Famed boxing promoter Don King owes his fame to two things. One, he managed past boxing greats such as the ear-biting Iron Mike Tyson, and two, his hair is a spectacle in and of itself. Now, the King plays host to 2K's Prizefighter, a realistic boxing sim that strays away from Fight Night's infamous dual analog control scheme, and brings back the old-school face buttons to lay down the smackdown. Does this ringer have what it takes to be the next champ, or is it all glitter and no glam?
The simple story is a yawn-inducing “rags to riches” deal, where you assume the role of an up-and-coming rookie and turn him into a crowd-pleasing Hollywood big shot. The road to stardom isn't exactly paved with gold, though. You'll have to trump stiff competition in order to acquire bragging rights and become the next big thing in boxing.
Prizefighter offers the same repertoire of modes found in practically every sports title to date. To get to the action quick you can pair up with a bud in versus or go solo in exhibition mode, where you quickly select a boxer from one of three weight classes and the ring you want to fight in. Prizefighter also offers online play, where you can customize your experience down to the rules and venue.
For the long haul, career mode forces you to begin at the bottom of the barrel and work your way up. After customizing your fighter -- those who appreciate deep customization will be very pleased at all the choices -- you'll begin in a moth-eaten training facility with your trainer Frank. Here you'll book fights and take on increasingly difficult opponents as you rise to fame.
Between events, you'll train through the use of mini-games such as speed bag, heavy bag, focus mitts, shuttle run, and jump rope in order to build up your stats. However, training sessions are only available in limited numbers. Since you don't improve during fights, stat building can become a painfully slow and mundane. Your stats will make or break you, and you could end up feeling unprepared and outmatched before each and every fight.
Prizefighter's single-player does have its limitations. Déjà vu sneaks in quickly due to a lack of variety. Opponents feel nearly identical other than their nationality and their level of aggression. It definitely would've been nice to have more options.
In the real world, boxing is a fast-paced, adrenaline filled and unpredictable spectacle. Here, awkward controls that bring in every button on the controller make the fighting feel sluggish and difficult. There's also a significant delay when executing commands, especially when attempting wicked hooks or power punches. At times it feels like you're playing underwater.
Each boxer has three stats: health, stamina, and adrenaline. Moving around too much in the ring or, God forbid, trying to punch your opponent quickly depletes stamina. Even if you're only thirty seconds into Round One, once that bar is empty, your boxer will react as if someone spiked his Gatorade with sleeping pills. Backing away does regain stamina, but it's annoying to do it every few seconds, especially when your have your opponent on the ropes.
Adrenaline lets you focus a single heavy blow, capable of knocking out a hefty chunk of your opponent's health. Great in theory, but due to awkward controls and lag you'll find yourself accidently wasting banked adrenaline shots far too often.
Perhaps the biggest gripe is in the hit detection. You're bound to end up tagging your opponent in the hip for a knock-down or squarely drill him in the shoulder during an adrenaline punch. It's even possible to step into a whiffed swing from your opponent and take the hit after the fact. Getting one extra shot to a completely drained opponent is nice, but the overall feel just isn't there.
The same thing goes for training. Even though these mini-games are crucial to stat-building, they feel like simple distractions. Punching the heavy bag feels a lot like punching a wall, as it seldom moves and the circular targets shift faster than your character can maneuver, thus making it frustrating to control. There are also inconsistencies within the speed, too. During jump rope, the buttons fly by at break-neck speed, whereas the focus mitts give you plenty of time to react.
While the gameplay isn't so hot, the character animation looks great, especially when creating a new boxer or during the introduction sequence before a fight. The locations are also realistically detailed. Old photographs hang on the wall, unused boxing gear lies haphazardly around the ring, and photographers snap flash photos during heated bouts.
The music, heavy on rap and hip-hop, fits the overall theme. Hearing “Eye of the Tiger” blasting out of your speakers is especially welcome. The actors that help drive the story are also a nice touch, but the sound effects underwhelm with low-budget quality. Muffled grunts and groans sound way too weak and don't let you know when you're really doing some damage.
Not even Don King's legendary hair and hype combo can cover-up Prizefighter's mediocrity. It's a case of all glitter and no glam thanks to awkward gameplay and controls. The game has some visual shine, but the overall fun factor is duller than bronze. With poor hit detection, too few modes, and Fight Night Round 4 around the corner, there are plenty of reasons to skip this bout.