Don King Presents: Prizefighter Review
|Release Date:||June 13th, 2008 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||Duncan Lawson (Sinna01)|
Once upon a time, when Don King was asked what makes a boxer great he said "It ain't about if he knocks a guy out. It's about how he knocks a guy out. It's the style, the improvisation." Which, to paraphrase, could mean Boxing isn't just about smacking seven shades out of the opponent, but bringing elegance and flair to the proceedings. Perhaps, a certain élan and ability that has earned this sport of kings and princes the term 'the sweet science'.
Or, on the other hand, he could have meant what makes for a really memorable fighter is a catchy nickname, tabloid exposure overload, questionable mental health, and shooting a little person out of a cannon every time they enter a ring. You all know and… well, you all know Don King, so can be the judge of what he actually meant at the time. There is a strong case, however, that this latter concept was taken to heart in developing Don King presents: Prizefighter, a boxing game that uses a lot of fancy footwork in its 'style and improvisation', to the extend it forgets to actually deliver a punch.
Boxing, despite its simple premise of two gentlemen in shorts punching each other repeatedly until a bell rings or someone looses an ear, is a very difficult sport to competently translate into a game. With the limited area of play, the startling speed at which the fighters can throw punches, and the intrinsic trouble of giving 3rd dimensional depth to the fight, it's actually a tricky thing to emulate without simply producing a dull version of Mortal Kombat. The reigning champ of the genre is currently EA's Fight Night series, but even this has trouble getting away from the sense that both fighters are nailed onto parallel rails to inevitably collide head-on. Even the latest, maddest, eye-shredding incarnations of Soul Calibre et al in their heart of hearts still have Chung Li and Blanka facing off in 2D. There have been valiant attempts to loosen the gaming pugilist's feet of clay, but this isn't one of them. The fighting invariably becomes a graceless, desperate slugfest with both sides blindly hammering at each other until a power up bar fills up and a special punch can be delivered. The punch lands, one man falls over and instantly forgets about two years of his childhood, gets up a few seconds later and the whole horrible show is repeated at least four or five times.
The punches in Prizefighter are all on the four face buttons, with 4 basic punches with a head/body modifier on the right trigger, and two uppercuts if X+Y or A+B are pressed together. The actual arrangements of the punches to the buttons is pretty intuitive, and despite the tutorial levels slightly intimidating pace you can very soon expect to throw the punches you want instinctively. The individual punches do snap out with a reasonable enthusiasm, and if judged entirely on one fighter throwing and landing one punch, it would be a pretty good title. Unfortunately Prizefighter falls apart when the gamer has the audacity and poor sportsmanship to then want to land a following, associated blow rather than wait patiently for the other chaps turn. The concept of combinations is essentially non existent here, and rather than being able to fluidly string together punches as the situation calls for it, a-ducking and a-weaving, there are instead a grand total of about four 3-hit combinations that actually work to any extent and you'll find yourself repeating those over and over.
As you chip away at your opponent, in the bottom right hand corner an adrenaline meter will fill up based on successful hits. There are sections three in this meter of might, each one representing the use of a special punch. Landing one of these jawbreakers will make short work of the majority of the opponents health bar, and if not already decked a few follow up knocks will put them down. These punches are pretty much the match deciders, cheapening all the other pugilistic action into simply frenetic chipping at each other until unleashing a wild and career-ending gazelle punch. I pity the fool, most sincerely. Should all three of the adrenal bars fill up then you can use your secret weapon, reveal your true form, play your trump card, unleash your ultimate secret technique or whatever other madness the characters in anime tend to say before glowing, changing colour and kicking the stuffing out of the antagonist. In this iteration the screen will go misty red and you will briefly become the berserker foretold in legend, each punch a hammer blow and a knockdown effectively guaranteed.
The trouble being that much of the drama is also robbed from a knockdown, as an actual knock-out is effectively impossible in Prizefighter. Each time the health bar is brought to zero you'll get a not unsatisfying slow-mo shot of the final punch spraying the sweat and blood off the face of the punchee, he'll go down like timber, and the ref will start his countdown. Should it be you on your knees, you can hammer away on the 'A' button to recover health and stamina and hit 'Y' to actually regain your feet, ensuring you have enough time left over to actually do so. The arisen fighter will have a shorter maximum health bar than before, but will otherwise be none the worse for wear in his performance. Without the ability to cleanly put the lights out of an opponent in a weakened state, matches continue to be a merciless grind awaiting either the seemingly arbitrary moment the ref decides this is more of a mugging than a boxing match, or someone finally can't regain their feet by the count of ten. When a fighter goes down in an actual boxing match the crowd will just go absolutely bananas, hopping up and down, baying demands or insults or a mix of both, possibly turning on each other to sate their enraged bloodlust. Can he get up? Will lose and eye? Is he in fact dead? A boxer going down in Prizefighter has none of such delicious, socially irresponsible excitement, as a fighter going down is usually a wearisome first step on a repetitive path.
The animation and mapping of the character models is far from terrible, but is by the same token unimpressive. The graphical moments that will stand out are the fairly frequent clipping problems when a forearm will phase right through an opponents head, or an allegedly successful punch will fall noticeably short in what looks to be a parody of bad fight choreography on 70's Star Trek. Given that the programmers has exactly two characters to animate and get the modelling right for, moving slowly insides a very limited space, and one of which is always The Kid anyway, it seems odd that the fighters often seem so disassociated from each other actions.
