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Punch King

Review By:  Siou Choy

Developer:  Full Fat
Publisher:  Acclaim
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Sports
ESRB:  Everyone
Date Posted:  8-6-02

Developer Full Fat tries for the belt, but scores in with a punch drunk three-time loser.

OK, let’s get something on the table right away. When it comes to 2D boxing games, there’s really no game out there that can compare to the original Nintendo’s Punch-out!! series. What’s unfortunate about this is that no one seems willing or able to even come close. Case in point? Punch King for the Game Boy Advance. And while it may be trying for the title bout, it’s developers will have to work a hell of a lot harder than this to take down the champ.

Punch King offers you the chance to climb the boxing ranks as the somewhat ironically named "Tiger Armstrong" (who proves to be neither a tiger nor strong of arm). Assuming you can stomach playing as the title character, your mission is to defeat no less than 11 computer opponents before you can try for the belt. For those of you who’ve never followed boxing, here’s the scoop: each match lasts 3 rounds, each round being 60 seconds long. If you’re able to knock down your opponent three times before the match is over, then you’re the victor. But if you’re the one kissing the mat those three times, or if you haven’t been able to knock your opponent down three times in a given match, the game is over. You can opt to use one of 3 continues in the course of the game, but there are no passwords or saves; which forces you to work your way back up through the entire ranks every time you run out of continues (and given that you have 11 fights before taking on the champ, there’s pretty bad odds that you’ll make it to the title bout in one fell swoop).

There are three modes of play available in Punch King: Arcade, Versus Fight and Survival. Arcade mode is where you get to live out your dreams of wearing the belt of the world heavyweight champ. Versus Fight is named somewhat misleadingly. Rather than the 2-player link up mode it implies, you get to choose which computer opponent you want to fight. OK, so it’s a warm-up mode, so you can practice for the big fight, right? Wrong. You only get to choose between the first three fighters you face (which is kind of like being able to practice taking down zombies in Resident Evil, but not the dogs, crimson heads, hunters, lickers, or bosses). Only after you have climbed the ranks and won more matches are more players added. Think that’s bad? Survival mode is really redundant: you go through the ranks the same as in Arcade mode, seeing how many opponents you can take out. The only difference? You have to watch your health, which is not fully restored between fights (and there’s no continues). So it’s a more brutal Arcade mode, without the benefits. I guess it’s sort of a half-assed practice mode. All told, there’s really only one game in town: the Arcade mode. Game Boy, maybe. Advanced? Hardly.

One of the most glaring and frustrating flaws in Punch King’s programming is in its dodging and ducking mechanisms. Timing these moves can be rather difficult; and worse, even if you were able to evade your opponent’s blows, far more often than not, you end up mysteriously "hit" for some unknown reason clearly not depicted in the onscreen "action". Want worse news? The computer’s "special moves" sometimes continue even after you’ve been hit. Here’s an example: let’s just say you’re knocked down on the first punch of Indra Bing’s special move. He will continue this move even though you’re on the ground and the ref is giving you the count. And get this: by the time you get up, you are still being hit by the last few swings of his special move! Just for the completely sporting oblivious: if this was a real match, Indra wouldn’t just have been disqualified for this, he would have been arrested and escorted from the ring in handcuffs!

Another thing that made Punch King such a frustrating experience is the Stamina Meter. Unlike, say, any other boxing game on the market, 2D or otherwise, in Punch King, you’re only able to throw a few punches before the meter reaches zero. Once this happens, you have to wait for it to at least partially refill before you can throw another punch. Usually what happens during this time is that your opponent will be standing there dazed, just begging to be hit – but you can’t do a damn thing about it. Who designed this game, the Marquis DeSade? The only way around this foolishness is if you get lucky enough to put together a nice enough string of hits to fill the KO Meter. Once the KO Meter is filled, you’ll be able to throw punches at will without a decrease in the Stamina Meter (until they hit back, anyway).

About the only element of Punch King it looks like Full Fat spent any time on whatsoever is in the backgrounds. Each arena is done up rather nicely to match each country that it represents, complete with matching music.

And forget everything else: in a culture where image is everything, the character designs suck. We’re talking low-budget Disney here; cheesy, jut-jawed rococo caricatures to mock the very concept of heroism (how appropriate for these sneering, smart-assed yuppie times) rivaling the worst excesses of modern cartoon animation. 2D boxing, at least on the Nintendo, has traditionally embraced some amusingly goofy, if colorful character design, but really. Bite my ass, Full Fat.

Highs:

  • Please don't make me think of one!

Lows:

  • No saves; not even passwords, effectively forcing you to play through the entire game each time
  • No link mode either
  • Dodging and ducking is literally the worst ever. In flagrant violation of any WBF rules (not to mention probable civil and criminal legislation), be prepared to get hit not only if you’re out of the way, but during and immediately after the count!
  • "Tiger" Armstrong is such a rough customer that he can barely throw 3 punches without taking time out to recuperate.

Final Verdict:

Once again another contender is down for the count. Ironic, from a developer named Full Fat, that such a lean and spare offering should be gracing our shelves. Punch King could have been a better game for any number of reasons (there’s so much room for improvement, it should have never gotten out of the development stage), but the bottom line (are you listening, Full Fat?) is that more time should have been spent thinking it out. The lack of saves or passwords is more than likely to turn off anyone who’s played video games since the invention of the battery save, lo, more than a decade ago.

Listen, guys, there’s nobody out there who’s going to want to play through every single opponent, every single time just to fight the Champ. I’m not saying Punch King is a bad game, but…ah, whom am I kidding? It is a bad game. Study the rules of boxing next time. Not to mention studying your video game history, at least in regards to the genre you’re producing something in. Not to mention studying gaming mechanics. Not to mention the magic words: "BETA TESTER". Better luck next time, Full Fat. Maybe it’s time to tone up with some diet and exercise. Then maybe the next try will have some muscle to it, instead of this flabby and flaccid offering.

Overall Score: 3.0

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