Have you ever wondered what one of your favorite NES or Sega games would be like if it were redone today? For fans of the NES boxing title Mike Tyson's Punch-Out, that wish is granted in the Japanese boxing import, Victorious Boxing.
Comparing the two boxing games is unavoidable. The goal of VB is to transform teenage boxer, Ippo Makunouchi into a Featherweight Boxing Champion. The aforementioned goal is not much unlike that in Punch-Out. To accomplish that task you will have to defeat many different boxers, each of whom will have a distinct fighting style. The only thing missing from Victorious Boxing that is in Punch-Out are the little stars that pop up when you hit somebody in the head!
Mike Tyson's Punch-Out has attained mythical proportions in terms of status and sales and VB is as close to a modern-day Punch-Out as you can get. Can this converted boxing game attain the same success its NES forefather had?
Presentation/Graphics : 60
This is the element of the game that I find most mediocre. The game's visuals simply are not that outstanding.
For starters, the boxer models are an underachievement. With the PS2 packing an impressive amount of firepower, you would think that the boxers would look almost real. The boxers look cartoony although there is a reason for this: the game is based on the best-selling Japanese comic book, Hajime no Ippo. To use Chris Farley's line, all I can say is, "Whoopdy-Freakin-Do!"
I know that the PS2 is fully capable of making jaw-dropping player models, as seen in all of the EA Sports games. The strategy of using characters from a popular comic book might be successful in Japan, but almost every American gamer has no clue who the characters are. Therefore, the graphics rubbed me the wrong way and I got the feeling that I was playing a N64 game at times.
The sub-par boxer models would be easier to swallow if it were not for the fact that almost all the graphics in a boxing game are the boxers. The ring and the fans do not require much attention.
The one nice eye candy in the game is the beating your boxer's face takes throughout a match. As you progress through a fight, you can visibly see the black eyes and cuts your player endures.
In mild defense of the game's graphics, I will state that the frame rate is fabulous. Since the graphics are not high-tech the game plays at a constant and smooth pace. Overall, the graphics are a disappointment and detract from the game's feel.
Presentation/Audio : 82
The audio department in a boxing game plays a minor role in the overall game, but I think Victorious Boxing did a nice job with it. When you first enter the arena to head towards the ring (there is a short FMV sequence of you doing it) you can hear the crowd roar in approval. While this is very cool when there is a huge crowd on hand, the loud roar is also used for your first match...against your sparring opponent. Once you advance to the farther levels the cheers feel more appropriate.
The crowd during your match is very good and is scaled correctly (once you aren't walking in). When there are a small number of fans in the crowd, you can expect mild cheers as you pummel your opponent. When you make it to the Championship Match, you can expect a much louder range of approval. I think VB does a nice job of portraying the crowd's excitement for a match. You can hear the buzz in the arena in the later rounds in your journey to the Featherweight championship. When a boxer makes a nice succession of punches, the crowd will cheer loudly in anticipation of a knockout.
The qualities of sounds of the boxers during a match are varied. Some punches sound realistic, but others sound like a fight from Batman and Robin.
Interface/Options : 67
Sports gamers have been spoiled throughout the years in this category. We are accustomed to six or seven and sometimes even eight modes of gameplay and a wealth of gameplay options and trackable stats. I am sad to say that VB only offers two modes of gameplay: Story Mode and Versus Mode.
Story mode saves the day for VB in terms of depth, but falls short in other areas. You start with the game's main character, Ippo and make your way to the featherweight championship. You advance from fighting your sparring partner all the way to the featherweight champion. As soon as you get to a certain level, you unlock another character's story mode. In all, there are five characters you can play through in story mode.
Although the multiple main characters provides depth, you never actually become attached to the story. I know that a good storyline and intimacy with a character are usually moot when discussing a sports game, but when a game advertises a story mode you should expect more.
When I read about the story mode in the instruction booklet, I was anxious to live through the story of Ippo Makunouchi. In the instruction manual it stated that Ippo was a hard working, high school student who had been bullied and wanted to fight back. I was expecting a steady progression from a thin and shy Ippo to a bloodthirsty, boxing machine Ippo by the end of the game. What I got was a very shallow and unsatisfying experience in the story mode.
