Real Boxing, while fun, is a game that ultimately suffers an identity crisis. Light RPG elements are mixed with a relatively shallow combat mechanic and task you to master timing, patience, and a gauntlet of large, sweaty, angry men. Its budget price is reflected in its presentation with great-looking character models (for the most part), but weak backgrounds and sloppy textures. The experience mechanic is essentially broken, forcing you to level-grind constantly after the first tournament just to remain even a slight contender in the following two. The RPG element is useless as you can level your character up to 100 (and are encouraged to if you’re chasing trophies), and the equipment you can buy is only a cosmetic change, offering no real incentive to explore unless you’re incredibly picky about which types of gloves you use. At no point will you be surprised that it’s an iOS/Android game ported to the Vita.
That being said, there is some fun to be had with the game if you don’t mind letting some OCD tendencies run wild. To a point.
The RPG mechanic is pretty superfluous. Each win in a previously un-won match grants you two upgrade points you can apply to either strength, stamina, or speed stats for your character. Randomized challenges are prompted before each bout and can grant you an extra upgrade, but occasionally these are antithetical to how you think you should play the game. Sometimes you’ll be asked to knock out your opponent in the first round, while others will ask you to get knocked down twice to come back and win by knock-out. After winning each match you’ll also be given a cash reward that you could use to unlock different colored boots, gloves, or shorts, or – most likely – invest in your character’s traits. At no point are you given a chance to specialize right hooks or left-handed jabs, which would’ve added more strategy to the game.
After customizing your character’s nationality, ethnicity, and facial features, you’re thrown into a basic tutorial. You can then choose a quick fight (which won’t gain you any experience), online multiplayer (which won’t count towards your character’s fight record), and a gym where you can unlock perks to help your character. Perks are unlocked through mini-games but don’t ultimately have an effect on your character, as you don’t go into a fight needing much of a strategy. They can either reduce stamina to throw a certain type of punch, or make in-match mini games easier, but are never so valuable that they’re worth pursuing.
The weirdest part: had that device been explored more, it could’ve been super interesting. If there were a wager system that provided incentive to risk yourself in the fight by going down twice for a potentially huge reward, I would’ve been more invested in it. And that would’ve felt more “real” as gangster movies have taught me that boxers throw matches all the time.
The multiplayer runs smoothly, but it’s hard to find random opponents. My Vita went into sleep mode all 5 times while waiting for someone to play. There’s also no class system, so my 69/71/70 fighter went up against someone whom I presume was 100/100/100 as he knocked me out before I even took half an inch off his health bar.
You’ll be required to grind again for the third tournament, but even with maxed out stats you’re still going to be challenged. This is where the game got the most demanding and where I had the most fun. Each bout was a war of attrition, actually testing my abilities to manipulate the game mechanics. Well-timed counters would refill my stamina bar and allow me to inflict more damage on my opponent. With their heightened stats, though, they’d occasionally be able to counter my counters, and double that damage on me unless I was quick enough to react. Often times, I was not, and I would need to bide my time and wait for the next opportune moment to strike. These tense moments gave me sweaty palms and actually challenged me.
It’s casual in that it’s a fighting game that doesn’t require the memorization of combos. Good-looking character models only had stilted animations occasionally when countering and were realistic-looking for the most part. Each well-timed punch carried a heavy sound that was satisfying to hear, and reaffirmed you were doing something correctly. During the grinding portion of the game, Real Boxing lends itself well to portable play. It’s something you can do mindlessly on the couch while watching TV or something intense you can do should you opt for the final tournament. In this regard, the game is well-balanced even if the difficulty spike itself isn’t. In attempting to add more to the formula of Punch-Out, Real Boxing loses that game’s perennial charm and warrants consideration only when heavily discounted (to parity with its smartphone version) unless you’re desperate for a new way to punch people on Vita.
It should also be worth noting that while the game is called ‘Real Boxing,’ it features no real boxer’s likeness. Temper expectations accordingly.