If you’re an Oculus Quest owner and appreciate the pugilistic arts then October is something of a bonanza month for you with two excellent boxing titles released on the platform. Like the other release Thrill of the Fight which I’ll also be covering Knockout League comes to Quest from PC having enjoyed considerable success on Steam and the Oculus store. Indeed Knockout League also sold well on PlayStation VR so it’s a welcome addition to the Quest library. In a nice gesture developer Grab Games have made the title cross-buy so if like me you previously had it on Rift, you can add it to your Quest library for free.
We reviewed the PC version of the game back in early 2018, which you can read here. Since then there has been one fairly significant update that added a couple of new opponents and some additional training mini-games but the core mechanics remain the same. The fitness scores we gave back then still hold true today and remains an accurate reflection of its overall fitness challenge. This is a good thing, as Knockout League is a very active game!
In this article, I want to do two things. Firstly I’ll go over the game’s core content for newcomers interested in knowing what the game has to offer. Secondly, I want to act as an apologist of sorts for this game’s rather unique, punch out style mechanics.
Knockout League has been a bit maligned by some for its fighting mechanics, as many don’t enjoy the choreographed nature of the combat. It’s essentially a scripted rhythm game rather than a true boxing simulation. As such it’s often been quickly dismissed in favor of Creed and Thrill of the Fight. Whilst I agree with this assessment in part, the fighting is not the best aspect of this game, to dismiss it as not worth buying because of this really is a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. As we’ll see there is some tremendous content here if you know where to look!
Punch Out in VR
In Knockout League you are an aspiring boxer under the tutelage of Doug Johnson, a former champion boxer who sees you as his next protege. You start by naming your character. A binomial drop-down menu allows you to select two descriptors that make up your name, I went with Steel Puff, a reflection of my core attributes, a stout heart and tenacious will sadly married to pillow fists. Then you’re into the ring for a coaching session.
You’re quickly taught the basics, how to block, dodge and duck punches, and how to counter with your own. This is a rhythm-based game, you need to learn the patterns and moves and respond accordingly. Timing is everything.
Once you’re acquainted with how the game works the menu opens up and you have the option to either train or fight.
The fights themselves are a modern spin on the classic Super Punch-Out game. If anything the opponents in this are far weirder as you are as likely to be fighting an octopus or a pirate as you are a towering, oversized boxer. It’s very physical, ducking under their telegraphed attacks will leave them exposed to counters and you have a few seconds to mash their faces in before they can get out of the way. The physicality of the fights makes them very entertaining initially, enhanced by the stellar musical score and sound effects, but the fights are entirely scripted and once you know the patterns you can beat them every time.
I believe there are nine opponents, which match Thrill of the Fight but unlike TOTF, which is a fully customizable boxing simulation the fights in Knockout League lack any kind of replay value.
As I stated above, this has led to some people rejecting this game as being too arcadey, not serious and even boring. But they are dead wrong!
The fighting is only half of this game’s content and the poorer half at that. The real longevity and replayability of this title comes in the training sections, and that leads me on to the best thing about this game, having your very own virtual boxing coach!
Let’s meet him…
Doug Johnson the ultimate VR boxing coach
People who compare Knockout League unfavorably to Thrill of the Fight or Creed are missing the boat as far as I’m concerned. As the training mini-games are where the game really shines the title this bears the closest comparison to on the Quest, in my opinion, is actually BoxVR.
That’s because the real meat and potatoes of Knockout League are the superb cardio HIIT workout sessions you have with Doug Johnson. Not only are these fast-paced and great fun, but they are also fully customizable with a range of both difficulty and time presets.
In training mode, you have four different training mini-games. I say mini, but that doesn’t mean brief. They can be short of course but if you want to test yourself you can set up a hardcore 60-minute session on each that will push you physically as much as any VR game out there. The training here represents some of the best and most focused fitness challenges available on Quest and absolutely deserves to form part of your weekly exercise routine.
Let’s take a look at what’s on offer;
This mode literally throws everything but the kitchen sink at you. You are given a blue glove and a red glove. You must punch the blue balls with the blue glove, red balls with the red glove. Medicine balls you must block with both gloves, whilst dumbbells need to be dodged. It’s fast-paced and you’ll be working on your coordination and reflexes as much as your arms and shoulders. All the twisting and dodging of obstacles gives your core and midsection a terrific workout too.
If you want you can do it for an hour nonstop like the guy in the video below!
Originally a DLC add on this mode is included on Quest as standard. Pound away at the bag and hit the icons as they appear.
This is my favorite! Engage in some classic boxer pad work with your trainer. Doug has a number system 1-10 each corresponding to a different punch, 1 left jab, 4 right hook, 9 left body shot, etc. He also fires punches back at you and will warn you if he’s going to hit you from the left or right. You need to duck out of the way of these, which contributes to a great leg workout.
I completed a 45-minute session of mitt work and you can see my Fitbit results below. It’s intense, and difficult at first to translate the numbers into punches but gets easier with practice. The satisfaction when you string together a complex combination, firing off a 1-2 then ducking under a right cross and ripping two shots to the body feels, and sounds great. The impact of the gloves on the pads is hilariously over the top so even if you’re a little old lady living in a retirement home in Wisconsin when you hit those mitts it sounds like a crack of thunder! It certainly empowers me to keep going!
The final training option is another test of coordination and speed. You can get coaching from Doug as he shouts at you to switch hands, speed it up or slow down, turning it into something of a HIIT workout.
Let Doug be your coach for Thrill of the Fight
Hopefully, I’ve encouraged you to give the minigames a fair shake, it’s really where this game shines in my opinion. Ironically it’s the exact opposite situation with the other new boxing release Thrill of the Fight. TOTF is a brilliant boxing simulator but the training feels more like an afterthought and the trainer says and does exactly nothing!
So what I recommend is combining the two games. Imagine Doug Johnson is your virtual boxing coach whipping you into shape for your fighting career, and then face your foes, not in Knockout League but rather in the boxing gym and arenas of Thrill of the Fight. If you like boxing as exercise this game duo makes for a dream team combination!