Sports games are perhaps the most interesting genre on the Wii right now. Gamers can now experience a more immersive sports game more than ever due to the system's motion sensing capabilities. Victorious Boxers: Revolution is unique in its approach compared to pretty much any sports game I've played for the system. Hit past the break to see what exactly this new game has to offer that is different from the ordinary boxing game.
Much like other many other hardcore gamers, I’m not a huge fan of sports games. The ones I do enjoy are usually comical or unrealistic in some way. I’ve always been a big fan of the Kunio-Kun sports series (which includes such great titles as World Cup Soccer and Super Dodge Ball on the NES), I was a big fan of NFL Blitz in the arcade and N64, and I love the Mario sports series. They always take a sport that I usually could care less about and turn it into something fast, full of action, and pumped full of shiny super moves. I’ll occasionally play something realistic but it has to be a certain sport. I like pretty much anything volleyball, golf, or tennis related (the original Top Spin is still one of my top games of all time) though I find them boring in real life. Boxing is another one of those sports. I don’t know whether it’s my love of Nintendo’s Punch-Out! series or my secret compulsion to be a boxer, but I’ve always enjoyed games from this sport despite it being comical or simulation based. Victorious Boxers Revolution is a game that lies in the middle of these two stylistic extremes.
For those who are unfamiliar, the Victorious Boxers series is the localized name of a series of games called Hajime no Ippo (literally Ippo’s First Step). The games are based on an anime and manga series of the same name (though confusingly localized as Fighting Spirit in the US for some odd reason) that follows an up and coming rookie boxer and his experiences along his path to boxing glory. The previous games in the series were for the PS2 and followed the anime/manga series accurately. They were a lot of fun to play and were really challenging. They didn’t have the typical health bar of some of the arcade-style games so the games retained a certain simulation feel despite being based on an anime/manga.
VBR is the third game in the series that have been localized for the US, however, this one feels a lot different in tone than the previous entries. The other two games featured 3D models that looked similar to their anime/manga counterparts whereas VBR has characters that are cell-shaded. That factor may not seem like it makes a huge difference in how I feel about the game, yet it does. The cell-shading in VBR brings the game closer to the manga than previous entries. I feel as if I’m playing the manga rather than simply a boxing game. The characters’ hand-drawn look is very detailed. Even the shading of their muscles looks just as it does in the manga. I was very impressed on the look and feel of the game and it is my favorite part about it.
The story mode is the most defining aspect of the VBR. Most realistic boxing games don’t show your character growing over time. Sure, you may have the obligatory dull training game here and there between rounds, but you never see your character change as a person. VBR is as much of an adaptation of Hajime no Ippo as the anime is. Some of the cut scenes are pretty lengthy, sometime lasting upwards of six or seven minutes. Even though you will probably be standing when you play this game, you’ll definitely need a seat near-by if you want to watch these scenes. Even your boxing coach’s advice sessions between rounds reveals traits of your character. I’ve never played a game that was this much like an anime in terms of how the story reflects on your gameplay.
Ippo’s injuries sustained during matches even create tension within the game and create special conditions for you to deal with. For instance, Ippo suffered an injured eye during the first match. The injury was a big part of the story of that match. The developers included a cut scene where Ippo almost had to forfeit the fight. I had to protect that eye for the rest of the match so that it didn’t open the wound and loose the fight for me. Furthermore, the cut scenes before the fights and between rounds reveal the weaknesses of each boxer so you know how to fight them. I really felt like what I did was part of the story and it was refreshing to play a game that had a different approach to how you experience it.
How is the game itself, though? The developer (Cavia) knows what they are doing in terms of options. They give you six different ways of controlling your character that are all pretty distinct. Two methods have you using the Wii Remote and Nunchuck much like most of us are used to from Mii Boxing, two methods use the Wii Remote as a pointer, one lets you use the Classic Controller, and the last lets you use the Gamecube Controller. I prefer the second Mii Boxing-like method since it allows me to control my character’s movement with the Nunchuck’s analog stick and swing hooks and jabs to get that total Wii experience. Though I prefer this one method, I love how developers are now realizing that including this many different control methods to games is really important these days. The gaming community is so broad and diverse that everyone prefers something different when they control their characters. The way I see it, the more control options the developer provides, the better the experience will be for a wide audience. But how do the controls stand up as a whole? I like that I can throw three types of punches (jabs, hooks, and uppercuts) with the Nunchuck and Wii Remote without any other input than my movement. I have no problem pulling a hook or jab off when I need it, however the uppercut is pretty challenging to pull off due to shoddy detection. The punching controls in general are also really sensitive, as well. I see Ippo on screen sometimes throwing twice as many punches than I do in the physical world. I wish the controls were tighter so I’d have more control over my character. I feel like I could just pump my fists back and forth really fast most of the time and win a match. I also don’t like how I block with these first two control schemes. I’m used to blocking physically with my fists as in Mii Boxing but you have to hold both the Z and B buttons to do it with these two control types. I guess it adds more precise control to press a button and get the exact move you want out of it, but the immersion aspect that makes the Wii so compelling was hurt because of this way of blocking. The special moves are easily pulled off, though, with a combination of movement and a pressed button. I played the game with the wired control options as well, but I didn’t find the game nearly as fun or even worth playing that way. So in the end the controls are kind of a mixed bag.
The opponents are also unevenly challenged. I found that I could have a really difficult 3 round match one time, then KO an opponent in two hits that was supposed to be extremely difficult to defeat according to the story. I’d even go as far to say that the matches themselves are very random. I had to rematch an opponent once because I lost, then murdered him the next time but I didn’t change my strategy at all. Most of the opponents don’t fight distinctly enough as well. I never get a feeling for how each boxer fights. I’d like it if every boxer felt differently enough that I had to learn how each of them fought to defeat them. Instead, almost every opponent feels exactly the same to me when I fight them.
The multi-player was fun with plenty of fighters and locales to choose from the story mode. I found that if the person you were playing with wasn’t familiar with the controls, it was a little tough for them to pick it up so it might not be the best game to play with friends at a party. It just doesn’t have the pickup and play feel the Mii Boxing does. Otherwise the multi-player matches are more fun because you can get used to your opponent’s distinct playing style, much like a real boxer. This part of the game is fun but not amazing and I don’t know whether it’s good enough for most gamers to want to replace their already owned and well-known Mii Boxing.
The game’s main problem, though, is that the anime aspects dominate the entire gaming experience. The gameplay seems secondary to the story of the game: an opposite stance than games I and most other gamers are used to in this genre. Most of the time I spent with the game was watching the story unfold. I’m an anime/manga fan so I enjoyed this aspect of the game, but I can see how some people who just want to box wouldn’t like this game at all. This game is definitely for the anime fan than a sports enthusiast. The game isn’t flashy enough for the arcade-style sports lovers and not simulation enough for people who love the actual sport. Only pick VBR up if you love to see the story of a great anime/manga unfold as the gameplay is just not refined enough and too shallow to warrant the purchase on its own.