Victorious Boxers 2: Fighting Spirit
Meet Ippo Makunouchi. He was once a shy and quiet high school student, the kind of kid that bullies love to pick on. One day, a gang of such bullies cornered Ippo and beat the hell out of him. But just when things were about to get really serious, a professional boxer named Takamura showed up, sent the punks squealing for their mommies, and took the Ippo back to his gym. Seeing how emotionally distraught Ippo was, Takamura allowed the kid to beat on a punching bag to vent his frustrations. But after a few punches it became clear that Ippo was no ordinary teenager; the raw power behind his punches showed that he had great potential as a boxer. Thus the wimpy schoolboy began training at Takamura’s gym, beginning on a new path that would lead him to fame and glory as one of the greatest boxers in Japan.
If you’ve read the manga Fighting Spirit, all of this should sound familiar to you. But if you’re from America, Ippo’s never-ending quest for greatness probably sounds like some kind of anime Rocky knockoff. Despite the series’ relative obscurity in the States, Victorious Boxers 2: Fighting Spirit introduces gamers to a world where professional boxing, personal lives, and fierce rivalries reign supreme. The game chronicles not only Ippo’s ascent to victory, but several of the other characters in the series as well. You’ll get to fight Ippo’s rival Ichiro, take on boxing veterans like Eiji Date and Sendou for their titles, and even use Takamura to kick a bear’s shaggy ass. When all is said, done, and unlocked, you’ll be able to choose from a roster comprised of a few dozen boxers.
That’s assuming, of course, that you have the patience to deal with the game’s Story Mode. Before each match begins, you’ll be subjected to a horribly long and drawn-out cutscene depicting the characters’ interactions and internal musings…in complete silence. Aside from some superb voice acting from the ring announcer, none of the other characters have actual voices; instead, you’ll get to endure a few minutes of text-filled thought bubbles. Had these conversations retained the humor from the manga, this could have worked. Unfortunately, the lengthy cutscenes are devoid of wit, emotion or anything else that make the characters more likeable. However, simply skipping over these mind-numbing moments could prove to be a mistake; you can learn much about your next opponent by reading what the characters have to say.
Once you finally get the chance to start fighting, you’ll find that Victorious Boxers 2 features the tried and true gameplay found in most of today’s boxing titles. Each jab, hook, and uppercut can be mapped to different buttons, allowing you to customize the controls as you like. But unlike some of today’s boxing games, simply mashing buttons will get you slaughtered within seconds. You’ll have to time your attacks carefully, allowing each punch to flow into the next for a solid offense. The AI in this game is unforgiving of mistakes; should you leave yourself open to an attack, your opponent will make sure to exploit your weakness. If anything, the defensive tactics of boxing are just as important as the offensive; you’ll have to watch your enemy’s movements, then duck or sway in a different direct to avoid an oncoming attack. You’ll also have to watch your stamina, too; after a few rounds of fighting and using powerful punches, the characters begin to wear down. Given the tight controls and unrelenting pace, it may take a while before you get used to the game’s learning curve.
Basic boxing mechanics aside, the game also boasts a few extra attacks to spice things up. Fans of the series will recognize Ippo’s Dempsey Roll, Ichiro’s Jolt Counter attack, and plenty of other signature moves. Other characters feature more common (if not unusual) moves, such as precise punch aiming, cross-armed blocking, and even slowing down the fight Matrix style. You’ll also have to factor in a character’s proportions as well; since Ippo is a smaller character, his tactics usually revolve around infighting, whereas Ryuichi has the stature to allow for more ranged attacks. Such technical aspects are hindered by an occasional programming mistake, usually involving a character facing the wrong way or walking in an unintended direction. Also, the game lacks the animation for blocking; should you hold down the appropriate button, your character won’t put up his arms, but he won’t take as much damage as before. They might not seem like much, but they can prove problematic.
Once you’ve battled your way through the multiple chapters of the Story Mode, you’ll find that the rest of Victorious Boxers 2 is just as demanding. If you’re sick of the lengthy cutscenes and uninspired dialogue, you can give the Exhibition Mode a shot and pit different boxers against each other for a few rounds. Before the match starts you’ll be given the option of selecting your boxer’s power, speed, and endurance stats. Should you max out someone’s power, his other abilities will shrink to nothing, effectively forcing you to rebalance your character. But if minor matches aren’t good enough for you, the Tournament Mode allows you to arrange larger tournaments, select the contenders and have the computer fight in the matches in case you’re too lazy. Considering all the characters, boxing rings, and music tracks to unlock, you’ll have quite a few options on your hands.
It’s not like the game will blow you away, though. The game may feature an extensive roster of fighters, they don’t look quite as detailed as the contenders in other PS2 boxing games. There are no graphics that show the extent of the damage inflicted by your character; not a single bruise, scar, or drop of blood to indicate your progress. All you can do is keep swinging and hope that enough punches connect to down your opponent. At least the game makes that clear; once a fighter gets his brains beaten in too much, he’ll quickly crumple to his knees, stagger around like a drunken fool, or simply fall over unconscious. The game also goes to great lengths to show off your fighter’s mobility; though many of the contenders look a bit blocky and disproportionate, you’ll be able to read a boxer’s smoothly executed moves. You’ll get to fight in various locales, be it Takamura’s gym or in front of some poorly animated stadium crowds. Despite such a lackluster presentation, little details like the bendable ropes around the ring and fighters’ shadows make it little bit better than average.
Considering that this game is running for only ten dollars new, you’ll find that Victorious Boxers 2 is well worth the price. It’s got a vast roster of characters, each with their own signature attacks. The technical aspects of boxing remain prevalent throughout the extensive gameplay modes, ensuring that you’ll have to do better than just random button mashing. However, the tedious cutscenes and overall lacking presentation might make a few gamers shake their heads in disdain. Fans of boxing games shouldn’t pass this up; it may not be as pretty as Fight Night Round 3, but this game has got the right stuff where it counts.
Seven out of ten