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iPhone review of the day: Fight Night Champion punches like a heavyweight

On iPhone
Game:
Fight Night Champion
Price: $4.99 / £2.99
Size: 385 MB
Get it now at the iTunes store: US / UK

Fight Night is a console series traditionally revered for its phenomenal animation and inventive controls. Throwing punches at famous boxers with the right analog stick always felt natural, and opponents’ reactions looked believable enough to satisfy our natural urge to break noses with huge haymakers. The iPhone version of Fight Night Champion – which is almost entirely unrelated to the console version of the same name – emulates these conventions beautifully. Yes, even the controls.

After Backbreaker 2’s outstanding animation system blew away our expectations of the iPhone’s capabilities, well-animated sports titles aren’t really surprising. Fight Night Champion is still notable in that it does a decent job of approximating its console counterpart – punches land convincingly, never clipping through fighters’ faces or arms or torsos, and send dudes flopping against the ropes as if, well, they just got knocked the hell out. It sounds like a small thing, but the believability of it gives FNC that much more of an edge over technically inferior fighters like Touch KO, which is a rigid mess by comparison.

Animation is largely what makes Fight Night Champion such a fantastic-feeling fighter. You throw bombs, you see fighters react, and it’s satisfying. It, again, like the console game, forces you to fight intelligently to succeed. Because of this, when you’re doing well you know it’s not because you’re fluking out with wild screen-swiping and frantic tapping. Champion has a strict but simple system for punching, with quadrants of the screen correlating to left/right, and head/body punches. Vertical and horizontal swipes, swift or slow, as well as taps determine how and where you clobber your opponent. This leaves little room for movement, which relies on tilting the device. We’re not the biggest fans of this idea, but Fight Night is tuned in such a way that subtle movements move you around the confined boxing ring quickly, so that’s a relief.

We dig Fight Night Champion a lot, especially because of its camera angles – an odd thing to praise, to be sure. But its default camera makes it feel like a 2D fighter with spiffy 3D models. It’s been a while since we’ve played a 2D boxer, but this is more Street Fighter than Punch Out!! in aesthetic. We preferred the over-the-shoulder cam, which we adored in the console version’s story mode. It’s up close and personal, and lets you watch opponents’ bruises swell before bursting into bleeding messes.

Like EA Sports MMA and Madden before it, Fight Night Champion is yet another example of EA simply “getting it” when it comes to iOS gaming. This isn’t a lazy port – it’s a defining example of how to take a successful, stellar series and adjust it for the portable platform. Also, it lets you punch people in the teeth.

Mar 8, 2011

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