Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: Venom Games
Release Date: June 10, 2008
In the world of boxing, there are a number of names that embody the sport — Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Mike Tyson — yet there is only one name that really embodies the showmanship of the sport, and that is Don King. Even those who don't follow boxing are familiar with King, from his flamboyant personality and eccentric speaking style to his shocking hairstyle; he's one of those individuals who are identifiable with a single glance. No other individual comes closer to being the living embodiment of the spectacle of boxing, so it should come as no surprise that a talented showman like King has finally decided to throw his hat into the video gaming ring. The concept of a world completely under his control, where reality can be altered at a whim to be more electrifying is just what he would ask for, and Don King Presents: Prizefighter is the product of that desire.
Without a doubt, the star of Prizefighter is Career mode, which is a bit different from similar modes found in other sports titles because it's actually based on a story, instead of being about advancing your boxer through the ranks. Told in the form of a made-for-TV, behind-the-scenes documentary, Prizefighter places you in the shoes of The Kid, an up-and-coming boxer who is destined to become one of the most legendary fighters in history.
As you advance through the story line, you'll see more and more of The Kid's history, including actual filmed interviews with his friends, girlfriends, opponents and even Don King himself, all told through video clips. You get to chronicle his rise to fame, his friendship with Jesús "The Silva Bullet" Silva, and eventually his victory as the greatest boxer the world has ever seen. You also get to witness the downsides, such as contract disputes, rivalries, and scandals that help build the framework of his career.
The actual boxing in Prizefighter is fairly simple. You move around with the left analog stick and use the face buttons to launch various punches. The X is a jab, Y is a straight, and the A and B buttons are hooks. Pressing the X and A buttons or the B and Y buttons unleashes a devastating uppercut, and the right analog stick is used to block incoming attacks. The key to winning fights in Prizefighter isn't the strength of your punches, but managing stamina and adrenaline. Stamina decreases as you dash around the arena or throw repeated punches, and the lower your stamina, the slower your movements are, and the easier it is to interrupt your combos.
Defeating opposing boxers in Prizefighter involves forcing them to tire themselves out and then launching a devastating attack when they're unable to counterattack. Adrenaline functions as a kind of super bar. The more blows you land, the more your adrenaline increases, and when you pass a certain point, you can use the adrenaline to unleash a Signature Punch. They're devastatingly powerful blows and can instantly turn the tide of battle … but if you miss, they're worthless. In addition, if your boxer attains a full adrenaline bar, he can enter a supercharged adrenaline-fueled state where all of his attacks come out faster, he flinches less, and every punch hits like a Mack Truck. This super mode only lasts for a few seconds, but that's enough to completely dominate an unprepared opponent.
Between every match, The Kid has a few weeks to train, which can be done through a series of minigames that range from simple button-pressing faux boxing matches to jumping rope by playing an obvious clone of Guitar Hero. Training boosts one of four stats: agility, dexterity, stamina and strength; agility is how fast you can move around the ring, dexterity is how fast you can throw a punch, stamina is how long you can throw a punch without getting tired, and strength is your punching strength. The better you do in these minigames, the more of a stat boost you get. Do poorly, and it'll be reflected in your overall stats, leaving The Kid a bit weaker against upcoming opponents. Do perfectly, and his abilities will skyrocket. If you're not comfortable with your twitch gaming skills, you can also choose to have The Kid auto-train, which skips the minigame, but only gives a minor boost to your overall abilities.
However, since Prizefighter is a Don King game, your boxing skills are only one part of the equation. Between matches, you'll also have to manage your media presence. Even before you sign up with Don, The Kid is going to need to decide if getting his face in the spotlight is more important than winning his matches. Occasionally, The Kid will receive Media Temptations and Training Offers via his personal PDA. Media Temptations will put The Kid's face in the spotlight: He'll show up at mall openings, appear in the movies, or even hang out at Don King's personal clubhouse. This increases The Kid's media profile, but it also means that he blows off a week of training, and his stats take a hit as a result. Likewise, accepting Training Offers yields a bigger stat boost than regular training would provide, but it means he has to vanish from the public spotlight for a while. Managing the balance between your training and media exposure is key to earning the maximum profit from each match.
Not every fight will be smooth and by the book; every so often, The Kid will encounter a boxing match where the odds are stacked against him. For example, in one match, The Kid will have to compete with a corrupt judge, so if he doesn't win the match by knockout, he'll lose it on points no matter how well he does. Another has The Kid going up against an opponent who is pumped to the brim with illegal drugs that make him almost immune to damage. The key to this fight isn't pounding your opponent to the ground, but surviving his barrage of attacks until the enhancing drugs take their toll on his system. The handicap matches are actually a surprisingly fun twist on the old formula. Even if you've mastered the controls, these matches will still tax your skills to the limit, since it's easy to win a match when everything is even, but it takes a true master to do it when your character's right hand is broken. These handicap matches do have their benefits; they tend to be worth a bit more money and media exposure, and almost every single one is worth an Xbox Achievement, for those hardcore gamers eager to boost their Gamerscore.
Career mode isn't all about The Kid. His trainer is an old hand at the boxing game and has been around to see a number of the most legendary fights in boxing history. Occasionally, he'll regale The Kid with these stories, and the players will actually live them out. These legendary matches are a bit different from regular fights. Players are thrust into the shoes of actual famous boxers, ranging from Joe Louis to Floyd Patterson, during some of the most epic matches in boxing history. However, winning these matches isn't quite as easy as it sounds. You generally enter the match with a handicap, coming from the actual historical match. One fighter may have a broken fist, be almost out of energy, or have to win the match in a single round or lose … and the handicap is always against your boxer. Once the match is over, the game informs you of what really happened. These matches don't need to be won to continue, but winning them unlocks new features, such as special venues in which to box or new fighters to play as.
Besides the Career mode, Prizefighter also offers a few other options for eager gamers. Exhibition mode allows players to take their created boxers or any number of real or Career-mode opponents against any of the other available opponents in the game. Alternately, gamers can battle each other in multiplayer, either through the Xbox System Link or through Xbox Live, allowing them to take their hard-trained boxers online to compete against other gamers. Finally, players can also replay any of the legendary fights that they've already encountered in Career mode. While the Career mode is the clear focus of Prizefighter, it most certainly isn't the only option available.
Don King Presents: Prizefighter is a fairly unique boxing title that attempts to bring Don King's trademark "fabulosity" to the Xbox 360. The mockumentary Career mode is shaping up to be surprisingly interesting and a lot of fun to play through, and multiplayer and exhibition modes ensure that even after you've finished The Kid's story, you'll have plenty of other things to do. The only real question is if Don King's fighter will be able to stand up to the heavyweight Fight Night or EA's fellow newcomer Facebreaker, or if this is one fighter destined to fade into the history books.
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