There is no lead-in to the character's background or rationale for making a run at the boxing championship. When I fired up the story mode, I expected some FMV or cut sequence portraying Ippo's struggles on the playground and a meeting with his boxing mentor, Mamoru Takamura. However, the story mode started immediately with Ippo and Mamoru in the gym very blandly going over boxing strategy. I don't know if some scenes were taken out because they couldn't translate them or what. If you haven't got my point yet, I was disappointed in the story mode's lack to deliver what its name implied...a story.
Back on the plus side, there are over 43 playable characters with unique fighting styles. There are also 10 difference venues to choose to fight in and there are 18 different camera angles.
Gameplay : 90
I am no boxing expert, but I have played my fair share of boxing games throughout the years. There is no doubt that Victorious Boxing provides the most authentic boxing experience to date.
Looking at the button configuration you would not think so highly of the game's depth. There are four punches you can throw, the right and left hook and the right and left straight punches. Those four punches will be utilized the most. There are also special and technique buttons that you can use to uppercut and perform a boxer's special punches.
You will quickly grasp the game's easy controls, but mastering them will be the trick. As soon as you can react to what the opposing boxer is doing and successfully execute your offensive punches, you will have the game mastered. The feat sounds easy, but it takes a lot of practice. The main reason for that are the unique fighting styles from boxer to boxer. One fight you will face an overly defensive boxer, the next you will fight an overly offensive boxer. You will never fight the same way twice.
It was not unusual to find myself losing to a certain boxer four or five times before beating him. That is how unique the fighting styles are. You literally have to feel out the opponent before being able to beat him.
As I entered the story mode with Ippo I tried to be the complete boxer. I tried to sway and then punch and dodge and evade. I quickly learned that the method did not work very well and I decided to just throw a flurry of punches. I was met with a nice amount of success. Defense was also important, but even against the heavily offensive boxers the best way to success was punching your way to it.
Defensive boxing is done in this game through either counter blows or parrying (stopping the opposing boxer's punches with a punch of your own). While this is all good and well, I wish it would be a little bit easier to incorporate the swaying and dodging. You are given the option to do both in the game, but for some reason I never felt completely comfortable executing either. The gripe may be a small technicality, but I would like to have the ability to tire out a boxer by having him miss on punch after punch.
The game does a nice job of accurately depicting fatigue. There are no meters that show how fresh or tired you are, but you can tell by how sharp your movements are. As you reach the latter portions of the round and the match, you can definitely tell your boxer is not as fresh as he was in the earlier rounds.
You will truly enjoy the boxing when you can get the entire offensive package together. Although there is a steep learning curve to master the game, I enjoyed picking apart the CPU boxers once I had conquered the offensive attack. That is why I think VB is superior to even EA Sports' hyped Knockout Kings game. It feels like you have more control over everything and even when you are struggling, the potential is there to master your opponents and your boxing skills. The defensive package is not perfect, but you can still execute it if you configure the buttons correctly.
Replay Value : 80
The story mode lacks any intimacy, but it is deep. I have been playing the game for about two weeks and I haven't even come close to unlocking all the characters and stadiums. In that aspect, VB is sort of like Tony Hawk Pro Skater. You have to keep advancing to unlock more characters and stadiums.
There are only two game modes and the game is really embarrassed by its fellow PS2 boxing brethren Knockout Kings and Ready 2 Rumble Boxing.
Overall : 84
Boxing games on the PS2 are few and far between and have generally not captured the hearts of die-hard boxing fans. VB may fall short in terms of graphics and options, but the bread-and-butter of any game, the gameplay, is outstanding. You won't find a better, more enjoyable boxing game than this.
Victorious Boxing may not get much attention due to the fact that is a Japanese import, but if you consider yourself a boxing fan and are frustrated with what EA has to offer, you can't go wrong with this game. You won't recognize any of the boxers, but you'll definitely recognize the game.