There aren't as many boxing games nowadays. In the 8-bit days, Ring King and Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! showed off how well boxing could be done on the relatively new medium. As technology advanced, so did boxing video games, and the results have usually been great on the consoles, from Super Punch-Out!! to Fight Night, Knockout Kings and Ready 2 Rumble. For handheld systems, unless you were playing Wade Hixton's Counter-Punch on the Game Boy Advance or Fight Night on the PSP, your library of portable boxing titles was a bit scarce. Enter Real Boxing for the Vita, a port of the iOS and Android game that was popular enough to be featured in promotions for Nvidia's Shield device. Hearing that Real Boxing is a port of a mobile title might make some gamers wary, but is that concern warranted?
Before you get into any modes in Real Boxing, you start with the creation of your boxer, and this is where you start to feel the game's lack of depth. You start with a few templates on which you can base your character. It's a nice way to begin the character creation process until you realize only a few options can be updated. You can change the name, tattoos, all types of hair, and the color of both gloves and trunks, but that's about it. You can't change skin color, facial features, or your fighter's starting stats. Though this means there isn't an instant gravitation toward known boxers (no licensed boxers exist in this game), your boxer is a carbon copy of everyone else.
After creating your boxer, you're given the choice of basic game modes. Gym mode allows you to power up your boxer in three categories (speed, stamina and strength) using cash you've earned in other modes. Interestingly, the minigames to train your character don't go toward improvement in any of the three category traits but toward a general training meter which, when filled, allows you to earn a new perk for your fighter, such as the ability to bounce back faster from a knockdown or use less stamina for different punch types. You can activate two perks before a fight. The games are somewhat simplistic, but both the punching bag and speed bag ones highlight an issue with the button controls. The right analog stick isn't as forgiving as you'd think. Punches are delivered via distinct right analog stick movements by going directly left or right or using a directional slant in either direction. You'll throw the punch if you miss, but the game punishes you in these sections if the movement isn't exact, so getting a full reward for your actions is tougher than it should be.
In Quick Play mode, you use your created boxer and pick a fight with any available boxer on the roster. Though the selection may seem limited at first, it grows when you win any one of the three championship belts. At the end of each bout, you earn cash that can be used to improve your boxer's stats or obtain items.
It's here where you learn to box and discover what kind of discipline the game requires. The fighting is more simulation than arcade style, as you throw punches based on your stamina. Different blow types use different amounts of stamina, and your stamina reserve determines the power of your punch, whether you make contact or not. Throwing a hook at full stamina hurts the opponent greatly, for example, while throwing the same hook with no stamina does no damage. In a way, bouts become broken into sessions where your best bet is to go close, deliver a few blows, retreat to regain some stamina, and repeat the process, weaving in some blocks and dodges along the way.
The problem is that while the system presents the idea that this is a boxing simulation, it only strives to simulate a heavyweight fight. If you're a fan of classic fighters like Riddick Bowe, Joe Frazier or Evander Holyfield, you'll be fine. If you're a fan of fighters from lower weight classes like Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard or Manny Pacquiao, however, where the fights are more explosive as more punches are being thrown, you'll come away disappointed because the pool of fighting experience is rather shallow.
Even with that in mind, it's difficult to fathom why the fighting is so shallow. The basic strategy outlined earlier works for just about every fighter you face in every match in every championship level. No fighter has certain tendencies, like rarely blocking or clinching at every moment. There are no southpaws to fight, and no fighters play a distance game or fight in close all of the time. Aside from their looks and stats, every fighter plays the same way, so the strategies that are usually employed in any boxing game go out the window. The result is a title that becomes quite predictable when fighting against CPU opponents, and the only reason to slog through it is so you can prepare yourself for multiplayer bouts.
You'll also discover the various control methods, and while each has its positives, neither is the best. Touch-screen controls make the game exactly like its iOS/Android counterpart, so executing body blows and hooks is accurate and as simple as a swipe on either the left or right side of the screen. Dodging and blocking is also easy, since it's just an on-screen button press. However, ring movement is completely taken away, and with the game doing a mediocre job of making your punches close the distance, you'll hit air more often than you'll hit your opponent.
