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Review by: Matthew Karr
Published: February 7, 2001
Boxing games live a rather lonely existence. With the exception of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out and Super Punch-Out, two classic titles that are more about pattern fighting than boxing, the genre suffers in relative obscurity. Even modern offerings like Knockout Kings 2000 and Ready to Rumble Boxing are mediocre at best; the fact that they’re considered the top of the heap proves that this category is in a sorry state. For instance, the former plays much like a simulation and, as a result, winds up being a punch-only fighting release that doesn’t pack any special moves or effects to liven up the otherwise dull action. On the other hand, the latter has plenty of action, but the difference between button mashing and skill is almost none. In an attempt to salvage the genre from oblivion, Mike Tyson Boxing steps into the ring and offers itself to the public.
No stranger to game players, the boxing world’s most recognizable competitor returns nearly 15 years after Mike Tyson’s Punch Out for the SNES. However, anyone looking for King Hippo or Soda Popinski to make a triumphant appearance will be left waiting: Mike Tyson Boxing is a true sports product, and instead of cartoon characters, the titular athlete gets his shot at beating on his opponents in a modernized environment. Donning a realistic engine and simple play mechanics, this offering attempts to fuse the best elements of both Knockout Kings 2000 and Ready to Rumble Boxing into one successful package. Despite being a licensed title, the only real-world element you’ll find is Mike Tyson, so don’t expect to recreate classic bouts such as Tyson vs. Holyfield. The remaining athletes are all generic boxers generated to represent their home countries. Likewise, the arenas, while set in the same cities as many of the real events, are also generic constructions. Despite this, the Tyson license carries a lot of weight on its own, though Mike cannot perform his infamous ear-biting assault.
The actual boxing is easy to pick up right away. Each button represents a style of punch, including jabs, straight punches, hooks, uppercuts and body blows. A quick tap will net you a light punch, while holding the button for a few moments will provide you with a stronger attack. In the defensive department, the L1 and R1 buttons allow you to dodge or, if you press and hold both front shoulder buttons, block attacks. Dodging fills a special punch meter that allows you to eventually execute your boxer’s trademark blow–a devastating attack that can really put the hurt on your opponent if it hits home.
To knock your opposition down, you have to fill the score bar, which is a tug-of-war like momentum meter, by landing blows on him while dodging ones aimed at you. To score a knockout, you must empty the opponent’s KO meter, which lowers a little each time he gets hit and refills while he is not being beat upon. There are other options if you don’t feel like slugging it out until someone falls: You can also win by outperforming your opponent during each round or dropping their points below the starting ten. At the end of each round, you can see how many punches each boxer threw as well as the percent that connected.
If you’ve played any other game in this genre, the modes available in Mike Tyson Boxing won’t be too surprising. For example, the Showcase mode is a simple pick-up-and-play option where you and up to seven friends choose from an assortment of eight boxers, including Iron Mike himself. The layout is simple: You fight through a 16-man, single elimination championship tournament. The VS mode is similar to any other one-on-one mode, and although up to six players can compete, this mode follows the typical rule of “winner stays, loser moves to the back of the line.” In case you are not confident in your skills, Mike Tyson Boxing also provides a Training mode that you can set to provide an offensive, defensive or neutral opponent. Although these options are appreciable, they are simply the surface covering the title’s primary single-player element, the World mode.
In the World mode, you create a boxer in one of three weight divisions and one of eight countries, training them to become world champions. This mode’s gymnasium allows you to set how much your contender performs various exercises, thus allowing you to customize his training regime. Each exercise influences specific statistics, and different combinations of exercises have unique effects on your boxer’s power, speed, stamina, resilience, balance, weight and overall health. While training covers important ground, a contender’s weight class and country of origin also determine several of his strengths and weaknesses. For example, a 230 pound American heavyweight may not be able to move as fast as a 200 pound Italian lightweight, but he can hit quite a bit harder.
When you feel sufficiently confident, you can challenge an opponent within three ranks of your boxer and attempt to climb the ladder. Alternately, you can wait for a closely ranked opponent who’d like nothing better than to use you as a stepping-stone to the higher echelons to issue a challenge. As you go, fighters who’ve suffered too many losses or get too old retire, while younger fighters step in to take their place. Other features within the World mode include the ability to track your character’s growth over time and an option for submitting your scores to the game’s website for the entire world to see. Finally, any boxer raised in the World mode can be ported over to the VS mode.
There are a wide variety of game adjustments that championship hopefuls can make in order to become more comfortable with the experience. For your viewing pleasure, Mike Tyson Boxing includes three camera angles: overhead, over-the-shoulder and side view, each with their own modified controls to make playing easier. Also, there are options allowing you to set the length of each round, the number of rounds per fight and the ability to win by technical knock out (knocking your opponent down three times in a single round). Even when they include a wealth of options, licensed titles still run the risk of being more about the license rather than the actual game. Can Iron Mike avoid this fate?
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