Reviewed on iPad 2.
Ever been punched really hard in the face? Me too: hurts, doesn't it?! That's partly why I'm quite content now to keep my boxing participation to the world of video-games and comfy sofas.
As with most sports games genres, there has been a steady trend over the years to move more towards simulation with boxing titles, none more prominent than EA Sports' Fight Night series, which for me still doesn't quite capture the pace or impact of a real boxing match. So, with "Real" being right there in the title, will Vivid Games' latest offering bring us closer to the ring? Let's find out.
As has become the norm with sports games, the player has the option to create, stylize and develop their very own career character. From the off, customization options are limited, thus gently suggesting to the player another ever increasing norm: the micro-transaction.
In game cash, as you might expect, is earned by winning fights and prizes. Your cash may then be used to enhance your character model, else improve his core skills. Skill improvement is an expensive business in "Real Boxing", so "Real Cash" transactions are an option to buy in-game currency. You are no doubt already quite familiar with this arrangement!
Training mini-games enhance your fighter's skills, though these in truth are one of the game's weaknesses. Options include skipping, speed bag and heavy bag sessions, though each are very similar in that they are essentially mini rhythm games that require a tap or gesture on the screen at the appropriate time. They are incredibly simple, and in this case less is certainly less.
There is nothing quite like the build up and anticipation of a big night of boxing, and by the Unreal powered engine, Real Boxing goes some way to recreate this excitement with impressive visuals and pre-fight presentation.
Though rating highly with impressive visuals, the audio however leaves much to be desired. The game music is unfortunately quite generic and becomes tiresome all too quickly. Muting the game music however also silences the commentary and ring announcements. Very limited though they are, it would be preferable to retain these independently of the music.
Boxer controls are by one of two options, either swiping across the screen for each punch type or action, else use a very innovative and clever real world alternative: yourself. Real Boxing has the option to utilize the forward facing camera of your iDevice, and converts your real world movements into actions in game. A small window appears when using this control method, showing the camera's view with an outline in-frame of where you should be positioned and how your movements should be. Great, in theory. Sadly, the reality is an unresponsive system which rarely performs your intended action. Vivid should be applauded for the idea, but the system is simply not responsive enough to utilize in an action game where fidelity and fluidity of movement is the difference between winning and losing.
As the bell sounds and the fight gets under-way, the "Real" aspect of this title starts to gradually feel somewhat misleading.
The Hollywood style graphics and boxer animations could almost be excused, but some elements simply cannot go ignored. An example would be the facial injuries sustained by each fighter. Though these are welcome and of course realistic, you too often find that within 30 seconds of the opening bell, each fighter has cuts above each eye and blood from the nose and mouth (i.e. maximum visual damage). This should be gradual and proportionate, which presently it's not.
Your fighter cannot be moved around the ring at will and your inputs are required for defensive or attacking maneuvers only. That said, even these are limited, as the computer decides where your shots go. The player decides the punch type (jab, cross, hook or uppercut), but cannot place these to either the head or body. This I find quite limiting and further restricts your actions. Even Punch-Out on the NES had the option to target either head or body, so I was surprised to find these options lacking in Real Boxing.
As your health drains over the course of the fight, an option to clinch eventually appears to tie-up your opponent and help recover, though again this is only available under certain conditions and cannot be performed as and when you like. Health recovery is significant following a successful clinch (tap the screen "mini-game" required to win the clinch), which to me feels unbalanced. Winning a clinch is like finding a power-up. Not much "Real" about that, sadly.
A stamina bar resides beneath your health meter and depletes with each action, no doubt in an attempt to prevent spamming of any one particular move. Again, good in principal, but punch effectiveness in real life is not reduced to zero after 3 or 4 shots, as is the case here. Over the course of a few rounds, yes, but in Round 1 after an opening volley of a few punches? I don't think so.
Round 2 however will become unfamiliar territory, as most fights are done within the opening 3 minutes. Win or loose, it's likely to end early. Punches are too frequently too effective, with counters being the easiest way to quickly beat on your opponent. Defensive options are block or dodge, with a successfully timed dodge opening your opponent up to the counter opportunity, though this is never guaranteed to end well for you. Your counters are very often countered! Coming forward then is something that should be performed with consideration, which goes to Real Boxing's credit.
Dependant on which end of the knock-down you are, you are either engaged in a "mini-game" of tapping left and right of the screen, else get a reversed camera angle showing your opponent trying to regain their feet.
Recovering from a knock-down is again unfortunately overly simplified. My record to date is surviving 11 knock-downs in Round 1, which highlights an issue of balance and possibly an unclear development focus.
Knock-downs are replayed from various camera angles each time, which provide a satisfying re-run of your latest success. Replays are detailed and paced well, showing all the good stuff as your opponent gets acquainted with the canvas.
The career path guides you through three levels of difficulty, each being a mini league culminating in a final, similar in concept to the recent real life Super Six (Super Middleweight). Winning the tournament awards Game Centre achievements and in-game cash, along with unlocking the next difficulty tier.
Real Boxing is without doubt the best available boxing title for the mobile market, though mainly by default, given the lack of competition.
Controls are at times frustrating and the game requires an element of rebalancing. The inane Training mode needs to be more involved and a greater degree of depth added to the career option.
Though not a poor game by any means, Real Boxing is a technical achievement that could have been, and may well yet be, a very good title. If you are happy with a 2 minute knock-around, Real Boxing delivers on that. If depth and realism is more your thing, maybe wait and see if Real Boxing 2 offers any improvements.