This weekly column looks at classic video games both in how they looked back in the day and how they stand up today. Though scores will be assigned, our tough review standards will be relaxed a bit for these games to give a general overview instead.
All retro games come courtesy of Retro Games Plus, located at 1761 Post Road East in Westport, CT. If you’re in the northeastern part of the United States, please give them a look.
To like boxing in 2012, you either have to have boxed in your youth, like I did, or be actively involved in the sport as a boxer, promoter, or media member. MMA has blown boxing away in popularity, half because of the sport’s more spontaneous nature, but also because of boxing’s own largess. It seems like every time there’s a big fight that doesn’t end in a definitive knockout, there’s sport-shaming controversy; e.g. Floyd Mayweather’s “sucker punch” against Victor Ortiz (not a sucker punch; keep your hands up, hombre) or Timothy Bradley’s split decision victory against Manny Pacquiao (complete and total bullshit). This, of course, is when they can actually get big fights going. Pacquiao and Mayweather still haven’t fought what would be the most hyped fight since Mike Tyson destroyed Michael Spinks in 1988, and the heavyweight division is being dominated by two Russian brothers who refuse to fight each other to unify one of their 4,291 or so titles. All of boxing’s ills can be traced to their shady promoters. If you believed Bob Arum’s false sincerity after the Bradley fight, Don King has a bridge to sell you. That’s a problem the Dana White-dominated MMA doesn’t have.
It wasn’t always like this. I was a child during the apex of Tyson’s amazing run in the 1980s. As that decade gave way to the 1990s and Tyson went away for rape, the sport became Evander Holyfield’s to own, as he embarked on rivalries with Riddick Bowe, Lennox Lewis, and John Ruiz. He also became the spokesman for Sega’s boxing title by supplanting Buster Douglas, the same man he beat for his first title.
Boxing has not seen its best days since Holyfield’s heyday. Hell, Holyfield himself hasn’t; he lost his license to box in New York State because he stayed in so long his skills disappeared. How has his video game fared?
HOW WAS IT THEN: While it wasn’t quite Punch Out!, Real Deal Boxing was still a fun arcade boxing game with some unique twists on the genre. The boxing itself was quick and painless for the most part; various combinations of the three face buttons and the control pad, depending on the control scheme used, allowed the boxers to throw several punches and block. It sounds a bit simplistic to say that the emphasis is to go left/right, and high/low; that’s one of the basic tenants of boxing.
However, it’s overly emphasized in Real Deal, starting with defence. In RDB, boxers can guard high or low; if they’re hit where they’re not blocking, that’s a scored punch. If they’re hit where they are defending, it depends on whether the boxer is actively blocking (read: the block button is being pressed) or not. If it is, the punch glances off harmlessly, which could allow the defender to get in a counter. If he’s not actively blocking, the defender shifts his guard into the punch, leaving the other side open. For example, if the defender is walking in with his hands high and the attacker throws a right-handed jab, the defender’s guard will shift to block the jab, and the attacker can follow up with a left jab for a hit that will score. This gave the game a nice combination of having to go up and down, and having to mix in lefts and rights while trying to get in range to throw more hooks and uppercuts. Also like real boxing, going for the torso was more important because it slowed the body down. Going for the head, which was more viscerally exciting because it opened up cuts, didn’t get much net gain. Of course, the counter to that was an uppercut that could be thrown from the lower position, surprising a boxer blocking low. Virtually everything had a counter to a counter.
Though RDB is a side-view game, movement around the ring was simulated by a camera that panned and zoomed depending on where the action was going. The good news is that this allowed movement around the ring, though it caused issues when one tried moving towards the other boxer as there was no way to really determine where the action was. With no way to rotate, like in Soul Calibur, everything felt random in terms of movement.
Career mode involved creating a boxer and starting at the bottom of a field of thirty fighters. The random fighters were named after developers and had various stats, some at the end of their careers, others at the beginning and much stronger. One of the key elements of Career mode in RDB is aging: as fighters fight more matches, they get older; and as that happens, their stats start to decrease at a rate faster than they can keep them up. Player avatars are no exception; after about twenty-five fights, stats start going down and training can’t keep up until the fortieth fight. After that, a picture of Holyfield comes up and forces you to retire, an ironic statement considering how Holyfield’s career has gone since. It was an interesting addition to the game, and the rotation of old and new fighters was kind of cool.
Oh, and for anyone looking to get coy and reset the game to prevent a loss, note that exiting out of a fight you’ve already begun for any reason counts as a loss.
Evander Holyfield’s “Real Deal” Boxing was the best boxing game on the market for its time with some great ideas and invigorating gameplay.
HOW IS IT NOW: The ideas that made this game great for its time still work, and work well. I actually wish EA would take some of them into their Fight Night series. But the gameplay hasn’t aged as well as we would like because we’ve figured out how to break the game.
The fundamentals of the game are good if you like arcade-style boxing. It’s a fast-paced game and makes for some great two-player action. But in Career mode, where the brunt of a player’s time is going to be spent, you have to fight the CPU, and to put it simply, the computer cheats. Actually, the computer is buggy is a better way to explain what happens.
In the previous section, I talked about how defence works if the defender isn’t actively blocking a spot where he’s punched to, and how he shifts weight to allow a follow-up punch to that section. Unfortunately, the computer didn’t get the memo as it will flat-out ignore this and just continue to throw punches. It’s not like the computer is “cheating” so much as it’s programmed to throw a particular sequence at a particular time, and there are only a few combinations per boxer. Anything short of a scoring hit will have no effect on this, which is a clear cut case of Mortal Kombat Syndrome. This exposes the other problem with the game mechanics: there’s no penalty for throwing a lot of punches. This is a problem both in 1P and 2P boxing because games become spam-fests; the computer is a very busy thrower at the higher ranks.
Of course, this is all irrelevant because it’s just as easy to break the computer by being bull-headed:
1) Get inside
2) Throw primary-hand hooks to the body
3 – 64) Repeat step 2 until computer wisens up and blocks
66) Repeat the above
The whole game for me revolves around getting inside and throwing body hooks, and my control scheme—which has right and B throwing this punch—makes it that much easier for me to exploit the game. Even against frustrating opponents who can throw upwards of 180 punches per three-minute round, this eventually slows them down enough to make wins in the later rounds possible. Therefore, the only real skill to the game is being able to read and eventually figure out the opponent’s patterns, countering them, and connecting with enough shots to slow him down. After that, it’s elementary.
The act of going through the rankings is still fun. The game supports up to two active boxers at one time, meaning two people could go through at the same time and either fight each other at the top or enact some weird Klitschko-like we’ll own the top pact and keep everyone down. And top-ranked fighters are fun to play, even if they’re frustrating because of their macro-like movesets.
Evander Holyfield’s “Real Deal” Boxing is highly affordable today; it often goes for less than $10 for a full copy, though the quality of the batteries is starting to go at this point. Due to this, emulation might be a better option. This prevents power issues that could affect an older Genesis turning a win into a loss and enables players to work around this game’s systems to their heart’s content. Still, for the price, Evander Holyfield’s “Real Deal” Boxing is a solid pickup for anyone who accepts the game’s warts and wants to have some fun with a boxing title that isn’t named Punch Out!