We’re always fascinated by the tweaks games undergo as they transition from the arena-rock consoles to the bleacher-seat handhelds, but Fight Night Round 3 is an especially curious case. Considering the inherent limitations of the PSP – namely, one analog stick – EA’s PSP port is more underdog than overhyped. How would this pygmy pugilist fare in such a small ring?
Not so great, unfortunately. Though it manages to retain just enough of its heavyweight kin’s content to warrant a sparring session or two, its inherent handicap turns this one-time champ into just another challenger.
[image1]The biggest difference between the acclaimed console games and the PSP version is indeed the control. Sans two analog sticks, the swing mechanism that lies at the heart of the gameplay returns to its native roots “ the face buttons. However, the years have been pretty kind to boxing video games, resulting in a lot more punches than jabs and body blows. To compensate, Fight Night requires deft button manipulation just to pull off the standard variety of swings. Simple straights and hooks are easy enough, but uppercuts require two buttons at once, while signature punches are found on the D-pad, of all places.
Just like in the console versions, the left and right triggers are respectively responsible for weaving and parrying. The latter is harder than ever (parrying body punches involves three buttons at once) yet still manages to be overpowered – it opens up the opponent for easy counters and blocks all other punches thrown in the area. Lay on ‘high parry’ and you’ll never have to worry about taking one in the kisser, but your opponent will.
Perhaps most disturbing are the absurdly easy to throw haymakers. Weaving back for a second will fill up a little glove icon. When that’s lit, you can unleash a monster punch. The meter fills up really quickly, though, making it possible to throw haymaker after haymaker since, unlike the console versions, you’re not manually throwing punches with the analog sticks. Subtlety is soon tossed out the window in favor of haymaker mania.
[image2]It takes a while to get the hang of the new control layout, and even then it pales next to the other versions. But the gameplay still provides the core experience; bobbing and weaving and beating the other guy to a pulp has its intrinsic merits and the game retains the kinetic crunch of the series. More often than not, it feels like Fight Night.
Part of that is due to the crop of real boxers, from staples like Ali and Hagler to lesser-known guys like Vicente Escobedo and Ricky Hatton. Any of the fighters can be played in Play Now bouts or Rival Challenges, the PSP’s answer to the consoles’ ESPN Classics mode. Here you can relive a smattering of famous fights, either start to finish or from mid-fight, earning medals for performing well. You also win cash that actually carries over to Career mode, the meat of Fight Night.
Career mode largely mirrors that of the console versions – you can create a fighter from scratch using a pretty deep toolset and take him from amateur chump to World Champ. Unlike the other games, this one features a classic ranking ladder to climb once you turn pro, but the rest is the same, with cutmen and trainers to hire, gear to purchase at the store and contracts to endlessly sign and fulfill. The only significant difference is the omission of the training mini-games, which have been replaced by…nothing. Instead, you select one of three training “intensity” levels, then watch the CPU either raise or lower your stats a bit based on some sort of imaginary rule set. Lame.
The same can be said of the CPU opposition. Unless you’re fighting a guy far outside your league, Fight Night Round 3‘s Career is a cakewalk. You’ll pummel scores of chumps before you face anyone remotely tough, and even then you’ll whup ’em fine with those unstoppable haymakers.
[image3]A much better bet is to play against other people. Ad-Hoc mode lets you play with others nearby, but the game goes the distance with full Infrastructure support. Though EA continues its infuriating $2 charge for online gaming (which can be waived by agreeing to let ESPN spam the hell out of you), the ability to box humans is welcome, occasional lag notwithstanding. An overall leaderboard and basic lobby functionality make it a decent offering.
Whether on or offline, the game looks good. A variety of animations and a steady framerate coupled with solid fighter models highlight the strong visuals. While a far cry from the Xbox 360‘s absurdly realistic, bloodied fighters, the damage-modeling here paints a relatively accurate picture as black eyes and bruised cheeks tell the tale of the fight. You’ll occasionally forget this isn’t a console game, high praise for a handheld. The audio, in fact, has been ported directly from the console games, which means good sound effects, repetitive music and irritating commentary.
Though lightweight fights tend to provide more pound for pound action than heavyweight slugfests, the theory doesn’t apply here. Hamstrung by an awkward control scheme, Fight Night Round 3 for the PSP fights an uphill battle from the start and never manages to snag a belt. But by way of its content and delivery, this contender at least makes it into the middle rounds.