Legendary boxing promoter Don King has a long history of using invented words and flashy outfits to sell his products, so it's really no surprise that we had a strong first impression of his debut video game. But the more we played Don King Presents Prizefighter, the more that opinion was worn down by gameplay aspects that weren't quite as solid (or fresh) as expected.
Indeed, our first take on the game was very positive, as the documentary-style career mode draws together video interviews from the likes of King, filmmaker Mario Van Peebles, and several fictional characters to create an oft-compelling look at the rise of a boxer. While you build the profile and prestige of your created pugilist ("The Kid") via training mini-games and brawls against no-name fighters, the game keeps things interesting by interspersing playable "what-if" classic bouts, featuring the likes of Joe Lewis and Rocky Marciano. But as we grinded through the two-dozen-plus career battles, the issues started to pile up, both in terms of design and execution.
Developer Venom Games opted for button controls because (as publisher 2K Sports told us in April) they thought the analog stick-swooshing control scheme in fellow boxer Fight Night: Round 3 made that game feel like a button-masher. But here's the rub – now Prizefighter is an actual button-masher, and the punches lack both the feel and the fluidity of Fight Night. Even worse, the game utilizes a series of on-screen meters to indicate a fighter's stamina and vitality, instead of visible damage/distress on the character (like in Fight Night). Expectedly, the end result feels antiquated and notably outdated.
We're game to mash a few buttons if everything else is kosher, but what really keeps Prizefighter from going more than a couple rounds is the shockingly messy hit detection. Punches mysteriously don't connect, others hit late (when the arm is being pulled back), limbs enter opponents' bodies, and fists may hit in one place but seem to impact in another. We often heard the ringside announcer proclaim, "How can he miss from that range?" Great question – ask the developers about that one.