IGN Review of Don King Presents: Prizefighter
Comparing Prizefighter to Fight Night Round 3, the reigning boxing champion on Xbox 360, is inevitable. Round 3 is a game that has held up incredibly well over the last year and a half is still played by many for an intense multiplayer experience. Don King Presents: Prizefighter is essentially 2K Sports belated response to the EA Sports heavyweight and packs the incredible vocabulary and gravity-defying hair of the one and only Don King. Can the extreme spectaculocity of Mr. King, coupled with the development talent of Venom Games (the same people who made Rocky Legends on Xbox), bring down the champ?
The most important facet of boxing that simply must translate into the virtual realm to have an enjoyable gameplay experience is the fluidity of the sport. With only two character models interacting at any one time, there is simply no excuse for a lack of collision detection or realism with regard to the animation system. Prizefighter sadly turns a blind eye to these rules for the genre and stumbles most significantly with regard to gameplay in the ring.
Unlike Fight Night before it, Prizefighter maps all of its punches to the four face buttons with the right trigger acting as a body shot modifier, the left trigger allowing you to dodge and the right analog stick used to block punches. It takes a bit of getting used to, especially for those who have spent a lot of time with the Fight Night series, but once you figure out the nuances to effectively throwing punches and blocking things get a bit easier.
The main issue I have with the gameplay is the look and feel of throwing punches. Combos are relegated to what feels like button mashing with animations that occasionally can't keep up with the speed of your fingers. Granted some of this has to do with your management of the stamina bar and making sure your boxer has adequate energy to launch an effective offense. Admittedly, it took me some time to get my head around the slightly archaic manner of landing blows. Being forced to hit X and A in conjunction with one another to launch an uppercut rather than performing a fluid right stick motion.
The way your boxers move in the ring, believe it or not, is even worse than the feeling you'll get from throwing punches. Hands go through player's bodies, punches that miss when thrown mysteriously connect after the follow through, limbs awkwardly jut out in odd situations, and players have an overall robotic look to their movements that harkens back to last-generation's hardware.
It's too bad that the most important aspect of a boxing game is the weakest part of Prizefighter.
The gameplay falls apart when you're fighting in close (toe-to-toe). When there's a decent bit of room between you and your opponent things do perform a bit better but still nowhere close to what we've seen from the reigning boxing champ. There are special punches that are earned through an adrenaline meter that is built up by blocking and landing punches, and they do a good job of turning the tides of a fight if you can land them properly, but the mechanic feels a bit too arcadey for the game's own good.
Luckily the frills built around the gameplay, like the career mode and entry music, are fairly well constructed. The documentary that lays out your created boxer's career is well put together. The only downside is that you are referred to as "The Kid" -- but so are many of the other boxers. It goes around to different influences – whether it be ex-girlfriends, agents or trainers -- on your career and has them reflect on the different stages of your boxing life. Some of the actors are better than others, but for the most part Venom has done a good job of piecing together a believable chronicle of your in- and out-of-the-ring activities.
You'll also have a few activities to do, mainly training, but you'll also have a few classic fights that will be presented while you're at Frank's Gym, sitting with Frank himself reminiscing about the good old days. You'll see bouts like Baer vs. Braddock, Baer vs. Louis and others; all presented with a sepia filter that attempts to give the action an older feel. It doesn't exactly work, but it's a valiant attempt.
You'll also get messages to your PDA with offers to either advance your media profile by doing commercials and other activities that put your contender in the public eye (I still have no idea what the point of that is) but take him off of his training routine or participate in special training and diet programs that will up your attributes, but decrease your media profile. Still, the best activity outside of the ring -- heck, the most fun you'll have with Prizefighter -- is with the core training activities.
