While I’m out gallivanting with the NES book and other assorted projects, writer James Swift of Uncommon Journalism has graciously offered to pen some Sega-themed articles for the site. Expect them once a week for the next while!
I could’ve sworn there were way more boxing games on the Sega Genesis. Maybe it’s the Mandela Effect in play, but I seemed to recall the system just oozing with a myriad of pugilism simulators and arcade offerings. Imagine my surprise when a quadruple check on Wikipedia informed me the Genny only hosted a grand total of eight boxing games for consumption in the North American market.
Surprisingly, these eight boxing games on the Genesis are all interesting titles. Some are good, some are great and some are not worth anybody’s time. But! They all offer something different in terms of aesthetics, gameplay and presentation. No matter if you like grueling technical simulators or goofy, twitch-action arcade slugfests, Sega’s 16-bit console offers something to your liking when it comes to the virtual Sweet Science. And since we’re all experiencing buyer’s remorse from the $100 Mayweather vs. McGregor Pay-Per-View, what better way to soothe our financial ache than by taking a carefree, chronological stroll through the Genesis’ octet of boxing titles?
James ‘Buster’ Douglas Knock Out Boxing (1990)
Sega tried to pull a fast one on us here. Knock Out Boxing is actually just a slight redressing of Taito’s arcade boxer Final Blow, only with James ‘Buster’ Douglas (who was just months removed from knocking out Mike Tyson in one of the greatest upsets in boxing history) quickly airbrushed in as one of the playable characters. Gameplay-wise, it feels more like a 2D fighting game than a pugilism sim. You can move forward and backward, while one button blocks, one button throws a headshot and one button throws a body blow (pressing the up and down buttons merely changes the body part your boxer protects – his breadbasket or his noggin.) There’s only a half dozen or so (fictitious) boxers to choose from, but despite their, er, differences (hope you kids like ethnic stereotypes), pretty much every character plays identically. There isn’t a lot of replay value here. Yyou can beat the “story” mode in 20 minutes, and the core combat system is too simplistic to warrant many one-on-one battles against your pals. Still, it’s a pretty fun little button-masher while it lasts – and way more enjoyable than substandard stuff like Ring King or Power Punch II on the NES.
Read the full review.
Evander Holyfield’s ‘Real Deal’ Boxing (1992)
DEVELOPER: ACME Interactive
After Holyfield unseated Buster Douglas for the world heavyweight championship, Sega naturally decided to build their first from-the-ground-up boxing game on the Genesis around “The Real Deal” (who, as fate would have it, lost the title to Riddick Bowe right after this game was released – ouch). Unlike Buster Douglas, ‘Real Deal’ Boxing offers quite a bit of depth. One button is dedicated to a lead punch and one button is dedicated to a follow-up punch, and depending on which directional pad arrow you hold, you can elect to throw a hook, jab or uppercut from either the left or the right side. As in real boxing, you can set up combinations and even counterpunch, provided you get the timing right (and if you’re in deep dookie, clinch your opponent and buy some precious recovery time). The complicated control scheme becomes second nature after a couple hours, although the lack of equally solid defensive controls remains a huge pain in the derriere. The game also has a great career mode where you create a boxer and take him through the ringer, fighting in empty bingo halls and honing his skills en route to a championship bout against Holyfield himself. ‘Real Deal’ Boxing has some obvious shortcomings, but for the most part, this remains an extremely enjoyable – and surprisingly deep – boxing title.
Muhammad Ali Heavyweight Boxing (1992)
DEVELOPER: Park Place Productions
PUBLISHER: Virgin Games, Ltd.
Despite its endorsement from “The Greatest,” this is easily the worst boxing game on the Genesis. The graphics are so awful, that at first glance, you might mistake them for a Master System game. Then there’s the fighting engine. While it is kinda cool that you can actually move in (theoretical) 360 degree steps, the actual boxing controls are stiff, clunky and frequently unresponsive. One button bobs and weaves, one button throws a weak body shot and the other launches a looping haymaker that takes a full two seconds to land, leaving you open for a quick flurry from your opponent. Throw in a random assortment of lame fictitious boxers and practically zero game options outside of a boring exhibition mode, and you have all the makings of one of the crappiest sports games on the Genesis and beyond.
