Fight Night Champion iPhone Review

Posted March 8th, 2011 at 12:00 pm

By Brian Sipple
George Foreman once said: “Boxing is like jazz. The better it is, the less people appreciate it.” Boxing video games have definitely come a long way since the days of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!!, yet the presumption among many in the industry is that they are a dying breed. Fight Night Champion represents EA Sports’ attempt at revamping its long standing franchise – which has lost its luster over the years – and it also includes the company’s first boxing entry for the App Store.

The iPhone game arrived on Tuesday right on queue with Champion’s console release and weighs in at a price of $4.99. Developed primarily for the iPhone 3G and above (the game starts but has a real propensity for crashing on earlier generations) Champion doesn’t feature the gripping narrative found on consoles, but it does feature its “Legacy” mode where you can build a fighter from the ground up. Overall the game manages to land most of its punches where they count.

In legacy mode you start out by either selecting a current boxer to “rebuild” out of the game’s 20-man real-life roster or by creating your own character from scratch, customizing his appearance, fighting style, and attributes. Your boxer will then begin to line up fights with some glass jaws at the local gym before eventually going pro and competing for a championship. Along the way you can customize your training methods based off a risk-reward system that correlates attribute improvements with the chance of getting injured.

As my fighter’s career advanced I became increasingly attached to his success in the ring. Every knockout was more rewarding than the last, and every loss stung that much harder. Continuing up the ranks and chasing after a championship belt did become pretty addicting. Most of this addiction though is fueled by the fact that Champion’s gameplay brings a pretty decent game of boxing to the table.

Part of what plagued the company’s last iPhone fighter, EA Sports MMA, was the clunky control mechanics and lack of depth to the moves available. Perhaps the biggest strength of Champion’s controls is that their fluidity renders them largely unnoticeable. Just about every kind of punch – legal or otherwise – can be used and is controlled by simple and easy to learn swipe gestures targeted to the head or body. I found virtually no delay in the response time between my touches and my fighter’s actions. Movement is controlled via the iPhone’s tilt function and seems to offer the right level of sensitivity without being a distraction. Blocking and counterpunching are also important, but as always, the timing needs to be just right in order to be successful.  All in all there’s not one move used in the console version that isn’t featured here and can’t be easily integrated into an effective fighting style.

Despite the well-crafted control interface haymakers don’t exude as much power as they really should. While overall damage and stamina loss tend to accumulate at a realistic rate, making your fighter increasingly susceptible to a KO in the later rounds, a squarely-landed haymaker seems to have the same chance of dropping your opponent as an equally well-timed hook or uppercut. It’s also a rare occurrence to score a KO in the early rounds no matter how hard a blow might land.

I did happen to enjoy the challenging fight that the AI will present. If you ever let your guard down or let fly with the punches too freely, your opponent will make you pay for it. Fighters will also move freely around the ring, spurring you to either stay after them or stand your ground when a jam presents itself. Additionallythe AI’s blocking skills are very fine-tuned, and hitting home with a good punch is often a product of keen timing and the ability to counterpunch.

Champion interestingly attempts to include multiplayer but unfortunately it’s restricted to local Wi-Fi and local Bluetooth connections. This limits the connection to the hotspot you’re currently in, so I wasn’t able to establish a match while reviewing the game. Needless to say it’s not exactly Champion’s biggest selling point.

With the rate at which iOS games have been advancing it’s become cliché to say that a game’s graphics are the best on market right now. Fight Night Champion puts itself directly into that category. Beautiful character details are reminiscent of a solid PS2 title, while cuts and bruises are starkly rendered on each fighter’s face. Whenever the camera zooms in for a knockdown replay blood and sweat can be seen flying off the boxer’s face – gritty sound effects included, of course.  Also a well-constructed physics engine allows for animations nearly smooth and fluid as Ali himself.

In terms of commentary Joe Tessitore does a good job calling the action considering he’s ringside all by himself. His play-by-play keeps up with the flow of the fight and gives the player solid queues about the status of each fighter’s damage. Repetition does become an issue though in longer fights, especially in the case of the color commentary which has fewer lines than Charlie Sheen does for breakfast.

Fight Night Champion isn’t without its flaws but it accomplishes just about everything it sets out to do. The abbreviated feature list is compensated for by well-designed and crafty gameplay that will keep you coming back to get your money’s worth. Furthermore the top-notch visuals and crisp animations combine to lend an authentic boxing atmosphere to the game.

It’s also important to recognize how Champion is part of a growing trend among developers to service a rapidly expanding audience with quality offerings. Make no mistake, iPhone games are getting better, and Fight Night Champion is among the latest that should not be missed.

Thanks goes to Brian Sipple for these taking the time to provide these impressions! Fight Night Champion is now available for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.