More fake than you’d think.
Fighting games have been making a bit of a splash on portable platforms as of late. Street Fighter, BlazBlue, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3—all had phenomenal releases on 3DS, PSP, and Vita. But boxing games and fighting games are two different beasts. Whereas fighting games are a sort of high-speed chess based on frame data, timing, positioning, and more, boxing games have more in common with sports titles as they generally seek to be as simulationist as possible. If you aren’t seeing realistic head bleeds, then you probably aren’t playing a good boxing game. So the question is "Does the boxing genre inherit the fighting game fervor that has been spreading to portable platforms, even though the genres are only somewhat related?" Real Boxing for Vita is looking to find out.
The title "Real Boxing" makes you think that the game would seek to be as simulationist as possible, but it’s a bit misleading. Granted, the game isn’t as barebones as Punch-Out!!, but the gameplay mechanics are somewhat barebones. You have a few different punches to throw, jabs, hooks, uppercuts, and so forth, and a few simple defensive maneuvers like blocking and dodging. Taking actions depletes a stamina bar, which recharges slowly over time. Your basic strategy is to attack your opponent when his stamina is low and avoid letting your own drop too far. You can also clinch an opponent in order to catch a short break and regain some stamina, which is a cool touch but doesn’t really increase the depth of strategy of the game at all. Dodging also doesn’t deplete your stamina either, which means you can kind of spam it wantonly.
Unfortunately, Real Boxing is a port of a mobile title, and as such, this is pretty much where the strategy of the game ends. All the fights in the game feel the same and boil down to the same few patterns of dodge, dodge, dodge, throw a few quick punches, dodge, dodge, dodge. The game does get more difficult as you progress through its tournament offerings, but your opponents never feel different. You aren’t working an opponent’s midsection because he is bad at guarding it, or playing the long game because your opponent relies on Tyson-esque punch explosions. You are just repeating the same actions you took early on, just with a bit more accuracy.
The game has a few RPG elements which do make it a bit more interesting. You can participate in training mini-games in order to boost your Strength, Speed, or Stamina. Unfortunately, none of these mini-games are particularly fun, amounting to little more than a rhythm game or quick-time event. Increases to these stats are somewhat noticeable but don’t feel like real rewards. They simply feel like a chore that has to be done in order to take on stronger opponents.
You can also customize your fighter’s appearance, but even this is a little barebones. Other than changing the color of your gloves and futzing a bit with your hairstyle, there’s not a whole lot that you can do. Your options are even more hindered since most of them are locked at the beginning of the game. In the mobile version of the game, you could unlock these via microtransactions. Luckily, these are taken out of the Vita version, replaced instead with in-game currency.
There aren’t a whole lot of modes in Real Boxing. You can hop into a quick-match, play through the campaign mode, or participate in multiplayer matches. Multiplayer matches are perhaps the main attractions here, as human opponents are far more interesting to fight than the computer. Learning how to take advantage of your opponent’s timing and habits is a lot of fun, and watching a health bar reduce to zero always gives you a rush. In that way, the game really is more like a fighting game than a boxing game. Unfortunately, the opponents in the single-player modes are just too similar to each other to warrant coming back.
Perhaps the coolest feature of Real Boxing is the ability to control your boxer in several different ways. You can use the analog sticks, face buttons, touchscreen, and more to make your boxer juke and jive. Some controls work better than others, of course, and while more motion-based control offerings are cool, they simply aren’t sensitive enough to support ongoing play. Nearly everyone will eventually use the Vita’s button and stick controls when all is said and done.
Real Boxing’s biggest sin is that it’s just too boring. In fact, it’s not even that real. The game isn’t actually simulationist at all. It’s far more arcade-y than anything else. It’s a lot like a fighting game, except each character has the exact same moveset with slight differences to their strength and HP. This combined with the lack of game modes and customization options, makes the game fall short of other Vita titles.
As a mobile title, this was probably awesome, as the graphics are pretty damn good and the matches are fun enough for a random app you downloaded on impulse. But for the Vita, which boasts titles on par with home consoles, Real Boxing is a lightweight in the ring surrounded by heavyweights. The game is certainly affordable at a ten-dollar price tag, but that ten dollars is far better spent on other fighting or boxing games that were designed for the Vita in the first place.