It's time that I admit something. As a video game player I'm not much of a sports game fan. If you don't really follow sports then what's the point of playing sports games? It becomes a faceless mass of players doing whatever you instruct them as you do your best to try and make sense of it all. However I do have a soft spot for boxing games. While I don't really follow boxing per se there's something very primal and enjoyable about watching two guys beat each other senseless. As such I really wanted to enjoy Don King presents: Prizefighter, but I found it nearly impossible to do so.
The main selling point for Prizefighter is the Career mode, a fairly in-depth documentary style storyline that follows your character on his rise to stardom. Follow him through his highs, his lows… oh who are we kidding? The storyline plays out almost like somebody watched Rocky 1 and Rocky 4 and thought how awesome it would be to make a video game out of that. What really makes you not care about this fact is just how absolutely stylish the storyline itself is done.
Using a number of actual boxers, actors, actor turned documentary maker Mario Van Peebles and Don King himself the game shapes the storyline in a unique and enthralling manner. It really gives you the feeling that you're watching a documentary about your virtual avatar. To a degree it sounds kind of cheesy and gimmicky but there's a certain amount of effort and style that went into making this seem incredibly authentic, helping immersion.
When starting off your career you will make a unique character to play through it with. The depth of customization shows quite a bit of promise here. Not only can you choose obvious things like whether you're right handed or left handed, change your boxing trunks and stance but there are an incredible amount of options to change your appearance. Height, weight, skin tone and then facial structuring options to give the Sims 2 a run for its money are all present here. No two characters will ever look even remotely similar with all of these options.
Another thing that works in favor of the career mode is the whole Media Profile angle. Choosing between training and media profile is a very interesting idea. Do you become a better raw fighter able to go toe-to-toe with the best and hammer them down or do you become a media darling with the crowd behind him, adrenaline flowing? Each carries its own benefits but juggling it is what makes for an interesting game even though, by the end, Media Profile is nearly impossible not to max out.
Every so often as you move though career mode your manager will tell you about a historic fight and then you get to play through it. These are so pointless and frustrating that it cannot be overstated. Telling me about a great fighter who won a fight while he was injured / exhausted / the underdog but these are quite the opposite of fun to play. You are usually given a handicap like "you can't use your left hand" and then expected to fight a boxer who is stronger and faster than you while your character controls like an out of shape walrus.
More often than not you get to play a fight where the opponent is stronger, has more stamina, is more mobile and just generally beats you all up and down the ring as you just try to survive for the round. Let me freaking fight already! Frankly it's nearly impossible to enjoy these matches until you're an expert at the game but the hardest ones come too early for that to be the case. Not helping this is the fact that the computer can, at random, become impossible to hurt. Leaning out of the way of attacks, blocking and punching with skill only the computer can muster it gets frustrating. Especially since they're far too adept at knocking you out of every move in the game with a simple straight punch to the head.
Speaking on the game itself there are problems here as well.
Control is executed via the four face buttons relating to the two arms and four different types of attacks. The left analog stick controls character movement while the right allows you to block attacks. Lastly the top triggers are devoted to modifiers, allowing you to do moving shots, body shots and lean out of the way of attacks while one will allow you to execute special adrenaline attacks, gained by performing combos on your enemy. Also the amount of attacking you can do at one time is limited by a stamina bar that depletes with each attack.
This all sounds fine and dandy but it gets a bit complex. Going from pressing two face buttons to holding a trigger and pressing another and then holding two triggers and pressing two face buttons can be quite a bit of taxing finger athletics. The spotty hit detection really makes this much more taxing than it needs to be since your fingers can be doing a lot of work while your fist simply goes through an enemy shoulder or face. Or, even better, the fist stops right in front of the enemy face and they get hurt a moment after the punch. The two problems add up to a serious issue.
Another problem with this is that of button memory. When you press the buttons to attack it holds in memory one press beyond what you've done. This means that getting hit doesn't really stop your punches, allowing you to potentially brute force your way out of an enemies' combo. No matter what interrupts you or how low your stamina gets you will perform that next punch even if it would now be a waste of energy to execute that attack and you're going to waste stamina on it. It makes little to no real sense since if you get hit hard enough to stop your combo then you shouldn't keep doing the attack.
While the gameplay is a mess of half-good ideas and bad execution there is little to fault when it comes to the appearance and sound of this game. As mentioned before the documentary style really highlights the game with plenty of real people being videotaped but the in-game graphics are great as well. You can see the bruises forming on your boxer face, practically in real time, and the movements are all rather graceful to watch. There are some problems with the graphics, namely clipping issues as hands fly through the opponents bodies and shoulder with regularity.
The audio is a mixed bag that seems to come with all sports games. You have some great music, coming from all different years and types. So you might hear Young MC as one boxers' entrance music, listen to Boston play "Foreplay/Long Time" in the loading screen and get some death metal as another boxers' entrance music. However, as it is in most sports titles, the announcers are enough to make you eat your head off. They are repetitive, say the dumbest things and often get hung up, repeating their lines over and over like a horribly stuttering Max Headroom (if you get that reference you should be ashamed). Luckily all of the voice actors are quite good so you can simply silence the announcers and remove the one serious issue.
Ignoring a lot of minor problems with the game there are a number of big, big ones that make it all but impossible to enjoy yourself for too long. That's not to say that the package itself is a waste but you're going to either have to learn to master this game quickly or deal with a lot of frustration. You're likely to frustrate yourself getting to that point anyways so it might be a moot issue. Unless you're a serious fan of boxing games seeking a fix while you wait for the next Fight Night game you may want to pass on this one.