If there’s one thing Don King has a knack for, it’s backing a winner.
Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield, George Foreman (Mr ‘Lean Mean Grillin’ Machine) - even the great Muhammad Ali, are some of the better known champions whose careers have benefited from working with the controversial and flamboyant boxing promoter. So, the fact that Don King has lent his name and likeness to a boxing title means it must be the fight of the century, right? Sadly, no.
The slick manual - which it certainly pays to read if you want to advance through the game, certainly talks the talk, but as we were to discover, the game just didn’t walk the walk.
There are several modes on offer within Don King Boxing, with Training being an obvious first port of call. Training mode builds on the tutorial and can also be used as a novelty fitness tool… although as fitness programs go, it probably has as much longevity as the Tae Bo fad. You can choose to engage in Exhibition matches, either with a friend or against AI. There is some flexibility regarding the fight options, and any boxers or venues you’ve unlocked in Story mode will be available in Exhibition. Story mode is the real meat in this knuckle sandwich, following the career of a no-name boxing prospect from his local gym, right up to the big money fights in some of the most famous venues, such as Madison Square Garden in New York. Tying the story together and creating a genuinely entertaining flow between fights is a novel, documentary-style approach, using video clips of interviews and real fight footage.
Controls are mostly motion-based, combined with a little button action required to pull off body shots and initiate a defensive stance. There are three punches you can throw at your opponent: jab, uppercut and hook – each depending on how you swing your arms. Unfortunately the controls don’t always do what they’re supposed to – even after you’ve conquered the basic learning curve, say thirty minutes or so. This was a major source of frustration for us - like a misbehaving toddler (except you can’t send it to the naughty step).
It’s not age specific either: our junior play tester, whose proficiency with the Wii remote and nunchuck far exceeds our own, also had difficulty with this aspect of the game.
If you have one, the Wii balance board can be used to duck and dodge away from incoming punches during fights. We found it to be simple to set up and extremely responsive (although occasionally too much so – you have to be careful not to shift your weight unintentionally), and we enjoyed being able to use it for something other than snowboarding or fitness. Fun though it may be, even the welcome addition of the balance board was not enough to save this game from mediocrity.
Sound-wise, the fight noises are reminiscent of an Asian martial arts movie… where the FX team whacks bunches of limp celery against a gym mat to recreate the sound of punching. The soundtrack features a mixture of old school songs to fight to, such as Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger and Run DMC’s It’s Tricky, and several tracks by iconic soul group Tower of Power.
There is a bare bones feel to graphics – both in simplistic character representation and the bland, minimalist environments. There are jaggies everywhere you look; the spectator models (of which there is very little variation), are the worst example of this. Don’t expect to see sweat glistening on your opponent’s torso, and even when you land a solid right hook to his jaw, the obligatory spray of saliva appears contrived and two dimensional. Your boxer is represented by a transparent silhouette, through which you can see your opponent. This can make it difficult to get a true sense of depth; sometimes your opponent is further away than he seems (and vice versa), which means you get hit more often than you’d expect, and punches you thought were a sure thing will strike nothing but air. Overall, the visual shortcomings rob the game of much crucial atmosphere and impact.
It’s certainly not all bad, but there are better boxing games out there. Don King Boxing on the Wii could have been a contender for the heavyweight title, but ultimately has failed to make an impact. Our advice: rent it.