Game: Don King Presents Prizefighter
Genre: Sports - Boxing
Platforms: Xbox 360, Wii (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
It’s nearly impossible at this point to play a boxing game without comparing it to Fight Night Round 3. EA’s simulation of the sweet science set a new standard for boxing games, and any game that comes afterward will certainly be judged against it. 2K Games knew this and made every effort to improve on the weak points of Fight Night. On many fronts, they succeeded, creating a far more immersive, customizable and engaging package than EA did. Sadly, they never bothered to make the actual boxing gameplay worthwhile.
Prizefighter’s control scheme is wildly different than the default setting for Fight Night. Instead of using the right analog stick to throw punches, DKPP uses the four face buttons to throw jabs, straights and hooks. Pressing the X and A, or Y and B buttons together will deliver a devastating uppercut. While this may seem like a simpler scheme than EA’s, using the right trigger to duck and right bumper to throw step-around punches feels counter-intuitive and takes a while to get used to. The left bumper in conjunction with the face buttons, allows you to throw signature punches, while the left trigger operates much the same as it does in Fight Night, allowing you to duck and weave around blows. Wen you get three or four of the shoulder buttons into the mix at once, it can become a hand-cramping and confusing affair. After a few games, you’ll probably get used to the control scheme, but it never stops feeling clunky.
This might not be such an issue if the controls were more responsive. You’ll often find your boxer ignoring your punch commands or doubling up on punches when you only press the button once. It’s frustrating and it shows a lack of polish in what should be the game’s most important aspect. There are also serious collision detection problems throughout. Boxers constantly duck under punches successfully, only to be hit in the back of the head by phantom punches that miss by a foot or more. Likewise, you’ll often see punches pass harmlessly through opponents when they clearly should have connected. In a boxing game, collision detection and responsiveness should be given the highest priority, and Prizefighter fails to deliver on both counts. While online, the problems are exacerbated by occasional lag and delayed response, making multiplayer more of a chore than it’s worth.
While Prizefighter’s visuals aren’t bad by any means, they pale in comparison to EA’s two year old product. Character models are nice enough, if a bit grainy. Boxers’ faces look great at the beginning of the fight, but the game’s facial damage is nowhere near as realistic or as impactful as it is in Fight Night. There are some nice looking arenas to fight in, and, thankfully, none of the rings are emblazoned with Burger King or Dodge Truck ads. Still, they lack the sense of life that FN’s arenas have, with sub-par lighting effects and ring girls that look far more cartoonish than the rest of the game’s characters.
Strangely enough, once you get out of the ring, Prizefighter shines. Training mini-games like jumping rope, hitting the heavy bag and running suicide sprints are well-designed, challenging and just plain fun to play. In addition to the upgrades your boxer receives as a result of these training sessions, an online leaderboard for each mini-game adds extra incentive to maximize your scores in the timing-based games. There’s also a surprisingly robust character creation engine that allows you to tweak everything from the width of your nostrils to the style and color of your shoes. It’s a far better creation system than the one found in Fight Night, and is nearly on par with the options found in recent WWE titles.
On paper, the most interesting aspect of Don King Presents Prizefighter might be its story mode. Once your character is created, you’re treated to a live-action documentary video chronicling your fighter’s rise to fame, complete with live interviews with fictitious ex-girlfriends, trainers, Don King himself, and even Mario Van Peebles for some reason. The documentaries come off just a little cheesy, but they still do a good job of getting you pumped up for the next bout. In addition to the continuing mockumentary that follows your entire career, you’ll also receive phone messages from people who wish to pull you away from your normal training regimen. Sometimes these are beneficial, like when a martial arts master asks you to train in private with him, resulting in a significant increase in speed and quickness at the expense of some media exposure. Other calls represent the many distractions that a boxer faces, such as invitations to exclusive clubs with beautiful women. While these distractions take you away from your training, they still benefit you somewhat by allowing you to start the next fight with more adrenaline, which lets you throw signature punches. Sadly, once you accept these invitations, all you get to see is a newspaper headline that details our decision. Cut scenes or even more live action footage would have made this aspect feel more impactful and interesting.
Don King Presents Prizefighter is a flawed boxing game with excellent presentation and some features that should make the next Fight Night team stand up and take notice. I stop short of calling it a solid effort because of the actual boxing gameplay, but 2K definitely has something to build on in the future. For fans of Fight Night’s sublime boxing engine, Prizefighter may be too much of a step down to really enjoy, but for those who felt cheated by EA’s bare bones career mode, there’s some value here. Not a knockout by any means, but there’s enough flashy punches here for 2K to not throw in the towel on this franchise.