IGN Review of FaceBreaker K.O. Party
EA's new Freestyle brand is off to a bit of a rough start. Kicking things off with FaceBreaker across all platforms, as well as the lackluster Celebrity Sports Showdown on Wii, it looks like Freestyle may - at least thus far - be less of a EA Big revolution, and more of a casual-friendly (but unfortunately shallow) brand. With that being said, FaceBreaker K.O. Party is far from a throw-away game, and though there are some obvious issues within the fighting mechanic - as my IGN SF buddy Nate Ahern said in the 360 review, this isn't a boxing game; it's a fighter - there are still some redeemable qualities to the package, especially if you plan on having a few newbie "non-gamer" friends over for a little waggle-fest Wii party.
FaceBreaker is one part Fight Night, two parts Ready 2 Rumble Boxing from the N64 era. EA has combined a simple high and low jab system with an A+Waggle special punch, as well as a tilt-based charge system for your regular jabs, turning a flick of the nunchuk or Wii-mote into a full-on power punch instead of a quick tap of the face. As you'd expect, the nunchuk controls your player's left hand, while the Wii-mote acts as his right.
The game plays exactly how it does on the other next-gen systems, having punches thrown at an alarming rate with no sense of stamina, though a smarter opponent will make use of the Z button (block) and the punch charging to catch their opponent's attack, and deliver a devastating counter-punch that leaves them out of the fight for a second or so. Other than that, it's all about beating the ever-loving hell out of your enemy, building up a small power gauge at the bottom of the screen, and holding the A button while swinging the Wii-mote to deliver different types of haymaker punches based on the level of power you've acquired. Fill the gauge all the way up, and a successful hit will result in a FaceBreaker, which is an automatic knock-out for the fight. Pretty cool.
What ends up happening though is that you've got a game with a decent counter system, but also way too much speed to be very strategic. Just like in Fight Night: Round 3, players need to block one specific side as well as high or low orientation when trying to counter-punch, and that was even tough at times in EA's "sim" boxer. On FaceBreaker, action runs at about double-time, so while you may know what you're doing in the ring - and eventually win, as long as you stick to your strategy - a newcomer can grab a controller and shake the ever-loving-hell out of them, often resulting in some decent combos and heavy smashes.
What it really comes down to though on Wii is balance and control. Balance is a game-wide issue (found in every version), where there's no stamina for fighters, so button-mashing is encouraged, or at least not penalized. In addition the special punches (holding A and motion, as mentioned) can't be blocked, so players that spam those attacks over and over are pretty ruthless for just holding a button and shaking. The counter to that attack is a jab to the face or body, but in the case of a character like Molotov - who has a dash backwards before starting the unblockable attack - tapping them with a jab is no easy task during a hectic battle. That means it's often easier to pull off the uber-attack than it is to stop it, and stopping it is all about spamming jabs one after another in order to up your chances. You can see where this is going. Yes it's possible to play this game strategically, and as we mentioned it will eventually gain you the upper-hand against the lesser "wagglers" you face off against, but when those tactics can still give you a run for your money in the rarest of cases (or at least make the bout seem close most of the time) you'll start to wonder how much of an emphasis was put on making a skill-based game, and how much of it is just party-fueling eye candy.
That too is worth mentioning though. FaceBreaker may be a bit too simple for most hardcore gamers to really sink their teeth into - more of an arcade quarter-jerker than a full-on boxing/fighting game - but the visual style and design of the title is a really fresh, fun offering, and it fits within the feeling of Wii in a great way. The interface is similar to the SSX Blur design, with the IR selecting full chunks of the screen as the game modes and options, rather than having a few selections over a background or something, and the in-game visuals are some of the best modeling and shading we've seen from third party developers on Wii. Models morph and deform as fights go on, busting up faces and showing some of the impact from super punches, and you'll see not-so-subtle reflections on characters via skintones, clothes, and gloves. The animation is slick, the characters move around the screen with a nice sense of fluidity and dexterity, and the facebreaker animations are really well done. This looks like a true Wii version to the 360 offering. It's standard def, but full widescreen, house great animations, impressive visual effects, and has a definite style to it that makes you want to keep coming back to it.
Even the audio offering is pretty impressive, once you give yourself a chance to get into bouts and notice the music accompanying the fights. Character VO is funny - if not a bit offensive; "Gee, the Rastafarian guy is talking about smoking weed… subtle." - but it works for its hyper-caricaturized feel. The characters feel like parodies of themselves, who are parodies on other games or fighter styles. Once you let yourself get pulled into that really, really over the top feel of FaceBreaker, it's actually pretty enjoyable to boot up and just be part of for a few rounds.
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