One of the most powerful experiences in PlayStation VR is when you feel like there’s a real person standing in front of you, and Knockout League’s colourful cast of characters certainly sell the illusion that you’re in a boxing ring. This is unashamedly a virtual reality version of Nintendo’s legendary Punch-Out!! franchise – but does it land its haymakers or take one on the chin?

Armed with a PlayStation Move controller in each hand, you must learn the patterns of the title’s opponents in order to put them on the mat. As in the aforementioned NES favourite, bouts feel more like puzzles than punch ups, as you learn the unique tells of each adversary and time your dodges in order to exploit their weaknesses. Whether it’s ducking round-house kicks or side-stepping a flurry of fists, you’ll need to stay on your tip-toes in order to survive.

There are nine foes in total, each with an animated backstory and a tailored fighting style. Things start our fairly straightforward, but the game grows in complexity the further you progress, and while the difficulty never quite spikes, be prepared for some frustration. Perhaps the biggest problem with the campaign is that it relies so heavily on trial-and-error; it’s almost impossible to learn all of the attack patterns at first blush, and so it can feel like you’re trying to remember tells rather than actually fight.

Said tells are impressively executed, though, and it’s clear that a huge amount of work has been invested in the character models themselves. While the boxing ring is nothing to write home about, the cartoony cast of characters look sublime in virtual reality; they are large, colourful, and brought to life with a wealth of comical animations. You can really see the look of panic on each opponent’s face when you’ve outwitted their attack pattern and you’re about to punch them square in the jaw.

There’s a training component to complement the core fighting, too. These adopt the guise of an array of minigames, testing your accuracy, timing, and reactions. One sees various objects fired in your direction, and you’ll need to punch, block, and dodge in order to obtain the best score possible. With multiple difficulty disciplines you’ll be returning to these regularly in order to improve your score, and the title even counts how many calories you’re burning while you play.

And make no mistake: this is a physical game. This author’s a keen runner and in reasonable shape, but still found playing the title a real strain on our leg and back muscles due to all of the dodging required in order to succeed. It’s worth mentioning because if you’re planning to play for an hour or more, there’s a good chance you’re going to know about it the next day.

Conclusion

Knockout League’s colourful cast of characters look chunky in PlayStation VR, and stepping into the ring with them is an immersive treat. The puzzle-like gameplay sticks rigidly to the Punch-Out!! format and can feel like you’re memorising attack patterns rather than engaging in a real fight, which grates in the later bouts. That said, fun minigames and great attention to detail make this an unexpected treat – just be prepared to earn your victories physically because even the fittest specimens will feel this game in their legs.