Preview - Real Boxing VitaPlatforms: Sony PS Vita
With Sony continuing their march to promote indie developers it should not be a surprise that their handheld console the Playstation Vita has become a home for refreshing new talent and brilliant original games. In just the last few months we have seen PC indie darling Thomas Was Alone, lovely explorathon Knytt Underground, the mental mexican mayhem of Guacamelee! and many more flood onto the console filling it with so many exciting prospects. In a very short period the console many called a failure has become the must have handheld of this generation.
It comes as no surprise then that there are successful developers in the mobile market wishing to make the move to Vita to find a new audience. The hit iOS game Real Boxing from the Polish developer Vivid Games is one such example, merging the casual nature of the mobile world with the hardcore on the Vita. This beautifully looking Unreal engine powered game could fit perfectly onto the handheld console without many changes and still be a success, however Vivid games have completely reworked the experience to meet the hard demands of the Vita community, shifting it from a casual mobile sim to a complete boxing experience.
On first impressions the game is remarkably reminiscent of the classic Nintendo game Punch Out! though of course it looks more like the UFC series of games and has no real comic elements. Perhaps it is because those left and right hook combos really cause impact or because the block, dodge and retaliate method is so important but these all combine to feel like that classic boxing sim. And that should be some praise.
Starting with a customisable character you can choose a quick fight or a tournament. The early opponents (all of whom are fictional, as are the the vibrant ring locations) are a breeze and end up splattered on the floor with relative ease, however the difficulty ramps up as you progress. Fortunately Real Boxing contains some role-playing elements which sees your character gain strength and agility as you progress, making the harder foes more manageable. Sadly from this brief preview it was hard to judge just how much the game would change, in terms of difficulty, as your fighter progresses.
Fans of the iOS version will notice that the levelling element has changed dramatically from the mobile, with mini games that were previously purely responsible for the gain of experience taking a less important role. Now levels are gained through defeating opponents in the ring, while the games (rhythm / timing practices rather like Guitar Hero with boxing gloves) supply the player with extra traits such as faster reactions and quicker stamina recovery. Players can also buy purely aesthetic extra kit such as coloured gloves and shorts from the money they earn in game, fortunately there is no whiff of in game purchases here.
While all these peripheral experiences such as levelling, customisation and mini games add depth to the game what is far more important is how the fights feel in the ring. Here Real Boxing on the Vita really shines. While it is still possible to change the settings and play with the original iOS touch screen swipes, the more interesting and dynamic experience comes from using the analog sticks. The left stick moves the boxer around the ring (something restricted in the original) while the right stick controls the punches. Here’s a pro tip from the developers though: instead of using the right stick the fists can be controlled with the d-pad and symbol buttons. This means you can control the left fist from the left hand side of the controller and vice-versa. Fighting in this manner seems extremely fluid and natural, the only issue being that it is extremely difficult to use the d-pad and the left analog stick at the same time.
More important is the right bumper which acts as the block and dodge mechanism. Holding this down lifts your gloves to block incoming punches, but tapping it performs a dodge move. Timing the dodges is the most important part of the game. A successful dodge results in a slight slowing down of action giving you the opening to thump in a powerful return blow. This means that battles are a clever tactical battle of attack and retaliation, but at the same time does not fall into the trap of many modern combat games (looking at you Assassin’s Creed and Batman) in which the only successful form of offence is defence.
Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the game is the feedback that is shown from successful punches. Real Boxing feels particularly visceral with vicious uppercuts clearly causing visible suffering to the receiver making the whole experience feel slightly more, well, real. There is a definite elegance to proceedings as you dance around incoming fists then unleash an explosion of punches reducing the opponent’s health to zero in seconds.
The move to Vita also brings with it some other sought after features such as online matchmaking as well as the ability to create ad hoc networks and play with those other rare friends who have the machine without relying on a stable internet connection. Also included will be many new customisations for your boxer and a whole new ring to battle in.
All things considered it is impossible to see just how deep and involved fights will be from the few bouts we had our hands on with so we will have to wait until release in August to make a real conclusion, but there are certainly advanced combos to learn and cunning tactics to deploy. While it is likely not to have the incredible depth and nuances of larger titles on its housebound console cousin, at a price point of under £10 Real Boxing still seems like a very worthwhile purchase for the Vita. Especially if you feel the need to beat a digital human being into the ground instead of an irritating real one while travelling.