"Let's get ready to rummmmmmble!"
The music blares through the arena's sound system, and the crowd rise as one to their feet as you head down the ramp towards the ring. Is this wrestling? No brother, this is none of that fake namby pamby choreographed nonsense, this is boxing.
No predetermined outcomes here, no 'run ins' from your friends backstage, no foreign objects, none of that sports entertainment rubbish!
But like any WWE game from the past decade, you start at the bottom of the rankings and you have to prove yourself the hard way, by taking the hard knocks and occasionally realizing that you are not going to beat the referee's 10 count. So knuckle up and if you are feeling brave enough, step through those ropes and go for it!
But first of all you have to create your boxer. Pick from various hair styles, tattoos and the like and then you are almost ready to go. However before we go any further it's at this time I have to say that the creation options seem very limited. Granted, it's on the vita and not on it's bigger, older brother, but surely more options could have been given us?
Not being politically incorrect on purpose (please take no offense) but why can't you have a white or a latino boxer? You are also restricted in weight class. No bantam weights here, no fly weight or cruiserweight, nope you have to be heavyweight fighter.
OK so taking that in mind, you can then go to the options screen and select your control options of which there are two to choose from. You can use either the buttons or the touch screen to manipulate your boxer. From here you can enter the training section and I strongly suggest you do so.
The tutorial is fairly easy in some ways and in others it will present to you the first challenge that is on offer from this game. Both control options take some getting used to and will provide a challenge and yes, frustration.
Buttons or finger swipes?
The buttons can be used in conjunction with the analogue sticks. The shoulder buttons control clinching, blocking and dodging. Now the sticks are tricky so you may decide that just buttons is the way to go and it's my preferred method.
You see the right stick controls the right hand/fist and the left stick the left. Right stick pushed upwards or just a stab of the triangle button delivers an uppercut. Square delivers a left hook and O delivers a right hook. X delivers a jab and a quick stab of the left button lowers your aim towards your opponent's body rather than his face/head.
So the left stick OR the d-pad delivers the same punches only with the left hand. Yes that means with practice you can deliver a quick combo of rights and lefts, providing that is, you have the stamina. This is marked with a yellow bar that lies underneath your fighters red health bar. Whilst it's full you can punch and hurt your target, as the bar empties the punches become weaker and less effective. So time your attacks amigo, time them. Your trainer will yell advice to you from time to time.
Need to block? Tap left shoulder, need to dodge, tap right shoulder button. Time the latter just so, and you can (providing you have the stamina and are in range) deliver a counter attack that will hit with three times the normal damage. Oh and you can initiate a clinch when prompted on the screen by pushing both shoulder buttons. There then follows a mini game where you have to tip the Vita from left to right to stop the gauge from hitting the red zone. When that happens the clinch breaks and you'll gain nothing. Get it right, keep it in the green and you'll regain precious health.
It's all about timing...
As for screen swipe controls, well this may be novel, indeed unique but it's hard. Damned hard. You cannot combine the two so practice with both to find your preferred method. Swiping left across the screen for left hook, right for right hook, upwards for uppercut and... I think you get the picture. But it's tricky to say the least. Tapping the icon provided will block and the dodge option is activated by tapping another icon. Aiming for body shots? Tap left button and then swipe to deliver a blow to the torso. To get up from being knocked down, press both right and left shoulder buttons repeatedly and try and beat the 10 count.
So what next? You've done the training and sparred with some guys so now what? Well you can dip into career mode but hold it right there buddy, don't go in with both feet, yelling allon-sy! Heck no!
Go to the gym and take on mini games that serve as training aids. For instance punching practice can be done on the punch bag and the smaller punch bag. Skipping can improve your footwork and make you lighter and more balanced on your twinkle toes. This is done like a dance central game, press the shoulder buttons in time to the online instructions. Starts simple but gets very tricky! And then there's the sparring fights.
These don't do much but they do again, give you the chance to practice in a moderately harmless environment. But in tournament mode it's do or die.
If you don't get enough points and enough wins in tournament mode then progress in your division comes to an abrupt halt and you have to start again. There are three divisions and progress is tough and challenging and be warned, training options are limited. Once you have done the exercises so many times then you are barred from training lessons except for the sparring fight.
Doing the training (as well as completing objectives set in competition fights) give you bonuses such as being able to get up from being knocked down quicker (trust me you'll need it!) Extra punching power etc etc. I'll leave them all for you to discover.
Money won in fights mean you can customize your character, i.e changing gloves, short colours and new tattoos if you so wish.
You can go online and challenge the world and his brother if you so desire and there's a season mode and world title to go for! it's fierce, competitive and I admit I felt like a minnow swimming amongst sharks going in and lasting just about as long as one.
There are friendly fights to for the wary, but online fighting is fun and challenging providing you can host or find a game to join.
Ok it's obvious, that this is immediately going to be compared to EA's Fight Night series and indeed plays in a very similar way. It's gritty, realistic as far as it can be. There are slow motion replays of knock out blows.
And this is where I make a confession. I am not a boxing fan, wrestling yes, boxing no. BUT I will say this, both fight night and this game made me appreciate the punishment these guys take and the 'art' behind the sport.
Sharp and almost as razor sharp as EA's bigger title. Sweat and blood flies as the blows land and the opponent will react to those heavy hits you land in a realistic fashion. Movement is fluid and authentic. Nice job.
Makes a pleasant change not to be assailed with a hip hop sound track here but what you get is a generic rock track that isn't too bad and sounds quite sharp through headphones.
Decent but not earth breaking.
I've already mentioned blood and sweat flying and although you don't get the face rippling that you would in a slow motion shot from EA's Fight Night, the punches feel and look solid. Decent work done here.
This is the one area that can be described as a gray one. Easy to use but damned hard to master, even on the easiest mode the game is punishing as you fight the higher ranked opponents. It's all you can do to stay on your feet never mind land punches and survive their assault.
Even the bronze ranked tournament is as tough as can be, and if you do not make enough progress, you have to start again, from scratch. Ouch. It is quite unforgiving and this is one black mark against it.
I believe that a game should be a challenge but jeez man, go easy on me, I'm a novice capiche?
The game shows what the Vita can do graphically very nicely. Yes for a handheld it plays smoothly and the image and sound are top notch and make good use of the Vita's processing power.
Nice presentation, slick graphics, all in all not bad in that department.
Well it has a learning curve about as steep as the west face of the Eiger. Anyone who has a lot of experience with the Fight Night series, may well fancy a shot at this, but I strongly advise you to try a demo first. It is unforgiving, perhaps a little too unforgiving or maybe, just maybe I tried to walk before I could run. Even so a little gentler learning curve would have been welcome.
It's all over!
So there you have it, a game that's a solid challenge, maybe a little too solid for some.
It looks good, no it looks great, but I feel it's imbalanced in some ways. It's a shame, this could be a great game but comes over in the end as being a very good game, but for me it does not quite deliver a satisfying enough knock out punch.