Don King has been in the limelight of boxing for years. Ali, Foreman, Frazier, Holyfield; these are just a few of the big-name boxers whose careers were aided by his crazy, off-the-wall, but unbeatable promoting. This guy is arguably the greatest and most impactful fight promoter of all time. Now he’s delving into the world of videogames. My honest hope going into playing this game was that the King would not let anything but a great product release to us hungry gamers. Sadly, this is not the case. It’s not a bad game, but it’s not great either. The hype of the game, along with the directions, manuals and training, adds up to a great experience in theory. However when you get into the fights, it’s a bit of a different story.
Anyone looking into a boxing game wants to know one thing right off the bat: How does it play, and how are the controls? The gameplay is deceiving in a way, because it does give the gamer a very good first impression. The controls seem to work, and your first couple of fights will be a fun, immersive experience. Then, as you progress through more and more fights, you will begin to realize that you’ve done everything there is to do in the game. The biggest question I like to ask about a boxing game is this one: Are the fights still fresh experiences as you continue to play the game? Unfortunately, this is where this game falls short; you’ll simply find a formula that works and do it over and over again, so that each fight becomes a chore to get to the next part of the story.
The controls are a mixed bag. Obviously the majority of the actions you will take are motion-based. Simply hold the remote in your right hand and the nunchuck in your left hand, and start throwing punches. There are three different punches to throw: the jab, the hook, and the uppercut, and all can be thrown with either hand. Apart from the motion controls, there are also a few button presses that will influence your actions. For example, holding down the Z button will have you throwing body punches instead of head punches, and another will put you in a defensive stance. The game does a decent job of reading your motions, but there are plenty of times when you’ll throw a different punch than you were trying to, and this happens often enough to provide a good amount of frustration. In short, they work some of the time, but the controls often had us wanting to throw that sleek little white remote through our TV screen.
This game is also compatible with the Wii Balance Board, and a buddy of mine was kind enough to let me try it out with this game (I can’t be spending money on balance boards!). Stepping on and off of the board and leaning from one side to another can allow you to dodge, lean, and duck to avoid punches as you fight. It is very responsive, a lot of the time too responsive. Any small movement you make will have your fighter flailing around like an inconspicuously bad and intoxicated dancer. But if you’re careful with your movements, you can use it to your advantage with a lot of practice.
This game offers the usual choices in terms of game modes. You’ve got your training mode, which will track your “fitness” as you go through the game, and improve one of your skills at a time. Exhibition mode will set you up with a quick fight against the computer or against a friend in split-screen mode, with whatever fighters and venues you have managed to unlock in story mode. The real brunt of the game is indeed the story mode, in which (you guessed it) you’ll take a boxer from a “nobody” at the gym to the top of the profession. The story is propelled along in creative documentary style. In between fights, you’ll be treated to real video clips and interviews, which are quasi-relevant to what you’re doing. This, in my opinion, is one of the strong points of the game. A notable omission from the game is any type of online play. Online multiplayer components in games are becoming somewhat of a standard, and it is disappointing to see this missing from the game.
I’d love to be able to say a lot about the visuals and the sound of this game, but they are both sort of just there. The graphics are about on the level of an early Xbox or PS2 title. The fighters are very jagged and square looking, and the spectators are shaking little cutouts. Your fighter is represented by a transparent figure through which you look at your opponent. The idea is good, but it ends up making it very difficult to get a sense of how far away your opponent is. The visual struggles hold the game back and make you remember that you are playing a game. The sound in the game is average. The sound effects are dated and unrealistic, but not awful, and the commentary is a bit bland and repetitive. The high point is the soundtrack, which blends a good mix of hip-hop and classics that are, by definition, “pump-up” songs.
Don King Boxing is not a bad game, but it’s not nearly as good as it could have been. Shaky controls, dated graphics and sound, and repetitive gameplay hold back what had the potential to be a real winner. I would advise a rental before a purchase, because though there are some who will enjoy this game, it is certainly not for everyone.