Choosing to use the buttons gives you ring control, and though it doesn't solve the issue of missing blows when they should make contact, at least you can determine when you'll block and when you'll retreat. Using the right analog stick for punching is preferred because it can be awkward to switch between the left analog stick for movement and d-pad for left-handed punches. In that respect, it works similarly to Fight Night on the consoles, minus some accuracy in reading stick directions. While the majority will use this method, it is still problematic because the game can't tell when you want to block and when you want to dodge since both actions are on the same button. Using this method to deliver counterattacks is next to impossible.
Finally, there's Championship mode. You take your boxer through three different championship tournaments, each with a set of opponents of varying skill levels. The majority of the fights determine win/loss records, but they are important in determining whether you can get to the semifinals. Winning each bout provides cash and full stat increase points. Each match also has a bonus challenge, such as knocking out the opponent in the first round. Fulfilling these challenge goals nets you some extra cash and customization points.
This mode doesn't feel very different from Quick Play mode. Aside from the different backdrop that displays fake sponsors, the matchup screen, entrances, and pre- and post-match segments are the same. Even winning a championship doesn't change this, since the only noticeable difference is seeing a belt around your fighter. The lack of pomp in the presentation hurts, and you feel no satisfaction when you finally get the championship belt.
Boxing video games thrive on strong multiplayer, and it feels like the potential is there. There's the standard local multiplayer and online multiplayer for quick bouts, but more interesting is the entry for Tournament mode. The option is grayed out at the moment because a tournament has just concluded, but having online championships makes this feature intriguing, depending on how often it gets used.
The reason why it only feels like the potential is there is because we couldn't check it out. Local multiplayer should be good, but, like almost all portable games, you'll need someone else who owns a Vita and a copy of the game. For online play, it was impossible to find anyone to play against. Despite the proclamation at the bottom of the screen of a new champion, we found no one online for several days who wanted to actually play the game. If you have a friend who's willing to pick up the game, then things should be fine. Otherwise, if you depend on the online community for your multiplayer fix, you might as well consider this a solo boxing title.
One of the reasons the game was promoted so heavily was because of the graphics, and they look stunning. Using Unreal Engine 3, the character models look phenomenal with some great skin textures that rival some home console games. The hair and tattoos look good, as do the clothing and textures. The environments also look good and sport some nice light bloom. This is all done without any texture pop-in, which few games on the engine can claim. There's also some nice use of filters, such as blurring when someone gets close to being knocked down and flashes of red when you're hit with a bad counterpunch.
In motion, however, things fall apart, and it has to do with the limbs. With hooks, sometimes the movement is so stiff that it looks like someone is throwing elbows. It is especially evident during slow-motion hooks and uppercuts, where the boxer's shoulder looks like it is separating from the body. The same goes for the ring girl, whose head remains steady while her body moves like a marionette. Then there's the actual impact from a punch — or lack thereof. Regardless of whether a punch has power, the opponent rarely acts accordingly. Seeing a slight jab with the power to knock someone flat really negates the game's impressive visuals.
As for the sound, it can be best described as passable. The effects seem fine, though hits don't convey any spectacular impact. The music is generic, but it tries to cover lots of genres. There's the instrumental stuff in the menus, and the entrance music is either electronic, rock, or trap styles. The voice work is lackluster, but it gets the job done. There's lots of repetition, but it's funny to hear the announcer try to sound like Howard Cosell and the trainer like Mickey from the Rocky movies.
Real Boxing is decent if you don't mind predictable boxing, a shallow creation system, inconsistent controls and an abandoned online community. It looks fine, sounds generic and has fun gameplay when it works properly. The $10 price tag is enticing if you want a portable boxing title. Unless you have some heavy investment in the sport or price is the main factor, you're better off downloading Fight Night Round 3 for the Vita and waiting for someone to make a better native boxing game for the system.
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