Here’s a bit of pro boxing trivia: what rising heavyweight star in the 90s fought Evander Holyfield in three classic bouts, stealing the title belt from him in the first, giving it back in the second before reclaiming it again in the third? If you guessed Mike Tyson, you would be in the right ball-park, but ultimately incorrect. It was in fact Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe who upset the undefeated “Real Deal” in November 1992 and in the process earned credibility as the best boxer in the world. It’s certainly ironic that when it came to making Riddick Bowe’s Boxing for the Super Nintendo, it was none other than Evander Holyfield’s Real Deal Boxing from the Sega Genesis that Bowe’s game emulated most by a landslide.
In the Gym
There’s nothing better than a good old-fashioned reward system, and the systematic upgrades in Bowe’s Boxing are designed to reward a player for a match well fought and bolster the contender for challenging bouts to come. The user gets to choose between a balanced training or focusing on a certain skill: endurance, power or speed. These three attributes, as well as the user’s own reaction time, are the most significant factors when competing.
Endurance makes your recovery more efficient, power gives more umph to your punch, and speed gives your avatar more slip and sneak. Put it altogether and it’s a balanced if benevolent presentation of an incredibly gritty sport.
There is no difficulty setting in Bowe’s Boxing, but there is still a measure of control the user has over the challenge in career mode, the game’s central offering. Before every match, there is the choice to face four different boxers immediately around your own player’s ranking. Pummeling the weakest among the four is the easiest way to get the sweet gains, but you won’t climb the ladder unless you beat someone with a higher ranking. The abilities of your perspective opponents differ widely, so it takes careful consideration to balance your undefeated record with a quick climb. While most gamers will likely choose the steep and challenging path, it could also be a fun challenge in longevity to play every ranked boxer in succession, from #24 to Riddick Bowe.
In the Ring
Before 3D gaming changed everything (a vague yet accurate statement if there ever was one), successful boxing games were generally presented in either a vertical or horizontal fashion. Rather than mirror the top-down method of Mike Tyson’s Punchout!, Bowe Boxing takes the side-by-side approach in the vein of Sega’s excellent Kings of the Ring. Having chosen the road horizontal, Riddick Bowe Boxing is attached to the constituents of this approach. In a vertically presented title, such as the Super Nintendo’s George Foreman’s KO Boxing, one can choose to spend time swaying side-to-side – not an effective way to win, mind you, but the option is there. In a horizontal presentation, there is nowhere to hide. While a highly ranked CPU opponent may be able to play protect-ball when nearing a knock-out, the user likely won’t find the same success. Instead, one has to always be prepared to attack. In its own way, I suppose, either method might be considered accurate to the sport.
A more significant divergence of the two methods is the role played by the opponent’s physical appearance and personality. The Mike Tyson games in particular rely on zany (the NES version borders on racist) character traits which include goofy dialogue and an introductory jingle that fits the opponent’s persona. Conversely, almost no personality is given to the user’s stock avatar. In Mike Tyson’s Punchout!, again, the player is given a white-washed and sickly looking boxer named Mac. While it’s Mac’s path to the championship you are on, the person playing the game is allowed to embody their manned champion – the SNES version of Punchout! goes so far as to make one’s avatar translucent.
Lastly, a horizontal boxing game employs a different strategy for timing than its vertical counterpart. A huge part of what made the up-down style so classic was they were built solely to test a gamer’s memorization and execution of an aptly timed counterpoint. Side-to-side boxing also tests the gamer’s reflexes and ability to read their opponent, but the CPU responses are not nearly as canned. Rather the user’s particular approach has much more influence on how the CPU opponent carries himself. One result is that the AI is positively more in-depth and reactive, while a downside is the computer opponents exhibit far less variety as the game goes on. Even with the opponents increase in speed, power and endurance, there isn’t too much alteration in their approach in trying to knock you down.
In the Living Room: Bowe vs Holyfield IV
The controls are straightforward and as responsive as one might hope from a high-paced sports title. The gamer feels in control of his avatar as he uses the d-pad to move toward or away from his opponent, and also to duck by pressing ‘down.’ The top triggers are used to rotate around the ring, but this feature is more aesthetic than anything. Left and right jabs are executed using X and Y, while heavier crosses are performed with B or A. Add to this the ability to upper-cut by pressing A + up, and you have a total of five different ways to attack your foe. All in all the engagement of the fighters is gritty and invigorating. At the same time, the coloration is lively and bright, even coming across as cartoonish when compared to other 16-bit boxing titles. The sound effects are few but effective – plenty of baps and grunts can be heard along with the occasional crunch which signifies the landing of a string of heavy blows.
Developed by Malibu Interactive and published by Extreme Entertaiment Group, Riddick Bowe Boxing is certainly a well-balanced title, but the game can’t be given much props for originality. In too many respects, the game resembles Evander Holyfield’s Real Deal Boxing from the Genesis (developed by Acme Interactive, published by SEGA), both in the ring and in career mode. In-ring the boxers are portrayed in a similar light – in both cases they are the same size and an equal amount of body is shown (from the hips up). An identically red-, white-, and blue-striped ring rotates around the fighters while a similar spread of spectators ogle from behind. The same information is provided on the top of the screen, while the bottom portion identically tracks the damage each contestant is taking to both their face and torso, as well as their overall stamina which depletes in a very similar fashion. At least the head/torso images in Bowe’s version vibrate when the respective body part is struck (with the head box showing a convincing grimace), while this is not the case for Holyfield’s. Riddick Bowe Boxing appears to bring the better overall visual package, although I may simply be biased having played one and not the other.
Both Career and Create-a-Player modes seem to be taken directly from Evander’s book as well. While Holyfield adds “defense” as an attribute category, Bowe is satisfied with strength, speed and endurance. In Real Deal Boxing, the user can create a player by specifying name, head type, hair color, skin tone, trunks color and handedness. Bowe’s Boxing goes in the complete opposite direction by allowing the user to specify … name, head type, hair color, skin tone, trunks color and – whoa, nelly! – glove color as well (defaulting all boxers to right-handedness). When it comes to workouts, the options of speed bag, jump rope and loose weights appear in both. At least in Bowe’s version there is a certain level of variety and creativity when it came to hair styles. While you will see the same hair (slick, dreadlocks, short curly, huge part, handlebar mustache, gelled curl, ninja cut, bald) repeated in various colors in your journey to face Big Bowe, at least some amount of identity can be given to fighters based on their appearance. The player will find this significant since there is no real digression when it comes to opponent fighting style.
Riddick Bowe was able to best Evander Holyfield in the real world two times out of three. But does his digital namesake carry the same convincing prowess? Absolutely. Bowe’s Boxing is a clear cut above games in the middle of the pack. It soars past the mediocre crowd because of its rewarding career mode, on-point controls and clean, bright sprites. Sure, it lifted many design ideas from Holyfield’s Real Deal Boxing, but it executed each of these things better. It certainly benefited from being a later release on the system. It’s one of the finest boxing titles of the 16-bit era, guaranteed. Prove me wrong and I’ll eat my purple boxing shorts.
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