Bad Guys

Knockout League features several colorful and unique characters, including your first opponent, Tri-Tip. Whereas Tri-Tip appears to be an average boxer, and is the easiest of the fighters you’ll face, the difficulty and ridiculousness of the opponents increases as you progress. Moving past Tri-Tip, you’ll meet Crimson Fang--a jungle-woman type with a skinned feline for a cowl and a ferocious roar.

The third fight takes you face-to-face with an unsavory pirate named Scurvy Jones. If you can best his hook and sword (though I’m not seeing how fighting a man with said accessories is fair when all you have is boxing gloves) you’ll move onto the final boss, Octopunch, a mustached and British-sounding octopus with boxing gloves. (Also not exactly fair, and it needs no further explanation).

Remember To Stretch

If we could impart any advice to potential players, it would be to stretch before entering Knockout League. My first foray into the ring left me sore for days as a direct result of not properly stretching first, though I’m admittedly not at peak athletic condition.

Similar to Punch Out, you have to identify the attack patterns and find ways to counter them to create openings so you can beat your opponents, who change up their timings and attacks each time they're knocked down. Additionally, you can power up your gloves (they glow golden) with consecutive attacks if you don't get hit, which causes your successfully blocked punches to make your opponent stagger, creating an opening. However, Knockout League makes your body the controller, and your personal stamina can quickly become a factor in your success or failure in the ring. Also because of the physically taxing aspect of the game, you literally feel the thrill of the fight and a (perhaps undeserved) sense of accomplishment when you put one down for the TKO.

The game definitely gives you a workout, and we see this as a form of exercise with fast-paced action that really gets both your physical and mental reflexes working. We weren’t able to progress that far in Knockout League as a result of my recurring exhaustion--I was repeatedly shut down by Crimson Fang’s third phase--but the game is such that I want to progress further. To put it simply, it’s a lot of fun.

It’s A Knockout!

Knockout League is decidedly one of the best VR games we’ve played, despite its currently incomplete early release form. Whereas many of the VR applications currently available are designed around a singular experience or one-dimensional game mechanic (example: shooters featuring limitless hordes of zombies/robots/zombie robots coming at you), Knockout League feels like a complete and full-fledged game that has potentially limitless replay value, assuming you have the energy, especially if Vive Studios and Grab Games release new opponents and features over time.

It’s Punch-Out reimagined in virtual reality, and if the goal was to pay homage to the old-school boxing games of yesterday, Vive Studios and Grab Games proved successful in that endeavor with a boxing simulator that should be in every enthusiast VR gamer’s library. Knockout League is simply a knockout of a game, and it’s available now in the Steam store for $20.

Derek Forrest
Derek Forrest is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He writes hardware news and reviews gaming desktops and laptops.
  • problematiq
    I know what I'm doing when I get home.
  • Robbie_17
    If you can beat this perfect round then I'll give you mega props for the rest of your life :) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6R_oWEYba_E