Friday, March 27, 2009

Champions Forever Boxing

Distinctive Software / NEC

My early impressions of this one weren't at all positive. The famous/infamous "hip hop" title-screen music disappointed me, as I found its "beats" technically unimpressive and the accompanying Fighting Street-quality voices unamusing. And then there was the horrid in-fight animation. Isn't boxing supposed to be the "sweet science"? There's nothing graceful about these plodders, and their blows seem extremely weak.

But once I got going in the career mode, I started to appreciate Champions for its gameplay style. It ain't about button mashing (though two-player battles can degenerate into back-and-forth bludgeon fests). It's about taking your time; utilizing your jab during a match's early stages to whittle away your opponent's stamina while powering up your blows of choice; and breaking out your power punches later on, when your foe has been sufficiently bloodied up. Most boxing games, especially older ones, take after the brief, action-packed slugfests of Rocky III, but Champions embraces the epic, go-the-distance style of the first Rocky.

It's a nice departure from the boxing-game button-smashing norm, but it's very methodical, and it won't make for nearly as good a test of your hand-eye coordination as Mike Tyson's Punch-out would. In fact, it's ridiculously easy unless you play foolishly. I didn't lose a single round in the fifteen-match career mode, let alone a whole fight.

And if anything, Champions is too averse to the unpredictable. I wish that it allowed for the possibility of solid, well-placed hits wiping out a fighter's vitality in the blink of an eye--the sort of random killer blows that are occasionally delivered in Andre Panza Kick Boxing. Devastating, tide-turning shots do happen in real-life boxing, after all. Champions' matches are very long and very easy; even the slightest chance that the computerized opposition could turn the tables on me with one huge punch would at least keep me on my toes and make things a bit more interesting. As it is, knockdowns are the results of systematic pummeling, which gets boring after a while.

Also problematic is the limited roster of fighters. Sure, it's nice that "real legends" are included, but I get sick of fighting the same five dudes over and over again in career mode, and it doesn't help that every match unfolds in pretty much the same way regardless of who your opponent is. Not once have I needed to alter my approach. The lack of variety makes me yearn for the good old days of Soda Popinski, King Hippo, and Mr. Sandman.

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