Having performed extremely well as an app on both iOS and Android devices, it was only a matter of time before Unreal Engine 3-based punch-‘em-up Real Boxing made its way to Sony’s handheld. The good news is that it makes the perilous jump almost seamlessly.
Upon starting the game, you’ll be asked to customise your boxer, and while not as in-depth as Saints Row IV’s impressive customisation suite, there is enough to distinguish yourself from the default roster of fighters. You can assign a name, place tattoos, and change head and facial hairstyles, but peculiarly, not alter minor things like face shape or skin colour. Extra customisation pieces, including shorts, gloves, and boots, are also available, albeit for a small, in-game fee – but these are really only limited to different colours of existing items.
Once you’ve made your beefy brawler your own, it's time for action, and the game controls surprisingly well for something that previously existed with touch screen controls only. Specific punches are mapped to the face buttons, with the d-pad covering jabs, uppercuts, and hooks from the left fist, while Sony’s famous face buttons focus on the right fist. However, we never found ourselves using these inputs, as all of the commands are applied to the right analogue stick, too. Pull down and your combatant will throw out an uppercut, while up produces a quick jab; everything on the right side will come from the right fist and vice versa.
Holding R will block your opponent's blows, but tapping it at the right time will slow the game down, allowing you to throw out a potentially devastating counter-punch. Combining all of these methods, your aim is to deplete your enemy's health bar. When it’s emptied, they’ll fall to the ground like a sack of spuds, with a slow motion replay showing the killing blow from several angles. It’s at this point that if you were in their position, you’d have to hammer the L and R triggers together to fill a rapidly decreasing gauge and haul yourself to your feet before the count of ten. This gets increasingly difficult the more that you’re knocked down, but should you make it to your feet, both you and your opponent will be awarded with a health bonus.
Before you reach this point, however, you’ll have the opportunity to enter a clinch. In boxing terms, a clinch is when, out of desperation, a boxer will embrace their antagonist to muffle their attacks, and it plays a big part here if you’re taking a beating. When you’re suitably battered and bruised, you’ll begin a minigame whereby you must keep a marker in the centre of the green zone using the Vita’s gyroscope, much like balancing while grinding in the Tony Hawk games. Should you be successful, you’ll get a generous helping of health, but should you fail, the match will continue with you in your beaten state.
Presentation-wise, the game looks great, with the Unreal Engine working to a tee on the Vita. Punches look and feel weighty, and the developers have managed to avoid making the knock down physics look comical, but rather highly realistic, with boxers still lamely attempting a weak punch as they collapse to the ground. The fighters’ bodies suitably glisten with sweat and their faces bruise and bleed as they take repeated lumps to the face, but the realism is sold by the quality of the animation. Punches flow from one to another freely and fluidly, making the task of linking together a series of knocks all the more rewarding.
The game features a career mode, consisting of three tournaments that begin with a group stage before culminating in a few knockout rounds, and, if all goes well, a belt. The quality of the fighters in the first tournament is incredibly low – we were never knocked down, and usually won by KO in the first or second round. It’s when it steps up to the second tournament that you’ll notice a huge difficulty spike, but fortunately it's possible to upgrade your base stats.
Strength, stamina, and speed are all of the skills that you can upgrade. Skill points can be earned from campaign fights, by winning and completing special objectives (like getting a KO in the first round), or spending your hard-earned winnings. Upgrading makes a noticeable difference, and it won’t be long before you’re far superior to your fellow peers. If there’s one thing that we didn’t like about this system, it’s that once you hit the difficulty spike in the second tournament, you’ll find it very difficult to win fights, eradicating the possibility of progressing without replaying the first tournament for more points.
Our few other gripes are only minor: the commentator is quite annoying and spits out the same lines of dialogue continuously, you have to use the touch screen for menu navigation instead of the face buttons, and sometimes opponents’ punches do damage despite the fact that they don't appear to make contact with any part of you. Aside from that, this really is rather good.
From the boxers’ entrances to the lowered house lights, Vivid Games has done a great job of making Real Boxing feel as authentic as possible. Fans of the sport and simulated fighting aficionados alike will get a lot out of this offering, and with a multiplayer mode bringing even more to the ring, this is a knockout port.