Don King Presents Prizefighter review
Available for
Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii
Publisher
2K Games
Don King Presents Prizefighter

Reviewed by Jason Thompson

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L

ook, can we just be honest and admit that no boxing video game is ever going to be better than the classic “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!” on the old 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System? After all, before that we basically had the disaster that was merely “Boxing” from the good folks at Activision for the Atari 2600. Video game boxing was perfected with “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!” and will probably never be dethroned. Boxing is the kind of game that demands mindless button-mashing fun. “Punch Out!” delivered this, yet also threw enough “skill” into the mix to make it seem like more than what it was, and that was the genius of it. And the characters rocked, too.

Ever since then, video game developers have been trying to straddle the fine line between arcade-style boxing (“Ready 2 Rumble”) and an honest sim (everything else). No one’s really gotten it right so far. At the end of the day, we all just want a boxing game that’s addictive, because it feels good to just pound the hell out of our opponents. Sure, some degree of difficulty is nice, but when all is said and done, boxing is a dopey sport featuring two dudes bashing each other’s skulls in, until one of them has to retire because something got knocked loose behind his eyes a few too many times.

“Don King Presents: Prizefighter” is not a bad game at all. In fact, it’s pretty damn fun when you first rev it up and try out the career mode. Like many other games before it, the story mode revolves around you as the underdog (“The Kid”). You are trying to prove your mettle thanks to some lucky breaks and folks who believe in you and see dollar signs in their eyes whenever you beat up somebody like a side of ham. You’ll work your way up from dumpy little local gyms all the way to the big boxing arenas, coming in contact with promoters, cross-trainers and some of boxing’s finest.

At the center of it all is good old Don King, appearing (along with everyone else) in various full-motion video cut scenes telling the story of The Kid and his incredible tale. Don seems like a fun dude with all his big rings, cigars and other bling. If I was in the boxing biz, I’d rather be Don than The Kid, just raking in the dough, laughing my ass off, and rocking my hairstyle. No one can say that the presentation of “Prizefighter” is lacking. The back-story and cut scenes are actually engaging for once, instead of instantly skippable.

Players have the ability to train their boxer and increase his various attributes before a big match. This means that working with the jump rope, heavy bag, boxing mitts, sprint running and the like are included. Exercises such as the speed bag and jump rope are nothing more than rhythm games disguised as work-outs and are especially fun. The difficulty on each training exercise ramps up almost insanely as the player gets better at them, but is merciful enough to also auto-adjust when mistakes are made, as they inevitably will be.

Inside the ring, it’s a bit of a different story. While this is a boxing “sim” of sorts, one can’t help but feel the need to just go in and start throwing the punches willy-nilly. While the control scheme does allow for this, certain punches require the mashing of multiple face buttons and/or combinations with the bumper and trigger buttons, and at times it feels sloppy, especially when the uppercuts are mapped out as such on the controller. There’s also never a real feeling of needing to dance around the ring too much here. Not that it’s the easiest thing to do, as players are required to double-tap their analog sticks to make their boxer dash in any given direction. It just feels sloppy in the end, and players will more often than not just stick to the middle of the ring, dodging and guarding the opponent’s punches.

The connecting of the punches also doesn’t feel very direct. When players are delivering blows that wear down and eventually knock down their opponents, it seems completely random. What can often look like an uppercut to the head that KO’d the opponent often turns out to be a body blow in the replay. And vice-versa. It’s both confusing and annoying, giving the game a sort of chaotic feel where random luck seems to factor in more than actual skill.

But so it goes with these boxing games. When all is said and done “Don King: Prizefighter” isn’t any worse or better than many of the titles that have come before it. It looks nice and the presentation is fun and sharp, but the actual gameplay just comes up short. It’s hard to say exactly what ingredients would make the perfect boxing sim overall, but it feels like it’s still going to be a while before anyone gets it down just right. Still, “Prizefighter” is worth a solid rental as its simple pleasures are good enough for a few rounds of fun.

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