Don King Presents: Prizefighter Review

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Graphics: 7.0
Sound : 6.5
Gameplay : 6.5
Multiplayer : 8.0
Overall : 6.5
Review by Chris Matel
And in this corner...

Boxing, a sport of fisticuffs-brutality, cunning strategy and skillful maneuverability. We've seen the sport portrayed through games in various ways ranging from pure arcade button-mashing to the more recent precision-oriented simulators. The current favorite, reigning from EA Sports' camp, Fight Night, hasn't had much competition, but 2K Sports' Venom Games—who aren't strangers to virtual boxing with two previous Rocky games under their belts—delivers a new challenger to the genre. Though not as flashy or technically engaging as the crowd favorite, Don King Presents: Prizefighter delivers gamers superb presentation value through a pseudo documentary style career mode; just don't expect a total KO to the Fight Night contender from 2K's corner.

Laying off of the wannabe-boxing puns...

Prizefighter is a straight forward sports game that uses a documentary, story-telling mechanic to drive the single-player career mode. The basics of any simulator are here: you create a fighter, start out at the bottom of barrel and pick your way up through the ranks to become the best of the best by working hard, winning matches and, in this case, ditching your training for the ladies (and other opportunities for public exposure). Your career revolves around cycling between booking fights, training before those fights, and moving up the ladders for bigger purses. Along the way, Frank, your ever-pushing trainer, will compare your battles to classic fights. Don't expect a cutscene, however, as you'll take control of these historic boxing moments—you know, the kind with short shorts, curly mustaches, and grainy, sepia tone filters. Everything fits together into a nice package, but the game pulls a few punches.

Hell yeah:

Your fifteen minutes probably wasn't put together this well...

If there's something that makes Prizefighter stand out above Fight Night, and other boxing games in general, it's the presentation. No matter how you make your created character look, and no matter what you name him, you're always going to be referred to as “The Kid.” As you fight your way through main events, you're treated to a cutscene where your character is talked about as if his life events (the ones you're playing through in the game) actually happened.

Usually live-action integration in games doesn't translate so well, especially with athletes as actors. In this case, however, everyone from the enigmatic Don King to the former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes, and even your satirized trainer, Frank, give above-par performances which make a ho-hum game entertaining; you'll want to get to the cutscenes, they're just too well done. 

It's virtual training, but your fingers, brain and eyes will get a workout...

Yes, yes, mini-games in sports titles aren't anything new; in fact, the inclusion of these button-mashing sequences seems to be the standard nowadays as infuriating add-ons. In Prizefighter, on the other hand, the five different training mini-games feel like they've been competently fleshed out.

Speedbag, heavybag, jump rope, shuttle run and focus mitts comprise the various training tools at your disposal which effect strength, stamina, agility and dexterity stats of your created boxer. While basic in using timed button sequences, each presents a challenge as the better you do, the faster you'll have to respond to scrolling A, B, Y and X buttons. Though, not all of the training is static button timing, as the heavybag game has you moving about the bag to hit specific spots with appropriate punches, and the shuttle run requires you to tap the A and B buttons to run betweens lines, while timing your transitions just right for the best score.

While nothing novel to videogames in general, the mini-games included in Prizefighter (used in Career mode to augment your fighter's statistics, as well as standalone distractions accessed via the main menu) fit in well and don't feel force-fed to the player—unlike some titles on the market.

Of course, “Eye of the Tiger” is included...

What kind of boxing game would forgo the most infamous theme associated with the sport, especially when developed by the same group who put out the most recent Rocky games? Survivor's Rocky favorite may be included in Prizefighter, but it's subtly included into a strong mix of rock, hip-hop and rap titles constantly playing in the background or during fighter's introductions.

The music selection seems almost endless (though there are a finite number of tracks), and its implementation is seamless. Whether your loading between menus or hanging out in your gym, there will always be a song playing. The setup works to never allow dead air, and makes up for lackluster, repetitive in-game dialogue (we'll get to that in a bit).

Broken hand? Fight through it. Slanted judge? TKO the other chap...

Fighting is fighting in the realm of boxing, and sports games can have a tendency to feel a bit repetitive if you stick to the basic formula of competition. Luckily, Prizefighter mixes things up with objective-based fights. Every once in a while, before a fight, a quick cutscene will alert you to a special circumstance that you have fight in. Frank will give you advice before you touch gloves, and it's up to you to get the job done.

These unique objectives do well in breaking up the possible monotony of simply throwing punches, and have been chosen wisely so as to be challenging, not impossible.

Oh, hell no:

Don't expect to float like a butterfly or sting like a bee...

While the focus of Prizefighter isn't on flashy, face-deforming action, for a boxing game, the essential animations, hit detection and punches fall horribly flat. The goal of boxing is to take your opponent down with well-placed, powerful punches, but, unfortunately, all of the action in Prizefighter feels delayed and wispy.

Hit detection is the biggest problem for the fighting game. More often than not you'll miss a punch, but end up hitting your opponent as the fighter's arm recoils; the same can be said as you get hit in the same manner. For a game that is about punching, such a critical oversight is wholly disappointing.

Yet, the punches themselves don't feel powerful. You can use built-up adrenaline to induce a more powerful blow, but aside from a dramatic slapping sound (and a replay if you knock down your opponent), there just isn't anything that screams, “Stay down, sucker!” Delayed movements further burden the experience as everything nearly devolves into strategic button-mashing.

I'm a star! Look at me! Love me!...

Prizefighter tries to differentiate itself by using a mechanic that measures your media rank, outside of fighting, which helps you fight for bigger purses, at the expense of training. However enticing shooting a commercial or going out on a hot date may be, sacrificing training that helps you win fights easier is a decision solely to be made by the player. The problem is, nothing comes about from getting rich.

The real dilemma posed by taking profile-heightening opportunities turns out not be about unlocking extra content by neglecting a go on the speedbag, it's about how fast you want to finish the game and how good you want your record to be: more money, less wins, all because you lose a week's worth of training from a date? It's up to you.

“That round was his round, kid.” “That round was his round, kid.” “That round was his round, kid.”...

We mentioned earlier that the music was the aural highlight of Prizefighter, but the same can't be said for the in-game dialogue. Even the professional voice talent of Emmanuel Stewart and Jim Lampley can't salvage the repetitious voice-overs of trainers, spectators or the color commentators themselves.

Moreover, repetition might be one thing, but apparently there's only two trainers in the virtual world of Prizefighter, to go along with everyone being named “Kid.” Finding a good coach may be hard, but not every fighter has the same trainer as the next in reality, do they?

Extra content: classic fights. Meh...

While the sepia tone filter and crackling, vintage-looking screen may make for a nice effect during historic boxing matches, the bouts suffer from the same lacking experience as the regular matches with poor hit detection and lame dialogue. Things get worse as apparently training in the olden days didn't produce effective results: punches are slow because your fighter is too tired to do much of anything.

The concept is there, and we're sure huge boxing fans will appreciate the classic fights, but playing history this time around just isn't compelling.

Definitely not a TKO...

Prizefighter, in the end, is of a different nature than its Fight Night competitor. Though not as visually stimulating as EA's boxer, 2K Sports' fighter holds its own as a thoughtfully-produced product. The drama is there, and it's portrayed extremely well with the help of real names and top-notch acting—even the athletes makes things feel authentic, not forced. Everything is there: licensed equipment, athletes (past and present), customization, and online and offline multiplayer modes. It's not a mind-blowing first go, but a new boxing franchise could find its way for fans; Venom will just have to refine the basics to make it a true challenger.