In one corner, we have the reigning champ: EA’s Fight Night Round 3, and in the other corner, we have the contender: 2K Sports’ Don King Presents: Prizefighter. Which boxing game is better? Well, the answer is quite a long one. Prizefighter plays out as a documentary about you, or rather the boxer you create, known as “The Kid.” This unique take is a very interesting one, actually; as you defeat boxers, a lot of the game’s drama unfolds, adding all kinds of twists to the documentary sequences. Throughout your career, you’ll come across a number of familiar people such as Larry Easton and the titacular Don King (whose roles are hilarious). What’s nice about your story as a professional fighter is that your rise from a low-class boxer to Don King’s level is told through the cutscenes – And all the fights are player-controlled.
The fighting mechanics are more closely rooted to 3D fighting games – that is to say, no illegal blows, no taunts, no real fancy stuff, just straight up buttons to clobber your opponent with. The face buttons correspond to your left and right hooks, as well as your straight and jab. Pressing straight and hook or jab and hook execute an uppercut. The shoulder buttons modify your punches by switching up your stance or how they’re launched. You can lean away from your opponent or lean into the fight, weave left and right, as well. You can also execute punches on the move, which is what brings this game to a whole new level of boxing strategy; it encourages movement around the ring and more attention to where you’re getting hit from. It’s no longer just the face or body that has to be taken care of, it’s the flanks as well.
Signature punches are a big deal if you want to send your opponent to the canvas effectively. When a fighter reaches a certain amount of Adrenaline, each face button coupled with the signature trigger modifier throws a crippling blow. For example, one signature move can unleash a shot to the liver, while another goes straight for the heart area. Movement is given a large role in the game as well. The dashes might be somewhat exaggerated, but it encourages a fast offensive or aggressive defense. All of these elements combined come into play with Prize Fighter’s stamina and Adrenaline systems. Stamina determines how effective your moves are – the more punches you throw, the less stamina you have, and so the slower and weaker your punches will be. Unlike Fight Night, your energy here depletes quickly.
It can be an amazing feat to turn all your punches in your arsenal into a sleek combo, but this could adversely stagger your energy if you don’t pay attention to your deteriorating physical condition. Adrenaline works to reward you for managing the bout; manage your punches well and play good defense, and you are awarded adrenaline. Each adrenaline counts towards a signature punch or an Adrenaline Shot, which grants you unlimited stamina for a brief amount of time. While Prizefighter has an amazing boxing system, there are some quite notable flaws. First of all, the judges’ scoring system is totally off the charts. While punches miss realistically (and it happens very, very often), the scores for each round are calculated via this number. The more punches you land, the higher the chance of winning the round.
Secondly, KO-ing someone is no easy feat. While scoring a TKO simply requires that you beat someone to a pulp, getting a KO is rare. The system for getting up from a knockdown is simply tapping a button to regain your composure, and tapping another to get up from the knockdown. Now, there’s no way you cannot do this; you always have the option of tapping as fast as you can (unless the game detects that someone can no longer fight because their health is so low to the point that one punch brings them down). The only way to cleanly KO someone is if they fail to get up during the ten count, and the boxer stays on his knees when knocked down. Last of all, there are major fluctuations in the difficulty of the game; sometimes boxers will overpower you easily, sometimes they’ll go down to a cheap combo.
Graphically, Prize Fighter delivers some good presentations, both in the ring and out. The gym you spend much of your time in is nicely detailed, leaving imprints such as skid marks on the floor from shuttle runs, as well as boxers spew out blood when hit. The impact of exchanging blows is captured by the realistic animation, and you can almost feel every hook or straight as if they were really coming at you! The audio brings the ringside experience to life, but leaves most else blowing in the wind. In fights, all the thrown punches either whiff by their targets or land with a deadly, explosive sound. Boxers groan in pain, and they yell as they desperately try to land a signature on their opponent. The music is alright, comprising of some classic tunes mixed in with a couple of modern soundtracks, and can be used as a boxer’s opening theme, which is a nice bonus. The commentary is somewhat bland and sometimes inaccurate, but the incredible voiceover works compensated for that by nailing a good script.
Overall, Prizefighter is a solid boxing game. The game’s lack of taunts and illegal blows make it more of a heavy boxing simulation as opposed to Fight Night’s arcade-focused fighting system. A demo is out on Xbox Live, and it might be a good time for you to go for sparring and get familiar with the mechanics, before heading out to buy the game and getting your teeth knocked out in one or two rounds. Even at the lowest difficulty setting, the challenges are very realistic. You cannot always assume that your opponent’s weaker ratings will lead to an easy fight. Prizefight is all about 90% mental and 10% physical boxing ethics. If you want to win, you’ve got to play smart. The game has simulation written all over it, which is typical of 2K Sports’ releases. If you’re willing to dive into a different style of boxing with a realistic sports attitude, then this game should be worth checking out. The judging system may need a bit of tweaking though. Nevertheless, it’s a fairly decent account of what boxing should be.