Don King Presents: Prizefighter Review
It's been more than two years now since EA Sports' excellent boxing game Fight Night Round 3 was released on the Xbox 360, and ever since, boxing games have simply paled in comparison. All of a sudden, the anime-style Victorious Boxers, which got a new installment on the Wii last year, seemed silly. Showtime Boxing was just downright horrible, and Wii Boxing is fun but just doesn't have much depth. Rocky Balboa was dull and its controls left much to be desired, and past Rocky games were worse. So how does the world's latest boxing title from 2K Sports and ex-Rocky developers Venom Games fare?
Sadly, it doesn't do very well at all. The career mode starts you off with a very simple tutorial that doesn't teach enough about the different ways you can defend yourself, and only shows you the most basic of punches. Then it stuffs you into a match that, unless you're on the lowest difficulty, you'll likely lose right off the bat. I've got plenty of experience with boxing games, but on the normal difficulty, it took me five tries just to try and get used to Prizefighter's convoluted boxing system enough to squeak out a decision. The fighting starts off frustrating, as you can expect to be thrown way off balance by punches that don't really actually touch you while your own boxer seems to purposely try not to hit his opponent whenever the other guy leans a little. KO punches will connect with your wrist or forearm rather than your glove, and the signature punches supposedly can "change the course of a fight" but really just are annoying as hell and often will work more in the favor of the AI than the player.
It goes beyond that, though. What seems to be the biggest issue is that inside fighting doesn't have a separate set of punch animations as fighting from a distance, so your straights will sail well past your opponent's ear if they don't hit, and you wind up landing a lot of punches on your opponent's shoulders and biceps. Uppercuts are an issue too, especially when the AI uses them, because an uppercut to the body looks almost exactly like one to the head. It's hard to defend yourself against punches that look so similar. The camera angle will adjust when you're on the ropes to a rather inconvenient place, too, sitting behind and to the left of your opponent. This means that any rights he throws are obscured by his own body, forcing you to guess whether they're coming in high or low. The fact that you're already on the ropes makes this even worse.
Going on the offense and throwing your own punches isn't really exciting either, though. You'll find that combos are maybe a little more realistic than most boxing games are - you won't likely get strings of massive hooks or uppercuts here - but they're also just not very fun to connect with. The feel of punches landing is not satisfying at all, and the slow-motion replays of knockdown punches really show just how bad the punching system in Prizefighter is. Whereas most replay punches in FNR3 will hit solidly on the face or body, showing off great close-ups of people getting smashed in the face and little ripples in the skin moving outward from a really nasty hit, Prizefighter's knockdown replays often show gloves missing the face entirely, or hitting only as your boxer is actually pulling his hand back after the punch is pretty much done.
Once you get a bit of practice, you can get through the game's brutal first couple of fights and figure out how to win. All you really need to do is plant your feet right in front of your opponent, flick the right stick up or down to block incoming punches, and use jabs and straights to start a short one-two combo and try to finish them with a single hook or uppercut. Trying to lean or stick and move generally will just get you punched more, and avoiding knockdowns is all but impossible sometimes so don't give up even if you go down. Prizefighter will allow boxers to go down many times per fight and they can still easily win - the most ridiculous one I had was where I was in control of most of the fight, but still went down four times. My opponent was finally TKO'd on the seventh knockdown, the third in round seven.
Mixed in with the career mode is an attempt at a story, with real video clips from Don King, Larry Holmes, filmmaker Mario van Peebles, and more, done with real shots of these people. But these tiny clips are just stitched together and talk simply about some unnamed boxer, who is the guy you create at the start of the career. I know that this is one of the supposedly biggest parts of Prizefighter, but as you can probably guess, it's not - the actual boxing is. Either way, the whole story is very disjointed and hardly makes any sense, and the ability to skip training and do "lifestyle" things to increase your media presence is supposed to garner better support from the crowd and more signature punches you can throw during the course of a fight. I found, however, that forgoing stat-building training in order to go on a date with a Penthouse model or make a movie is not worth what you'd otherwise gain, and it's just better to go through the training most of the time.
There are 30 real-life boxers here in Prizefighter, both from yesteryear and from the modern day, many of which you'll go up against in the career mode. Unfortunately, and this is something that no boxing game has really done yet to my satisfaction, most of the fighters fight the same as the rest. Every once in a while you'll see a bit of strategy come from one of the real-life fighters, but rarely does it actually match what the actual boxer's tactics really were in the ring. Combined with this are a few gimmick fights throughout your career where you have to fight with a specific disability or go up against someone who must be taken out early or outlasted until the end, but these matches wind up being more annoying than the regular ones.
In reviews I've called for deeper and more interesting training sequences for boxing games for years now, and Fight Night Round 3's simplistic mini-games are some of the worst offenders. Prizefighter does try to make them more challenging, but it ends up not being in a good way. Here, you'll be barraged with dozens of button presses you need to do in timed sequences where, in some cases, failure is less of an option and more of an eventuality. The question, simply, is one of how many sequences you'll screw up before your minute of button-juggle torture is up. Where's the training that challenges your boxing skills or movement skills? I'm talking about training sequences that not only improve your boxer's stats, but actually help you, the player, become better at the game. For example, why can't there just be a sparring partner throwing punches at me, making me dodge them, as my agility exercise?
There's online play in Prizefighter, but I don't recommend bothering with it. The frustrating fight system only gets worse with the lag built into the online action, and you'll find yourself getting hit by punches before they're even thrown on your screen. Boxing matches become tests of your psychic abilities and how quickly you can get in, deliver a few punches, and get out. There's just no fun in winning, and losing is even worse.
I can see where 2K Sports was trying to go with Prizefighter, but in the end it just falls flat. The steep learning curve, frantic and useless training sequences, and poor boxing system make for a frustrating experience. Sure, you can probably still figure out the method to this game's madness and carve out a bit of fun, but there's just no real point in bothering with Prizefighter and its $60 price tag when the venerable Fight Night Round 3 is cheaper and looks and plays better. But at least there is some hope, as a new Fight Night sequel from EA is on the way. Just don't waste the time or money to find out that Prizefighter won't even remotely hold you over until then.