Real Boxing Review
Sony PS Vita
This is one game I’d have liked to have been in the initial kickoff meeting for. I like to imagine that it went a little bit like this:
Enthusiastic (young) Developer: I’ve had this great idea! It’s for a mobile game called Fake Boxing! It’ll involve alternating bouts of capoeira and sissy flappy hand slapping! People will love it!
Despondent Producer: Bad developer! Naughty developer! You’ll make the game about actual boxing, and to emphasise the manliness of pugilism we’ll squeeze ‘Real’ into the name somewhere! That’s ‘Real’, not ‘Ray-al’ or some other hipster thing you kids might be into. And port it to the Vita during your next thirty lunch breaks.
Previously Enthusiastic (young) Developer: Whimper!
Ok, I may have paraphrased a little but I think that’s an essentially accurate depiction of what happened. Fast forward through those thirty lunch breaks (or maybe a little longer) and Vivid Games have ported their mobile hit Real Boxing over to the Vita – and as a full PSN release no less. Port does seem a little like a weak description for the work Vivid have put in however – in-app purchases have been removed entirely and the game has been reworked to take full advantage of the Vita’s offerings , with the largest addition being that you can now move around the ring by using the left analogue stick.
After a quick character creation (and it is rather quick – most available options need to be purchased using in-game cash) you are free to jump into either a quick fight or the first of three tournaments. The tournaments act as the game’s campaign mode, with each presenting seven fights that position you in a league table followed by a semi-final and final to determine the tournament’s winner. The first time you run through a tournament each win will award you two points that you can use to boost your fighter’s statistics of Strength, Stamina and Speed, while an optional fight challenge (such as knockout your opponent in the first round) can help boost your upgrade points and cash reward. Punches can be issued using the sticks or buttons, and there is even an optional touchscreen mode should you wish to emulate the mobile roots of the game.
Punches come in three main flavours – jabs, hooks and uppercuts. You can throw these from the left or the right, and holding down the left shoulder button allows you to aim for the torso instead of the head, although there’s no chance to try to sneak in an illegal low blow. Punches do more damage when your stamina bar is full, and each punch takes away a portion of that stamina, leaving you to decide whether to press on with a couple of weaker punches or hunker down and wait for the power to return to your fists. Holding down the right shoulder button will see you raise your guard to block, while tapping it when your opponent has started a punch against you will see time slow down as you dodge the blow – you can counterattack here and if you connect your punch will cause three times the damage it normally would have. Beware though, as your counter could also be dodged and leave you open for a counter-counter. And so forth.
It’s unfortunate then that this control system just misses out on providing an entirely compelling experience. While the right analogue stick is a capable enough device (especially when ‘rocking’ between left and right jabs) the promise of button controls offers so much more. With the D-pad controlling the punches from your left hand and the face buttons controlling the punches from the right you should be given total control over your fighter, the on-screen punches accurately raining down as and when you demand. The reality is a little different – when using the superior button control method you are unable to cover the left analogue stick (which controls movement), leaving you at a positional disadvantage, while often trying to transition between block and dodge leaves you feeling that you should have just stayed in block mode for the incoming punch.
Still, there are a good range of tactical options available within the game once you have got used to controlling your attacks with the right analogue stick. A quick jab can take out an incoming hook, a few body shots can soften up an opponent ready for some face attacks and so forth. The key to having fun with such options though is fighting against an intelligent opponent as most of these ‘tactics’ seem incidental rather than intentional. With the AI fighters available in quick play and tournament mode there is a range of quality available, although in the main it’s towards the ‘lame AI’ end of the scale. The Rooster Tournament (your first one) acts as an elongated tutorial, the fights so ridiculously easy that you should be able to hook and uppercut your way through them without even trying to block or dodge. Towards the end of the second tournament the challenge level does ramp up a little, with low punches and the odd dodge appearing, but it’s not really until the final tournament that Real Boxing begins to deliver on its name. Exploratory jabs rule the roost, with spammed hooks or uppercuts punished mercilessly. By now, however, you could potentially have sleepwalked through about fifteen fights (more if you farmed some cash to buy some statistic upgrades early) before you start to find any challenge.
Keep picking at the layers of this onion and more is found to be missing; there is no way to force an opponent to the ropes or a corner and pummel them as the flow of the flight simply moves you around these boundaries. The graphics, while pretty to look at, don’t have any sense of realism – each fighter is a block of solid muscle with impact effect being shown by painting on the odd bloody nose rather than showing supple skin buckling under your relentless assaults. Knockdowns see the successful fighter regain so much health that the end result is almost now a foregone conclusion. Point scoring is very simplified, mirroring a more amateur style of punch scoring rather than including subjective issues such as aggression or ring control. The training options are overly simplified, leading to speedy acquisition of available perks, while using the same currency for cosmetic items as well as statistic increases means that you’ll likely wear the free gear until you have fully levelled your boxer. Finally, although one might expect a representation of a ring girl in a boxing game, there really didn’t need to be one where so much work has been put into ensuring that the physics of her chest region seem to defy gravity. You buy boxing, you like bouncy boobs the thinking must go, we guess.
There is respite available online however, although it is of a dancing kind. As you would imagine human opponents are (usually) much more intelligent than their AI equivalents, and so a fight here can be much more rewarding. That is until you realise that everyone online currently is deploying a ‘spam the dodge button and hope for the best’ tactic. The lack of any punishment (stamina cost, delay between use, etc.) for using dodge means that you would be foolish not to do it, especially as the three times damage reward punch can be so critical in deciding online contests. The fights devolve into a series of undodgeable body shots with the odd head jab, and all too often both fighters will be standing toe-to-toe jiving around looking like they are late for an appointment with the toilet.
But, you know, even with all the issues there are some magical moments available. That first multi-round match that goes back and forth will live in your mind for quite a while, the exchanges of jabs and hooks and dodges really feeling like chess with fists. As the words ‘mobile port’ ring in our ears we could have been forgiven for expecting something horrific - instead Vivid Games have delivered a serviceable boxing game that straddles the arcade and simulation boundaries. At a couple of quid less we’d suggest that most people think about giving it a punt (or, indeed, a jab?) but for now this will probably remain in the quite small ‘passionate about boxing, owns a Vita’ niche.