Don King is a renowned boxing promoter. He’s the one who arranges fights between boxers who he has signed up for his promotional company. He arranges the fees for the fighters, location and so forth. As a promoter, Don King has undoubtedly had the best highlight in boxing history with the Rumble in the Jungle way back on October 30th, 1974. On this night in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), two of boxing biggest names took to the ring (George “I’m so proud of it I put my name on it” Foreman and Muhammad “The Greatest” Ali) and put themselves through 8 rounds of excellent boxing and until this day, many claim this as the best fight ever shown. So, if Don King could do promotions so well with boxers, can his game “Don King Presents: Prizefighter” stand tall or will it fall to the canvas with a devastating punch?
Well, Don King Presents: Prizefighter is solid, but by no means good. Starting at the bottom of the ladder, you, ‘The Kid’, have to prove you’re the best and hopefully become one of Don’s fighters, but first you must prove yourself with another promoter, Larry Easton. Before you get stuck into the game, you get to create your boxer. Height, visual looks, shorts, gum-shield, robe, etc., are all required, so you can create a replica of yourself, or make a skinny boxer who becomes the best in the world--it’s all up to you. Now, let’s fight on with the actual Career mode.
As previously mentioned, you, ‘The Kid’ have been signed up by Larry Easton and you have to prove you’re going to make it big. Starting with the training (this can also be done before you even enter the Career mode, as it is available at the main menu), you’re taught how to move, dash, punch, block and so forth. It’s really easy to pick up and play, albeit the control system, in my opinion, is very poor. Having played and thoroughly enjoyed Fight Night Round 3 (especially the control system), Prizefighter’s controls are really slack. I enjoyed using the right analog stick to punch in Fight Night Round 3, whether it was for a jab or a devastating upper-cutter. Prizefighter however uses the A, B, X and Y buttons for the punches. X allows you to jab, Y is a straight punch, B allows you to hook with your right hand and A allows you to hook with your left hand. When you combine X+Y and A+B, you can now use each one for an upper-cutter; X+Y for a left and A+B for a right - simple, yet dodgy controls. Although punching is a huge part of the game, defending yourself is also a huge part - hoping to tire your opponent. To block, you hold the right analog stick in whatever area you want covered: up for the face, angled to the top right/left will protect that side of your face, down will cover up your body and angling it to bottom right/left will protect that side of your body.
When you’re boxing, on-screen shows your health, stamina and your adrenaline bar. Your health will go down as you get hit, and the further you go into the fight, the bar itself will shorten, giving you less health, so you have to cover up and counter-attack your opponent. With your stamina bar, you have to keep an eye on it. As you dash (tapping back or forward twice with the analog stick), your energy will shorten by a few bars, although they quickly replenish. The more punches you through, the quicker your energy goes down - so make sure they hit. When you’re stamina bar is down, you can hold out for 1-2 seconds before you can through a punch again, but it is advised you back out and move every 3-4 seconds so your stamina can get back to being full and you can unleash hell on your opponent. Finally, with your adrenaline bar, you can now knock a big amount of health of your opponent with some hard-hitting blows. The adrenaline bar fills up with the more hits you connect with on your opponent and this allows you to pull off your signature punch - it will take a big chunk of your opponents health away - or knock him down if you’ve battered him before hand.
Now that the controls and style of play have been said, how does the actual game play I hear you say? Well, it’s sloppy - pretty much like most boxing matches you watch on TV. When you’re throwing punches, you can be throwing them in thin-air, not connecting with your opponent - no matter how close you are to him; and even the commentators make note of it. So, you have to time your punches correctly--fair enough. But when your on the inside and using your upper-cutters to damage him and connecting, how come he can still perfect his punches to land in the side of your face? The mechanics are all wrong. I’ve been a boxing fan for many years now, and when I see a boxer fighting legally on the inside, the opponent is trying to cover up, and if he his throwing punches, they’ll be undoubtedly missing or illegally hitting him behind the head. Simply put: Prizefighter’s mechanics could be improved a lot. Talking about the illegal side of boxing, Prizefighter has several fighters who are doing illegal ‘things’. One sees your opponent using some sort of substance to make your vision go blurred, while another boxer is on some sort of steroid - making him quite tough to beat.
As you go through Career mode, you’ll be earning peanuts until your big fights start falling into place. As your fights start to come, you’ll have to train. Training helps you with your strength, stamina, agility and dexterity. To build on these, you have five options, each enabling you to add more points to two of your four abilities. These are the heavy bag, focus mitts, shuttle run, speedbag and the jump rope. Heavy bag will gain you points in your strength and stamina while the jump rope gains you points in your dexterity. You can auto-train by pressing X or you can manually train. If you auto-train, you’ll get roughly 10 points per area, so it’s better to train manually as you’ll get more points - making your stronger, faster and last longer in the ring.
One thing that makes Prizefighter stand out is the unique documentary style the Career mode uses. It’s telling the story of 'The Kid' from different people; promoters (including Don King himself) and boxers including Joe Calzaghe and Shannon Briggs. It’s unique the way that they’ve spent so much time in making the story of The Kid feel so life-like, yet in the ring it’s a whole different situation.
Visually, the in-game action is extremely poor. The models of the boxers look dreadful, the punches that hit your opponent look extremely weak and when you do get that knock down, the ‘replay’ is just the exact same of the action you’ve just done: no improvement of texture to the boxer, no skin shrivelling up and their jaw nearly going past the middle of their nose. It’s just not visually great - unlike Fight Night Round 3. Although the documentary styled story is a huge positive, when you’re out of the ring, the cut-scenes on 'The Kid' return to the shoddy graphics that are in the ring. It’s something that could’ve be drastically been improved, but it looks as if Prizefighter was rushed: great documentary styled featured Career. Poor visuals in-game and in the cut-scenes.
When talking about sounds, it’s hard to talk about anything other than the commentary and the soundtrack. The commentary in the game comes from Jim Lampley and Emanuel Steward, and they’re always on the ball. Telling you the fights ugly if your opponents using illegal moves; telling you that you and your opponent are practically crap as you’re so close yet not one of you is hitting each other. The soundtrack is well presented with songs coming from Iggy Pop, James Brown and Run DMC, but more importantly the most remembered boxing song (from a film) is in Prizefighter - Survivor with Eye of the Tiger - you know you’re in a boxing game with Eye of the Tiger blaring out.
Overall, Don King’s Prizefighter is a very mixed bag. It’s quite an enjoyable career for The Kid, but once that’s done, that’s practically the end of the game. Sure, you have the Exhibition mode, Training and Online, but there’s nothing more to it. Once you’ve completed it, I doubt you’ll go back to it - especially if you’ve got Fight Night Round 3 for multiplayer. It’s a fun and decent game, but if you’re looking for a boxing game and you haven’t got Fight Night Round 3, Prizefighter should be left on the canvas. If you’re looking for a quick game and around 500 achievement points, Prizefighter is worth a two day rent. It’s not fast and fluid, it’s slow and sloppy. Although we finally have Calzaghe in a boxing game, it doesn’t justify Don King’s Prizefighter as a ‘champion’ videogame.