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Don King, the flamboyant and controversial boxing promoter, lends his name to this boxing game from 2K Sports and Venom Games. With not a lot else available in this genre there will be the inevitable comparisons with EA's glorious Fight Night. Can this new contender in the ring trade blows with the reigning champ - or will it end up battered and bruised on the floor struggling to make the count?
After careful construction of your boxer in the seemingly endless configuration screens (where you can tweak virtually every characteristic from the shape of your sideburns to the 'heat' of your skin) you get to the game itself, with a career mode that tells the story of your boxer's ascendance through the boxing ranks from your first bouts in the training ring to world champion.
The game makes good use of video footage of interviews with actors as well as real boxers and promoters (including Don King). These describe how they first met you and the events surrounding your meteoric rise. The clips make quite interesting viewing even if like me, you're not a particular fan of boxing and don't know who most of the 'real' people are. They help to make the game experience a little more realistic - though if you're not worried about the back story then you can just skip them.
My initial bouts were a bit of a struggle to get to grips with the rather complicated controls.
After a pretty brief introduction to the control system you're shown to a desk with a rather battered old computer where you'll navigate the various options of training, booking fights, PDA (where you'll received good luck messages and so on) and the locker room where you can change some aspects of your boxer if you wish. Booking a fight is a matter of choosing one of a number of available opponents, each with their own style and history. Each win goes towards unlocking the final boxer of that section and beating him will lead to bigger and better things.
You get two weeks of training before each bout and this comprises your choice of a couple of 'mini-games' which will build your skills in various areas like stamina, strength and agility. Three of the activities are pretty similar in that they involve having to press the appropriate button at the right time as they either stream towards your feet / hands or appear around your trainer. The shuttle run is a real hand-cramper which has you alternately pressing two buttons A and X as you run between 2 points with a quick trigger press to skid-turn at each end. Finally, the punch-bag is a pretty straightforward punching exercise with bonuses given for hitting a specific point on the bag which is a good way of learning how the different punches and punch modifiers work together. An auto-train feature is available, which is a good idea for those who get tired of these sessions. You will improve your stats by using it, but not by as much as a good 'manual' session.
One you're done with the training it's time to step up and enter the ring.
My initial bouts were a bit of a struggle to get to grips with the rather complicated controls. All of the buttons and triggers on the controller are used, with A B X and Y being the various punches (uppercuts being A and X or B and Y pressed together), triggers used to lean or modify body punches, left analogue stick for movement, right for your guard and finally the shoulder button to activate your 'adrenaline' punch. Whew! This is in danger of deteriorating into a button masher - but that approach won't suffice on anything except for the easiest difficulty setting.
The adrenalin punch can be a life saver as it can completely turn a bout.
While fighting there are three bars shown for each boxer. These show your health, energy and adrenalin. Your heath bar shows both your maximum level - which is what you will recover to if you can avoid being hit, and an indication of how much of a battering your taking - hit zero and your knocked out (no matter how strong the punch that took you there was). Your energy bar indicates how well you will be able to hit and block. When this reaches zero you need to back off as your punches will be less effective, your movements slower and your defence weaker. Indeed I was getting annoyed at my boxer's sluggishness until I realised this is what was going on. The final bar, your adrenalin meter, will fill as you land punches. Get enough adrenalin and you will be able to spring an extra powerful punch that may well knock your opponent out in one. The adrenalin punch can be a life saver as it can completely turn a bout and I suppose this is the equivalent of the lucky punch which really stuns your opponent and puts you back on top. It does seem a little gimmicky though and I felt I ended up winning a match I shouldn't have because of this one move.
The actual boxing experience is, however, a bit of a let down. There often seems little connection between your button presses and the actions of your boxer, your fists will often pass right through your opponent (unforgiveable when contact between fist and flesh is the whole point of the game) and fights often just turn into a tedious war of attrition as you try to bring your opponents health bar down far enough to put him on the deck for good.
Prizefighter is certainly not an awful game but it's not a particularly good one either and does not stand up well to EA's offering. I have doubts about the longevity of this title as well, since it just seems to be a sequence of train, box, train, box and so on. The occasional intermission of fighting a historic bout (sepia toned and all) or a special circumstances fight, like being unable to use one hand because of broken fingers, doesn't do a lot to break up the slog and I can't see many people sticking with it and taking 'the Kid' to the top of the tree.
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