Publisher: 2K Sports
Developer: Venom Games
Release Date: June 10, 2008
Boxing is often called the "Sport of Kings," but it might be more accurate to call it "The sport of King." There's nobody on Earth who embodies the spirit of boxing more than Don King, he of the insane vocabulary, wild hair and eccentric personality. He's the man behind some of the most memorable boxers in recent memory, and he brings the spectacle and drama of the sport to life. It should come as no surprise that with the advent of truly excellent boxing games like Fight Night, The Don is interested in bringing his own brand of over-the-top action to consoles. After all, even if it isn't realistic, it should be fun to give Don King complete control over boxing, right? Sadly, this isn't the case with Don King Presents: Prizefighter. Somehow, Prizefighter manages to take a boxing game built around the exaggerated antics of Don King and make it slow, awkward and, worst of all, boring.
Prizefighter's main mode is the Career mode, which follows the slow but unsurprising rise of a new star. It isn't much like its counterparts in average sports games; instead, Prizefighter is built around those "behind the scenes" documentaries that discuss the career of a famous person. In the case of Prizefighter, a Boxing Legends documentary is chronicling the rise of The Kid, the best boxer to ever live. Naturally, The Kid is a character you create from scratch, rather than being a replica of a real boxer. The story chronicles The Kid's rise to the top through live-action interviews with his managers, friends, enemies and even ex-girlfriends, all of whom slowly reveal The Kid's backstory and history. Of course, along the way to the top, The Kid will have to deal with crooked refs, drugged-up opponents, sleazy managers and even a crazy jungle-bred superboxer with a habit of killing his opponents. It is, after all, Don King Presents: Prizefighter, and you're going to have to expect The Don's trademark "fabulosity" from it.
The Kid's storyline is probably the most appealing part of Prizefighter, although it's not without its flaws. The plot, such as it is, is significantly more interesting than the usual "punch your way to World Championship" career boxing found in other games, although the plotline may be a bit too outrageous for those who prefer their boxing stories less infused with the special Don King aura. The live-action cut scenes are generally well acted enough, and provide a useful amount of information about the various characters and story events without going into excruciating detail. With that said, the Kid's story line feels a bit lacking in places. There is really no way to alter things, and a lot of the actions that occur in the ring don't feel like they reflect on the plot outside of the ring — the two actually feel distinctly unconnected at times. You'll fight a lot of nameless boxers and then get another snippet of the documentary footage that describes events. It would have been nice to have a bit more meat between fights, rather than having the cut scenes only display immediately after a match.
Prizefighter's version of a boss fight would help retain the documentary feel. This feeling is only amplified by the fact that your Media Profile seems basically pointless. It offers no real benefits, no punishment for letting it drop, and it seems like it's there just to exist. There's little reason to worry about the trade-off of accepting special training in exchange for an enhanced Media Profile, and likewise, I couldn't find a single reason to give up a week of training just to improve it.
For a boxing game, Prizefighter doesn't pull off the boxing aspect very well. To put it bluntly, the controls feel lopsided and archaic. Performing combos, blocking and dodging never feels as smooth and natural as it does in Fight Night Round 3. It feels awkward and robotic to press four different buttons to launch a punch instead of a simple movement of the thumbsticks, like Fight Night. Even once you get past the extremely limited face-button punching, you can't help but notice the substantial number of other problems with the fighting. The punches suffer from a serious lack of impact; it's partially the sound and partially the weak animations, but every blow comes off as a light tap instead of a firm smack. There are multiple times when my punches seemed to go through the opponent. Even ignoring all of that, the combat is just unsatisfying. Enemies are not very bright, and the hardest foes follow a simple repetitive pattern that is easy to dominate with a bit of practice; even unskilled boxers will find themselves growing tired of the fights before long.
Between matches in career mode, The Kid can train to upgrade his four stats: Agility, Dexterity, Stamina and Strength. There are a variety of mini-games you can play that boost these stats, but most of them are pretty uninteresting. The jogging mini-game simply involves pounding the A button repeatedly and pressing the "turn" button at a specified point. Once you get the timing down, it becomes a snorefest. The same goes for the unsatisfying punching bag, which simply involves moving around and throwing a specific punch. Most of the mini-games fall into this category, with only the Jump Rope mini-game approaching an interesting level, and that is simply because Jump Rope is an exact clone of Guitar Hero. It's possible to skip these dull and repetitive mini-games, but your boxer takes a hit in stats in exchange, so you'll probably find yourself repeating the boring training over and over again just to avoid intentionally crippling your boxer.
One of the more interesting moments in Prizefighter's career mode are the Legend Fights — stories about famous boxing matches throughout the ages that are being told to The Kid by his manager. When these stories begin, you take control of one of the boxers and have to live out the fight. Sometimes you live out reality and sometimes you're offered a chance to change the outcome, but either way, these are among the toughest matches in the game, often giving your boxer a significant disadvantage or the enemy a major advantage that you must overcome. Successfully winning earns you unlockables, such as new arenas or new boxers to use outside of the Career mode. However, you don't have to win these matches either; if you lose, you simply receive a bit of text telling you the actual outcome of the fight, and you can continue with your game. You can replay the Legend Fights at any time to try again to unlock the features, so don't worry if your boxer takes a fall during the first attempt.
Beyond the Career mode, Prizefighter doesn't really offer much else for gamers to do. An exhibition mode involving the unlocked fighters and your own create-a-characters can provide a small modicum of fun, but considering that Prizefighter's boxing is lackluster, it is difficult to justify continuing to spend your time punching the same boxers you just encountered in the Career mode. Yet another option is the online multiplayer mode, which is a bit of a disaster. For some inexplicably reason, Prizefighter's online boxing matches altered how a boxer's health bar works, requiring special punches to do any lasting damage to the opponent. This means that it takes forever to knock down opponents and even longer to whittle down their hit points to the instant when a knockout can occur, so it makes matches long and tedious affairs.
Don King Presents: Prizefighter just isn't a good-looking game. The character models are OK, but generally below the quality of those found in the older Fight Night titles, which would be forgivable error if it weren't for the terrible boxer animations. At best, they're robotic, laggy and awkward, and at worst, you get the hilarity of clipping errors that turn close-up boxing into a comedy show of arms clipping through heads and chests. The arenas themselves are okay, if not particularly impressive, with the best being the "retro" arenas built for the Legends Fights, each of which had a different filter to make it look like something filmed in that particular era.
Perhaps the lackluster visuals could be forgiven by strong sound work, but Prizefighter screws up there as well. The punching sounds are weak and muted, taking away from the already-unsatisfying impact of the glitchy animations. The announcers are okay but very repetitive, and the ringside managers who talk between fights repeat the same lines over and over again, without any variation, in the exact same voice. Apparently every single boxer in the world goes by the nickname "Kid" and has an elderly white-haired manager with the exact same voice. Who knew?
There really isn't much to praise about Prizefighter, despite the Don King spectacle of the game. The so-so story mode is the game's highlight, and even that does little to shine up the lackluster boxing, poor graphics, and lack of any real replay value. Combining that with a unsatisfying and tedious online mode, and you'll have a difficult time justifying Don King's Prizefighter over the older, better, and cheaper Fight Night Round 3. If you're absolutely desperate for a new boxing title, then Prizefighter might hold you over until a better title comes out, but any but the most desperate of Don King aficionados will be better off watching some old boxing matches on TV.
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