Never Been Punched
One of the first GameBoy Advance games we got our hands on last June was Ready 2 Rumble Boxing : Round 2 from Crawfish and Midway. Unfortunately it was a lacklustre conversion and (ahem) lacked punch. On the other hand, Digital Fiction's THQ-distributed Boxing Fever is the closest thing we've seen to a decent handheld boxing game, and short of a GBA version of Punch Out from Nintendo themselves, the chances are it will remain as such. Boxing Fever is surprisingly good-looking, with much larger fighters than Ready 2 Rumble Boxing, which was more like a beat 'em up than anything. Characters take up the whole screen and the game is viewed from the first person, with multiple layers of background animation adding to the illusion of three dimensions. The characters themselves are a bit bland, but the animation is a sterling achievement. Originally published by Majesco in the States, Boxing Fever features everything you might expect to find in a boxing title; eight playable characters, two boss characters, championship and practice modes and a link cable option for two players. Design-wise it's extremely easy to pick up, with a no-frills control system consisting of duck and block buttons as well as high and low punches. This four-button system fits the GBA perfectly. Each character also has a few special moves and super moves - charged attacks that are really only applicable in the dying moments of the match.
The Best of The Best
Boxing Fever's ten fighters all have the same abilities, but some are nimbler or stronger than others, and this coupled with the above control system can result in some surprisingly strategic boxing action. Pick a small fighter and you can throw more punches without tiring, but anything you take on the chin will have a bigger effect than it might on a larger frame. Conversely, heavy hitters tire more easily. There are also a few all-rounders in there, which is good news for beginners. The actual gameplay modes are a bit of a downer compared to the rest of the premise. The so-called Championship mode is basically just four separate levels available from the start. Using this approach the developer could skimp on including a battery backup, and plenty of interesting data - saveable statistics on the fights and a progressive championship - are sacrificed in the name of economy. In fact, Boxing Fever's only advanced feature is the password system, which looks suspiciously similar to the atrocious Advance GT system seen in the non-Jap versions of that game. Eight-digit alphanumeric passwords - perfect for writing down on the tube? No. Rescuing the package though is the link cable play. It's like playing Punch Out against a real human - something never before possible. Ready 2 Rumble Boxing failed spectacularly in its attempts to achieve that. Although playing against the CPU AI is relatively challenging, there's nothing quite like sitting a few feet from someone you just nailed to the canvas with a sweeping uppercut.
Boxing Fever is just that, and it does a good, unsanctioned job of carrying on as Punch Out's legacy. In fact, it's a better game. Gone are the easily-toppled strategies of AI opponents, and in their wake players can look forward to some extremely frenzied fighting that really had me clawing for the ropes at times. And to cap it all off there's a head to head mode. All right, the password system and lack of any real single player structure doesn't do it any favours, but it's still good solid fun for lone players, quirks and eccentricities accepted. Makes a mockery of the modern competition.