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Who says you have to grow up? Here at SI.com's Game Room, our staffers review the latest sports video game titles to hit the market and welcome your feedback.
 
6/20/2008 12:41:00 PM

Review: Don King Presents: Prizefighter (XBOX 360)

 
Don King Presents: Prizefighter

Image Credit: 2K Sports
Things We Like
Only In America: Don King finally gets into the virtual fight game with this Prizefighter from 2K Sports. Choose from a roster of more than 80 fighters from the present and the past, including 30 active licensed stars and classic heroes such as James Braddock, Rocky Marciano, Larry Holmes, Joe Louis and Ken Norton. The big fights have the feel of a Main Event, with HBO's Jim Lampley and Emmanuel Stewart broadcasting and venues such as Madison Square Garden and Trump's Taj Mahal as the backdrop. Test your mettle outside of the ring as well: Part of succeeding in the career mode is avoiding the temptations of the glamour lifestyle.
Your Own SportsCentury: Prizefighter offers a robust experience online and off. The career mode is framed around a series of documentary style interviews telling the story of your fighter -- nicknamed "The Kid" -- in the past tense, as if looking back on your magnificent (fictional, of course) legacy. The cutscenes feature real-video (not animated) interviews with plenty of voluminous verbosity from promoter Don King himself, actor and fight aficionado Mario Van Peebles, former champion Holmes, Andrew Golata and many more personalities. There's even a Penthouse model who makes an appearance as one of your ex-girlfriends. It's all done extremely well and makes you feel like you are watching an episode of ESPN's SportsCentury series, except that you get to control all the action scenes yourself.
Nuanced Fighting: You have to think about every punch you throw -- and don't throw. Counterpunching and mixing in the specialty blows (hold down LB on the 360 controller for that) is the key, but if you get greedy and try to mix in one too many combinations, the CPU will make you pay. You have to pick your spots for the Signature Punches (Heartbreaker, Second Swallow, Gazelle Punch, etc.), and against the tougher opponents it may take until the sixth or seventh round to find a strategy that works. A fight against a strong opponent can turn on a dime. Some fights in the career mode even present extra obstacles, such as a crooked judge (not in boxing!) or having to fight through a broken right hand. There is even one opponent who puts a hallucenigenic on his gloves and has you seeing double for a couple of rounds, Prizefighter is definitely more reflective of the "Sweet Science" than in any previous boxing game I've played.
Take It Online: Take the stable of fighters you have built in the Create-a-Fighter mode and match them up online in the virtual gym. You can take as many as eight of your own creations into a Virtual Gym and play a in a bracket-style tournament. You can also just jump into ranked or unranked matches directly as well. Knockouts are pretty tough to pull off though, so you'll have to outbox your way to a win by decision most of the time.
Gonna Fly Now: The soundtrack is tight, with the requisite newer hip-hop titles but also, surprisingly, some great classics for your ring walk including selections from Run DMC, Boston, George Clinton, James Brown, Suicidal Tendencies and, yes, the Rocky theme will play in the background during your fights.
History Lesson: While preparing for a fight, your trainer will regale you with stories of the old days, which Prizefighter uses as a takeoff point to put you right into a classic fight. The first two flashbacks pit you as Cinderella Man against Max Baer and Joe Louis. Good luck! Once you unlock these classic fighers, you can use them online as well.
 
Video
Check out Prizefighter in action:
 
Things We'd Change
The Game Is The Thing: No fighting game has ever been perfect, though I still harbor fond memories of Double Dragon. Sadly the gameplay itself on Prizefighter could use a bit more honing. I like using the face buttons for punches -- as opposed to EA Fight Night's analog stick functionality -- with the bumpers and triggers as modifiers. I just wish I didn't get hit by a punch on a follow-through after I already had dodged it successfully. Fighting up close can devolve into button-mashing so you have to be able to stick and move, but that is easier said than done in this game. A double-tap to your left analog stick is supposed to make your fighter do a quick move in any direction, but it often doesn't respond to your command.
The Telegraph: At least in the earlier-to-mid sections of the career mode, the opponents might as well send you an email to let you know which punch is coming next. The strategy becomes pretty easy from there: Wait for the CPU to try to launch a huge punch, dodge it and counterpunch. Even so, you'll have to wear some of the better fighters down gradually before you can take full advantage of their flailing.
Adrenaline Boost: When you ratchet your adrenaline meter all the way to the top you can press both bumper buttons to enhance your fighter's focus for a few seconds. It's kind of a temporary invincibility deal, but it's not very effective and you are better off using your adrenaline points during the match to mix in the Signature Shots.
Mini-Games Need Work: For each fight you get a couple weeks to train, and you can do so either manually through mini-games (shuttle-run, heavy bag, speed bag, jump rope, etc.) or set it to "autotrain." Though there are more boost-up points to be had by succeeding in manual, the games are either too difficult (think expert setting on Guitar Hero for the speedbag) or too redundant or both. Most of the time I end up going with the autotrain.
Detours Could Be More Satisfying: Between fights you have to decide whether to spend your time training or going out own the town and doing media events to enhance your image and thus increase your purses. As tempting as it may be to spend your time dating starlets instead of training, the penalties to your skill points are too severe to indulge these fantasies of yours. Besides, all you get is a picture in a fake newspaper; it's not like you actually get to play that night-on-the-town part of the game Grand Theft Auto-style. You are better off just training and improving your fighter's abilities.
 
Bottom Line
Fight fans won't be disappointed, and gamers who enjoy the single-player story arcs should consider picking this up as well just for the unique documentary-style approach 2K Sports has taken with this title. The fighting engine itself has some flaws but overall is a step above the usual button-mashing that fighting games often devolve into. The Don King tie-in and the bevy of licensed and classic fighters make the experience worthwhile. If you hav a 360 or a PS3, it's at least worth a rental. The Wii version won't be out until Fall, and I suspect that will be the one to get.
Gameplay Graphics Audio Online OVERALL
7 7.5 8.5 8 7.5
 
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