Review: Don King's Prizefighter

Earnest "Nex" Cavalli | 17 Jul 2008 17:00
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Boxing is a sport defined by its contradictions.

Matches are equal parts graceful maneuvering and brutal violence, boxing's finest athletes are rewarded for years of success with a lifetime of irreversible brain damage, and Don King (a man who has never thrown a punch himself) has become one of the most iconic figures in the history of the sport.

It's apropos then, that a game bearing the man's name -- a concept that I maintain sounds totally bizarre -- would actually turn out to be a pretty competent boxing title.
Don King's Prizefighter offers a robust selection of game modes: Exhibition, Career, Fighter Factory and on- and offline multiplayer modes are all available.

Exhibition is exactly the same standard fare offered in every sporting title for the last decade. You choose a fighter, an arena and an opponent, set the rules for your match, and spend the next few minutes beating the hell out of the AI. It's exactly what you'd expect, and doesn't disappoint.

Multiplayer, too, is pretty standard. Functionally, it's the same mode as Exhibition, only now you have the option of playing against someone in the same room or across the country via Xbox Live. It's simple, but it works well, and lag didn't seem to be an issue in any of the matches I played.

Fighter Factory, as the name suggests, is where you craft customized fighters for use in all the other modes (with the exception of the Career mode). After selecting your character's name, nickname, hometown and entry music, you're presented with the increasingly common slider-based physique crafting screen. By amplifying certain attributes on your fighter's face and body, you can make him look almost any way you'd like. I wish more tattoo options had been presented during this portion of the game, but that's a truly minor knock against a solid component of the title.

All of that however, feels like an appetizer to the real meat of the game: The Career mode.
After constructing your avatar using a pared down version of the Fighter Factory described above, you begin your career. As in real boxing, you start out in a ratty gym populated with local crusty characters the likes of which would make Burgess Meredith proud. Though there's no interaction with these characters or the environment they live in, they offer the sort of color you'd hope for.

After a bit of exposition, you're shown the first of the game's strikingly well produced live-action videos detailing your character's theoretical exploits. I expected Don King to appear in these clips, but how they managed to wrangle actor Mario Van Peebles, hall of fame middleweight boxer Marvin Hagler, and other surprisingly big-name celebrities in and out of the world of boxing to appear in this game is still a mystery to me. It does, however, add a level of polish to these clips rarely seen in any game.

From these humble beginnings you work your way up the hierarchy of the boxing world. By defeating opponents and augmenting your fighter's skills in the game's short training minigames, you eventually arrive at the Prizefighter's pinnacle: A shot at the world title.
Aping recent wrestling titles, the game also tosses in a bit of a plot. Throughout your career mode, you're offered the opportunity to make moral choices the likes of which have made for compelling cinema over the years. Ever wanted to throw a fight for cash? Now you can!

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