There are five activities in all: shuttle run, heavy bag, focus mitts, jump rope and speed bag. They increase four attributes: strength, stamina, agility and dexterity. Each activity increases two attributes at a time and you'll need to budget your two weeks of training (which translates into two exercises) in order to meld a well-rounded boxer. My personal favorites were the jump rope and the speed bag. They're both a sort of rhythm-based mini-game in the same vein as Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero but minus the music. They get very frantic and intense if you can land combo after combo. The rest of the mini-games are serviceable but don't really do much to standout.
Your career follows the typical path of a boxer. You start in the amateur ranks and must work your way up to fighting in the heavyweight championship -- that's the only weight class available for your created boxer's career. It's understandable because of the constrictions of the documentary (characters continually refer to you as a heavyweight with your given name of "The Kid") but it would have been nice to have a bit more flexibility.
Don King Presents: Prizefighter does have more to offer than the fairly well pieced together career mode. You'll also have the option to take part in exhibition matches with a fairly impressive list of 40 licensed boxers. It's a bit of a letdown that you can't pit a heavyweight against a featherweight, instead you'll be limited to fighting light against feather, welter against middle or cruiser against heavy (online you can fight with any weight class you like).
Some of the more notable combatants include James Braddock, Ken Norton, Rocky Marciano, Floyd Patterson, Andrew Golota, Kelly Pavlik and many others. A few of them, including Golota and Norton even participated in the filming of the documentary which definitely earns Prizefighter some "cool points." The issue I found with the licensed fighters was that they don't fight like or have any of the advantages or disadvantages of their real life counterparts. Reach doesn't play as much of a factor as it should because of the game's lack of accurate collision detection and even speed doesn't factor in as heavily as it should.
The online modes are pretty standard fare for the genre. You'll find a versus mode with options that include round length, number of rounds, saved by the bell and the three knockdown rule, but nothing beyond that. There's also Fighter Club and Tournament modes. Fighter Club is a standard round robin with point tallies that determine the overall winner while Tournament mode is a more traditional bracket-style presentation. The weird thing about playing online is that the damage dynamic has changed quite a bit.
Gone is the ability to cause permanent damage to your opponent's health bar with standard punches. Instead you're forced to build your adrenaline meter and launch special punches with face buttons and the left bumper to permanently damage the opposition. What's more is that after each round your health is restored to full. It doesn't make a lick of sense to me and it makes it incredibly difficult to score a formal knockout. Performance-wise the online play handled itself well with very limited slowdown and lag.
The presentation values of Prizefighter are where the game rises above the lowest form of mediocrity. There are 22 venues which include Trump's Taj Mahal, Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, Frank's Gym, and Madison Square Garden. There's also a nice feeling of progression as you work your way up from fighting in firehouses in front of twelve people to fighting in front of thousands with your entrance music (the options for entrance music tracks are nice and varied) cranked up and Jim Lampley and Emanuel Steward commentating on the action once you reach a large enough venue.
Graphically, Prizefighter is slightly less impressive. The boxer models have a decent amount of detail but it's not up to the level of Fight Night Round 3 and the same goes for the environments and the overall glitz and glamour of the fighting events. The entrances are cool enough but it's not as big of a show as I'd like. Oh, and for those of you that are wondering, there is absolutely no mammary physics on the ring girls. Sorry.
The sound in the game is also a bit of a mixed bag with awesome entry music that stays nice and varied as you continue to unlock music packs throughout your career. You'll hear songs like Boston's Foreplay/Longtime and Eye of the Tiger mixed in with rock, rap and electronic tracks that you likely won't have heard of.
On the flipside of the coin the punches land with a thud rather than a crunch and none of them sound much different from the next. You'll never yell in excitement with the sound of a crushing blow to your opponent's temple; sad to say. Also, the aforementioned Lampley and Steward do a terrible job with the commentary. Lampley is extremely slow with his observations and Steward sounds like he just piled off the short bus. The corner men (which don't cut men for whatever reason) are also very annoying both in training sessions and in the ring. He constantly repeats the same phrases over and over no matter how worthless they may be.
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