Real Boxing – Preview
I’ve never been one for boxing; I’ve always preferred Rocky Road ice-cream to Rocky Balboa, and I consider myself a bigger fan of George Foreman’s fine grills than his ability to punch people in the face. With that in mind, I’ve always been someone who is normally hesitant to try out their videogaming equivalents for fear that I simply “won’t get it” and find myself turned off by the experience, but after only a few short rounds with Vivid Games’ Real Boxing, they almost needed Ali to get me to put it down.
First delving in more colourful and silly affairs, Vivid Games have slowly made their way into the realm of sports sims, and their pinnacle was Real Boxing. Releasing on iOS last November, it’s since gone on to win a multitude of awards, including the coveted Editor’s Choice on iTunes itself. Rendered in the Unreal engine, it allowed you to take to the ring anywhere you go, and now it’s being revamped, remade and re-released on the PlayStation Vita this summer.
The Vita version of Real Boxing shouldn’t be considered a port, but rather a reboot, and this is mostly down to how different the entire experience is when the control scheme is transplanted onto a device with buttons and analogue sticks. On iOS, all your boxer’s movements are automatic, leaving you only with the matter of how best to feed your opponent knuckle sandwiches with the touch screen, but the Vita allows you to take full control of your opponent, and it changes the entire dynamic of how you play. The touch-screen control method – also available on the Vita – is billed more towards casual players, while the new layout is referred to as the tactical way to play, much like a round of chess.
This is down to the fact that on Apple devices it’s not just your feet that are automated, but also where you hit your opponent, as it will decide for you whether your swing was aimed more towards the torso or the face, and this is another decision that’s left to the player on the Vita, as there’s now a dedicated button to allow players to attempt low-aimed throws. Players can also decide how to punch with either the right analogue stick or with the buttons on the same side as the console, and this allows the player to differentiate between hooks, jabs and uppercuts, though getting overzealous is a bad idea thanks to the stamina bar, which will reduce the power of any of your blows once it’s been depleted, forcing the player to go on the defence until it’s replenished. To prevent a stalemate, any blocks will be broken after the third successful hit, with the side-effect that the defending player will also stumble and be exposed, discouraging them from hiding behind their gloves for too long.
Those wishing to recover health can do so by clinching, whereupon a balance meter will appear on the screen, tasking the player with tilting the Vita so that the arrow stays inside the green boundaries the longest, with the winner recovering a decent amount in return. As soon as the health-bar is depleted, the flattened player will have to tap the shoulder buttons as quickly as possible to get back up, but the effort required to do so will be greater and greater with every attempt until they’re definitively knocked out. The computer won’t always be able to keep standing, and one of my favourite touches came from the moments where the AI would slowly start to climb back up, only to instantly collapse in a heap.
It’s not just the combat that’s been reinvented, but also the way you level up; with in-app purchases not present on the Vita version, now it’s up to your own prowess in combat to earn the money necessary to increase your stats, but this is pretty expensive, and a far cheaper and more organic solution is to let victory bestow several points upon you to sink into either your power, stamina or endurance, with your boxer maxed out when they reach a hundred percent in every quota.
Another factor in customising and levelling your boxer is through the perks system, with your character only able to take two into the ring at any time. Again, these can be purchased with the money you earn from your many bouts, but another solution to bulk your in-ring presence is by training in the gym on one of the several mini-games available. Jumping rope will require mimicking the on-screen prompts in time to avoid getting the rope tangled up, while Speed Bag requires you to time your punches in a similar manner, with Heavy Bag requiring you to make one punch after another according to the game’s commands. While ‘winning’ these mini-games isn’t exactly possible, performing in them will slowly build up an experience meter that will unlock your perk when it’s been filled up.
Once you’re satisfied with your boxer – or you just want to don the gloves and let loose on your opponents – there’s several ways to get started, with a quick match, career mode and multiplayer matches available. Career mode sees you taking on the Bronze, Silver and Gold tournaments, with Bronze there from the start and the latter two unlocked by succeeding in the one before it, and Quick Match there for all your rapid skirmish needs. Where things get more interesting is with the multiplayer mode, as it’s here when you can truly test your skills and improve your boxing prowess, with battles available via WiFi or through an ad-hoc basis, though Real Boxing will attempt to use the former first.
It’s when squaring off against another player that Real Boxing really starts to shine, as each round becomes extremely strategic as both sides attempt to knock out their opponent, always mindful of their health and stamina gauges. Compounding this is the counter system, as if one side times their dodge perfectly enough then time will slow to a crawl and the dodging player will be able to fire out an intense counter-attack that’ll knock their opponent off-balance as well as depleting a fair part of their health bar. Further upping the ante is the ability for any countered boxer to dodge and potentially counter the counter-blow instead – meaning that when the action hits the slow-motion button there’s no guarantee of landing a critical blow. Those used to playing on the iOS or using the touch controls will find themselves out of luck here, as the multiplayer mode only accommodates those using the Vita’s controls rather than its touch-screen.
With other additions including a real-time damage system that lets you see how badly you’ve injured your opponent mid-fight, a new arena to fight in and Vita-exclusive items and customisation options, it’s clear that Vivid Games have stepped up and provided the Sony hand-held with a sports title that it can be truly proud of. The differences between touch-only play and using the capabilities of the Vita is staggering, and with an asking price of less than £10 when it releases this August, Real Boxing is going to be a phenomenal value for money. At the very least, it’ll be the safest and cheapest alternative to boxing for real.
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