So the actual boxing in Prizefighter isn't up to much, and you'll probably get a better sense of pugilism in Wii Sports, but what does Mr King intend to distract us from these shortcomings with? What does the man who's added almost as many hybrid words to parlance as President Bush proffer to dazzle us? Will there be spectaclarosity, or will the whole show be a victim with extreme fectaculosity of its own magnormous pompestuity? (All genuine King-isms)
It's mostly the latter, as all Prizefighter has to offer in the stead of a competent fight mechanic is FMV sequences, repetitive stat-building minigames, the Adrenalin system and an unimpressive build-a-fighter option. It truly is a Don King game - where the hoopla outside of the ring is overhyped to pull focus from the dubious nature of what goes on within it. In career mode you will fight as The Kid, biffing your way up from the grimy neighbourhood gym to the big time heavyweight champeen title in Vegas. The level progression is dictated by winning three or four fights, followed by taking down the regional champion before moving up to a higher bracket of boxers and winning purses. The fight money is in fact purely decorative, and the only discernable purpose of being told how much you win is as a vague gauge of the opponent's difficulty level, but this is frequently inconsistent. It's the FMV sequences that are played through every couple of brackets or so that actually introduces the Don King elements, as the take the form of a sports documentary following your career. As well as Mr King lending us his splendiferous sagacity, there's a cast of trainers, ex-girlfriends, agents, family members and actual genuine boxers and sports pundits spinning out some sort of background against which the repetitive fights are meant to have meaning. What is confusing is you can't really tell who in the footage is meant to be a character and who is making a cameo appearance. A few of the boxers you'll recognise, several of the sport journalists are clearly the real deal, but many of the pundits act so badly its actually hard to tell between them and the its-either-this-or-porn character actors. I'm looking at you, actor turned sports documentary maker Mario Van Peebles. There's a few snarling panto villains, a sleazy agent, and of course Don King who already walks amongst us a caricature of a caricature. It's highly ignorable and adds exactly nothing to the drama or lack thereof within the ring.
Between fights your character will be given the opportunity to train up their statistics (strength, stamina, agility and dexterity) on two of four gym routines - shuttle run, heavy bag, focus mitts, jump rope and speed bag. The large number of overall fights your boxer will be put through, and the concomitant amount f time you'll spend in the gym means that you will slowly build quite a specific boxer statistics wise. Even small changes in your fighter's stats do actually make themselves felt in the ring, so there is a decent sense of progression and gaining competence. However, the gym routines are themselves uniformly dull, at best an uninspired Guitar Hero rhythm game, at worst an actual chore to perform. You'll be spending a lot of time in the gym, which translates as hours repeating the same four repetitive exercises, which I'm sure is a fairly accurate portrayal of intensive gymnastic regimens, but not a good way to make a fun game.
Breaks from the monotony are offered in the way of special events being offered to you instead of one of your limited training slots before a fight. Some of these will be training events, where you will retreat into the mountains to fight bears or whatever, and come back a week later with your stats boosted at the cost of your image in the public eye. Conversely, you can accept offers to hang out in the coolest bar with the VIP and the movie stars which will increase your popularity at the cost of some of your statistics. The benefit of being more famous, aside from pointlessly boosting the prize money of each fight, is to start each fight with elevated levels of adrenaline, putting the wrecking ball punch in closer reach. This initially interesting system lacks the strength of its conviction, as fully partaking of either route will ultimately be detrimental to your fighter's chances, the game pushing you towards a pedestrian balance. For variety, Old Trainer Joe (or whatever his name is) will every so often be found sitting in your office, replacing the option to train further or book another fight. With a sigh of exasperated tolerance usually reserved for talkative elderly relatives you will click on and be forced to play through a 'classic' match of old, featuring bygone boxing legends. You can tell its in the past due to the colours giving way to sepia and the warbling jazz track playing in the background, see? These matches don't really go anywhere or benefit your career mode in any way, and can usually be actually lost in short order just to get them out of the way. It's actually quite galling to have spent the last three hours squeezing up your stats in just the way you've been planning to then be repeatedly sidelined into the body of a preset historical figure that reacts with the comparative grace and dexterity of a buffalo. Yes, thank you Old Trainer Joe, have a toffee, come back anytime, ooh look your television show is on, would you like a blanket? From these episodes you learn or divine nothing except once upon a time people would not automatically demand a refund if it turned out to be two white guys fighting.
Designing your own fighter is a predictably unsuccessful feature. As with nearly every other title that has given you the chance to facially design your character by altering the values for eyes, nose, brow, cheekbones, etc you will inevitably end up with something that looks like it came from a very insular community where everyone has the same surname. It is at least a chance to enjoy the pure science fiction of creating a London born Caucasian with a beard who could become the boxing champion of anywhere more than his own front room or outside Wetherspoons on a Saturday night.
The online multiplayer fights for Prizefighter involve some almost inexplicable choices. The entire mechanic of the fights has been changed, doing away completely with the depleting health bar over the course of multiple knockdowns, instead requiring a special punch to be delivered to have any sort of lasting impact what so ever. What was originally an onerous chipping away in pursuit of the sucker punch career mode is exacerbated five-fold in multiplayer. The result is a repetitive flurry of blind blows reminiscent of little girls fighting, if little girls fighting eventually culminated in one of them lamping the other right in the nose.
Prizefighter was doomed from the start, regardless of whatever extra bells and whistles it tried to surround its core failings with. The extra features would themselves not detract from a good central experience, and might have even provided some entertainment value has the fundamentals been there.
- Lengthy career mode with dozens of fictitious and licensed opponents
- Slowly built statistics make for high degree of fighter personalisation
- Documentary video idea a fun concept
- Don King
Not so good stuff
- Poorly implemented fight mechanics
- Repetitive play inside and outside the ring
- Inexplicably redesigned online system
- Don King