Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Sports
Release Date: February 28, 2005
Superb concept. Flawless execution. Rock-solid controls. A diverse array of characters, and innovative technique application.
This title is a total blast to play. It’s a class act of a boxing game all the way, easily worth its sticker price.
Keep in mind that I’m simply talking about Super Punch-Out!, which is the extra easter egg packed into the Gamecube’s version of Fight Night Round 2 in lieu of any sort of online play.
Seriously, it’s a darned good game. Almost makes up for the fact that you can’t challenge anyone unless they come over to your house.
The punchline, believe it or not, is that Fight Night itself is a cut above even that masterpiece. It’s everything the above is, and more. Together, they’re a can’t-lose package, and an easy side-by-side comparison for seeing just how far gaming has come, and how new-generation technology can benefit this creative craft just as the machines from the “good old days” were able to. However, technically, I’m only supposed to be talking about Fight Night, so let’s get started.
There isn’t exactly a story to this one outside of what you make of it. The object of the game is to hit the other guy until he falls down, whereupon you gain the right to brag to either your friends, or the big cube-shaped machine sitting next to you. Odds are, the machine won’t say much back, if at all.
It is also, however, very much about the technique behind this objective. Strategy comes into play in boxing, and just about every tool that you could think of it at your disposal. You have punch control via analog sticks—which must be experienced to be believed because it works so well--evasion and parrying via the same and triggers, a button for shady, illegal moves, a clinch button (for grappling against the other boxer for a limited time to recover a small amount of stamina), a button that’ll let you leave your mark with a signature punch, and finally, a taunt button, just for kicks. That’s all you have… fortunately, it’s all you’ll need. It’s complex without being complicated. You’re able to move around the ring, have a full range of motion, and be able to control a boxer’s arms as if they were your very own. It’s an achievement on levels we were only able to dream of half a decade ago.
The gameplay setup is almost intuitive—I say almost because it can be a bit daunting at first. Be prepared to go through the minigames, tutorials, and reference the instruction booklet for a good thirty minutes if you’re jumping into the Fight Night franchise completely cold. However, once you’ve paid your time, you’ll be landing punches with impunity, and learning advanced strategy and instinct along the way. Heck, it takes less time to get yourself set up with this game than with the Street games if you’re completely green. Feel free to take the plunge.
There isn’t a multitude of modes in this game; you have your exhibition mode, a special version of it with Hard Hits rules (meaning that there’s no chance to heal after a around, and said rounds are only over after a person gets knocked down), and a career mode. In a career mode, you can take either a created boxer (more on this in a bit) or an existing real boxer, and build or rebuild them from the ground up, taking them from the amateur ranks and ghetto match locales, to the professional ranks and high-profile, jam-packed fight centers, and beyond.
You win fights, you make money, you max out your boxer’s stats by doing just about anything you’re allowed to do. Everything’s linked. Buy some new trunks and sneaks? Get some stat upgrades. Add some effects or an entourage girl to your ring entrance? Add a more proficient cutman to your roster? Temporary boosts, though they cost money. Before every fight in the pro circuit, you’re given the chance to upgrade your boxer through one of three types of minigames: the heavy bag, the combo dummy, and weight-lifting. It’s really a thrill to see everything coming together and see your boxer become better and better at what he does. He will control better, punches will hit harder and come out faster, and he’ll heal faster too. The appeal is in the subtlety.
There’s one more thing I seriously like about this game, and that’s the principle behind the boxer creation mode. I want this implemented in wrestling games yesterday. Instead of choosing from pre-made body physiques, you can choose your own by use of the analog sticks and region selection. You really can make your own person this way. It’s incredible, and more games need to try this out.
The Gamecube does the visual atmosphere of this game proud. The lowest point of it would have to be the fans around the ring—they’re made from the lowest polygon count possible so that the things that really matter get the detail that they deserve. And what detail it is; every boxer looks true to life, and the damage they take looks the same way. When the cutman screen shows up, it’s easy to be taken aback by the life-like damage that your boxer’s taken. When a powerful punch is shown in instant replay, the details shown in the impact and its effects make saying “oooh!” practically a reflex. Character models are accurate, with faces, of course, given the most attention, and the entire package is just shiny, shiny stuff.
The sound is a mixed bag. Please note that none of it is inherently bad; on the contrary, it’s world-class. The selection of licensed hip-hop songs is top-notch. I am unable to count how many times I cringed when a punch landed, got fired up when the crowd began chanting someone’s name, or nodded in agreement with the announcers or the cutmen. The aural execution is perfect here, except for one thing—there just aren’t a lot of songs or voice samples to go around, at all. This is, presumably, due to the low storage capacity of Gamecube discs; it’s something that plagues every multimedia-rich EA title, and odds are we’ll be seeing more of this in future titles. It’s a shame, because it really drags the experience down to hear the same songs or voice clips repeated more often than usual.
Aside from technical limitations (of which the sound only seems to be affected—load time is actually quite fast), there’s one oddity I seem to notice, and that’s the jab. It seems to be night-useless. I don’t expect it to be that powerful, but I also don’t expect opponents to power through it as if it were never thrown in the first place ,without fail. Often, throwing a jab is an easy shortcut to getting decked in the face yourself, as opposed to testing the waters or creating an opening in your opponents defense like the announcers and cutmen say it’s supposed to be. Still, in the long run, it hardly detracts from the game’s fun.
Fight Night Round 2 (as well as its pack-in ancestor) is one of those games that anyone can get to. It’s simple to learn, tough to master, and there are an infinite number of ways that a match can play out. Its pick-up-and-play nature and fast-paced gameplay means that you can bust it out at parties, or just pop it in when you feel like beating some virtual heads for an hour or two.
Go buy this. It easily beats out former champ, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, for Boxing Game of the Millennium.
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