Real Boxing is like a shabby old building that’s been given a new facade. At a glance, it’s shiny and grand and pleasing to the eye. But on closer inspection, it’s revealed to have a flat, boring, and decrepit structure.
It certainly looks the part. Model detail is impressive, and the camera angles and movements convey a good sense of impact and motion. Watching your fighter duck your opponent’s right hook is highly exhilarating, and you’ll feel the impact as you counter with a powerful uppercut. The effect of the game’s dramatic camera effects never quite wears off, and the silhouetted forms of the audience feel more convincing than the average sports game’s simulated crowd.
Mechanically, the game is sound, if unremarkable. You’ve got your average health and (recharging) stamina bars, a block, counter, and three types of punches. Punches can be dealt either through the face buttons, which restrict movement on the left stick, or the right analog stick, which might restrict accuracy. The problem is that having three types of punches feels pointless, as hooks and uppercuts are almost identical in terms of damage, while uppercuts are far too slow and close-reaching. There’s also a punch “modifier” which allows for body punches, which can be blocked but not dodged. Unfortunately, their damage is so measly that you’ll never find yourself wasting your stamina on them.
This is not to say that the mechanics are a failure, only that there are some glaring flaws and eccentricities to the regular gameplay. Counters feel awesome when they do work as instructed, but things get messy when dodging your opponent’s counter. It’s definitely possible to do this, but the game has a mind of its own about letting you dodge counters. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Most frustratingly, the slow motion sequence that triggers when your opponent dodges doesn’t convey whether they are merely dodging or countering after the dodge.
The rhythm of play is stilted at best, and completely idiotic at worst. The game doesn’t penalize players for hitting while their opponent is in the process of throwing a punch, and some punches can actually interrupt attacks. While in theory this might sound closer to reality, in practice this leads to ludicrous situations where two fighters are flailing their arms about and hitting each other simultaneously, or sometimes flailing about and hitting nothing at all. It’s not game-breaking by any stretch, but it’s embarrassing to watch two professional boxers make fools of themselves in a game titled Real Boxing.
When the punches do connect and you’re breaking guards, doling out powerful counterattacks, and getting knockdowns, the game has its moments. The camera movements are what really bring life to the fights – the most powerful punches blur your vision for a few seconds and the camera swoops to the side during a slow-motion dodge. Meanwhile, every received punch jolts the camera with a noticeable force, enhancing the feel of every blow.
What truly breaks the game, especially in the first third of the game’s short career mode, is the heavy emphasis on character stats. You see, upon starting the game, you pick a character who will always start his career with base stats of 60 for strength, stamina, and speed. The real problem is that these aren’t only a slight advantage. A five-point difference between your stamina rating and your opponent’s strength rating is enough to mean the difference between victory and defeat. Even if you do buy the idea that boxing is a sport that depends more on experience and training than skill or strategy, this dynamic is extremely irritating if you haven’t earned enough skill points earlier on. If this is the case, you’ll need to play through the entire first championship a few more times simply to pass some of the “challenges” which are a number of arbitrary goals such as “clinch twice and win by KO” or “get knocked down and win the fight.”
These challenges are mostly infuriating. If you can easily knock out your opponent in the first round, why waste your time letting him beat you down to the ground, just to get back up again and knock him out then? To impress the crowd? Furthermore, if your character’s stamina rating is too high, it can take upwards of a full round just to get your character down to 25% health. You can always back out and attempt the fight again to hope for a less time-consuming goal, but there are more ridiculous goals than decent ones, and the time saved ends up being irrelevant when you’ve wasted the same amount of time rolling the dice for a better goal.
Anyway, if you’ve grinded through all the easy opponents again, the game becomes beatable again, but it doesn’t become a better game. The mechanics don’t change in the slightest, and the combat isn’t close to being deep enough for marking a difference in experience levels. Opponents just have tougher skin, tougher punches, and quicker reflexes. Frankly, it stops being remotely engaging after about a half-hour, and it becomes an exercise in frustration soon after.
While the game is graphically impressive, the surrounding presentation is lacking. There is absolutely no facial animation, which wouldn’t be a problem if the game didn’t try sticking the camera in the fighters’ faces at every pre-round cutscene. The in-match announcer has no fighter-specific dialogue, and spouts such generic lines as “This kid really deserved it!” Oddly, the game sees it as important to include an inter-round ring girl, complete with a bikini and a bizarre alien stare. Most disturbing, it doesn’t animate her face, but sees fit to animate a simple breast-bounce when she walks. Perhaps making her the most genuinely creepy NPC in recent memory, a strange glitch makes her head jerk to the right for a split second in a certain cutscene. Weeeeird.
Ultimately, this is an absurdly simple fighting game with an absurdly artificial progression system. If you’ve maxed out your character, going online can be a bit more satisfying than playing against computer-controlled opponents, but it’s a game that’s too content in its shallow mechanics to fight with the big players. Muhammad Ali once said, “I’m retiring because there are more pleasant things to do than beat up people.” Fitting, because I was craving something more pleasant to do after only a half-hour with this shallow game.