Virtual reality games naturally lend themselves to experiences that require you to move around in a virtual space. Knockout League goes even further: as an arcade-style boxing game, this is one experience that teeters on exhausting.

But is it a smash hit or just a game that'll have you smashing vases and breaking surrounding valuables in the real world?

Arcade cartoon fun

Knockout League is a well crafted, beautiful-looking game; its cartoon-style graphics are superb, the characters are colourful and the animations are astounding. 

The game begins with an introduction to the game mechanics by a man with rather large fists. You're thrown into the ring and shown how to dodge, block and parry. It's all pretty straight-forward, which is perhaps one of the main appeals of this game: the intuitive gameplay means you can get stuck in easily. 

The controls are incredibly simple, too: throw punches by pushing your hands out in front of your while holding the controllers; block by raising your hands in front of your face. There's no need for button presses, as Knockout League is entirely based on movement.

After the initial tutorial, you're tossed into the ring with a real opponent and the fighting begins in earnest. It's tough at first, but satisfying. This is an arcade game, not a boxing simulator, so it's not gruesome, its cartoon graphics are often amusing and playful.

There are currently nine opponents in total, each of whom has their own characteristics with different moves, fighting styles and outfits. There's a woman who punches in quick combos, a mad scientist with bionic implants and metal legs, a boxing octopus, and all sorts of other lunacy.

Furious fun with flying fists

You need to learn the opponents' styles and moves in order to win, as dodging and timing is everything. Each time you defeat an opponent and they get back up, they then have a new set of moves or additional punches in their repertoire. This means you need to play through each a few times to learn how to defeat them more easily.

Opponents get tougher, not only as you progress through the game - but as you fight various rounds with them. On the first round of fighting, they might only throw one punch at a time. On later rounds, they might throw two or three punches at different angles and with combos. All of these need to be dodged, blocked and countered in order to win. 

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Each bout has a timer, with only five minutes or less in which to win. Generally, each opponent seems to get back up at least twice, so you'll have to fight them three times in order to win, which takes some doing within the time frame.

This is a game where it's really easy to get lost within the virtual world, your mind fixed on the match. That can be dangerous when you're throwing punches hard and fast, so keep the room free of people and nearby objects. The developers have acknowledged this, so there are regular prompts to remind you not to move around the room while you play. You're encouraged to stay in the same spot and not walk around the room or playspace as that could be dangerous; there are also options to adjust where you're standing in the room between rounds so you can reposition.

Dodging is key

Dodging is key to the game, whether to the side or down - as you can't dodge backwards out of reach, which might seem at odds with a boxing game, but is an intentional part of the design. It's also not possible to sidestep punches, while ducking too far will put you out-of-bounds and unable to dodge incoming attacks. This keeps you firmly rooted in the same spot and less likely to punch something in the real world that you shouldn't. 

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Perfect blocks highlight your gloves in blue; when they're purple that's a soft block and means you still take damage. Blocking just isn't as effective as dodging unless you block the first shot, then dodge the next or get the timing just right. Then you can follow with a good parry. If even one of your opponent's punches lands, then you're dazed and can't immediately strike back.

Successfully dodging puts an opponent on the back foot and allows you to strike. Punching back seems to be best done with speed and great vigour. Super fast repetitive jabs are the key to success. Landing successful punches with speed and variety also changes your gloves to a golden hue. These golden boxing gloves deal more damage to opponents and help you achieve a perfect block, as well as increasing your score multiplier to earn you more points to scale the leaderboard. 

Winning a match is oh-so-satisfying when everything goes slow-mo as your opponent flies through the air and hits the deck. Also, when you've watched your health bar drop to almost nothing, then manage to dodge their attacks and land your own punches to go on to win, it's a fantastic feeling.

Keeping fit while playing games

As you might have gathered by now, Knockout League is intense. It works as a wonderful spot of exercise and is certainly a good way to get your heart racing - from physical involvement as much as the adrenaline of play.

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You're essentially shadow boxing as you're not actually hitting a real object, but there's no awkwardness as you can't see what you actually look like. It quickly works up a sweat. Best get your Trackie bottoms out to play, eh? Oh, and we wouldn't recommend sharing the experience with friends due to the amount of sweat that builds up on the VR headset's face mask. 

One of the Knockout League's highlights is its calorie tracking feature. Entering your weight into the game and letting it calibrate based on your height will allow the game to give you an idea of roughly how many calories you've burned during a play session. We found we were averaging around 50 calories per round of play. Considering each round is only around five minutes long, if you can manage half an hour of play you'll have certainly contributed towards the burn.

Verdict

Knockout League is the sort of game is where virtual reality truly shines. In classic "Punch Out" format this would be a fairly dull game for 2018. But in VR it's an immersive, enjoyable and astoundingly atmospheric experience. And a sweat-inducing, calorie-burning one, too.

It's not without some frustrations though. We'd like it if you could throw punches and beat an opponent by overpowering them or by timing, when in reality you need to dodge their punches first and counter second. The gameplay also becomes quite formulaic, especially as patterns rarely vary once you've got the hang of the way an opponent fights.

As a young lad, we were told to stop playing video games and go outside to play, but now we can get some exercise while playing. Overall, Knockout League is an absolute smash hit. K-O!

Knockout League is compatible with Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Windows Mixed Reality headsets and PSVR. You can purchase it from Steam, the Rift store or the PlayStation Store

Price when reviewed:
£23.79

Alternatives to consider

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Superhot VR 

Although not a boxing game, Superhot VR is packed full of punching fun with bullet-time slow-mo mechanics to add to the fun. If you're considering Knockout League then Superhot VR's shooting, stabbing and smashing variety might appeal to a different side of your gaming persona.

Read the full article: Superhot VR review