George Foreman’s KO Boxing (1992)
DEVELOPER: Beam Software
PUBLISHER: Flying Edge
George Foreman’s KO Boxing plays like an uneasy fusion of Punch-Out!! and Final Blow. It’s an arcade boxer through and through, with your attacks limited to looping over hands to the skull and quick jabs to the stomach. Like Punch-Out!!, you can easily weave your way in and out of enemy attacks by quickly shuffling left or right. Unlike Punch-Out!!, your foes in KO Boxing don’t have any noticeable patterns, nor do they drop any visual clues letting you know when you should or shouldn’t go for the coup de grace. The core boxing engine isn’t nuanced at all, and the fictitious enemies are totally forgettable, but the gameplay – as simplistic as it is – is fairly fun and if you give the game enough time you’ll probably find your groove. Just don’t expect much more than a slightly churched up rehash of Punch-Out!! sans tight execution. Bonus props to the sound design. Foreman’s battle cry of “I’m big, I’m bad, I’m FAT!” has to be one of the greatest taunts in the history of video gaming.
Boxing Legends of the Ring (1993)
DEVELOPER: Sculptured Software
Can’t argue about the cast in this one: among other illustrious Middleweight champeens, Boxing Legends of the Ring features Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns, Sugar Ray Robinson and even Raging Bull himself, Jake LaMotta! If you can’t tell the difference between James Toney and Tony the Tiger, no biggie. You can always create your own boxer and take him for a spin in the game’s career mode. The combat engine here is just superb, with hooks, jabs and uppercuts an absolute cinch to pull off (even if you sometimes have to hold down multiple buttons in awkward combinations, like Up + A + C.) It’s definitely a game catered to hardcore boxing fans, as the title emphasizes technique over sheer button mashing prowess. Alas, as good as the game may be, this is one of those rare instances of a SNES sports game outclassing its Genesis counterpart. Not only does it look and sound much better, the hit detection is much improved, making the SNES incarnation of Boxing Legends of the Ring the superior – and far more visceral – version to experience.
Toughman Contest (1993)
DEVELOPER: Visual Concepts
PUBLISHER: Electronic Arts
Here’s another game that desperately tries to recreate the Punch-Out!! formula with mixed results. Aesthetically, it very much resembles Sega’s arcade game Title Fight, complete with the player’s wireframe avatar. Similarly, the control scheme – which entails lots of bobbing, weaving and aiming for uppercuts – feels like it could’ve been lifted straight from the aforementioned coin-op brawler. There’s no create-a-boxer mode, so you’re stuck picking from a laundry list of painfully ‘90s pugilists, including one combatant who’s a dead ringer for Kurt Cobain. From there, you can embark upon a arduous quest for Toughman glory, with your fisticuffing career taking you all over the world; prepare to pound faces in front of pizza-eating Italians and barroom brawling Mexicans (really, the crowd animations are one of the best things about the entire game). There’s a lot of humor to be found, but unfortunately, the defensive controls hamper a lot of the fun. The quirky comedy and quasi-risque content gives Toughman Contest some character, but its core gameplay remains your typical, finesse-less button-mashing marathon.
Greatest Heavyweights (1993)
DEVELOPER: ACME Interactive
Not only is Greatest Heavyweights far and away the best boxing game on the Genesis, it’s the best boxing game of the 16-bit era. It features an absolute dream roster of Heavyweight titleholders. You can match Ali up against Holyfield, pit Rocky Marciano against Joe Frazier, or even match Jack Dempsey up against Larry Holmes. But if the Sweet Science’s grandest lions don’t mean a thing to you, create your own avatar and embark upon the game’s impressive career mode, which might take you months to wrap up. The game uses a modified Real Deal Boxing engine that speeds up the pace and emphasizes constant action while simultaneously improving defensive play. This makes Greatest Heavyweights both the most frenetic and most strategic console pugilism sim of its era. Pulling off hooks, jabs and uppercuts feels easy and smooth, especially if you’re using the Genesis’ six-button control pad. And as Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel so kindly demonstrated, it’s still a fun game even if you have to use the ill-fated Activator to play it!
Foreman For Real (1995)
DEVELOPER: Software Creations
PUBLISHER: Acclaim Entertainment
The sequel to KO Boxing totally overhauls its predecessor’s combat system, creating a game that feels more like a Boxing Legends of the Ring-style simulation than an arcade punch-fest. Of course, the father of the George Foreman Grill is the only “real” boxer in the game, as the rest of the roster is filled out by generic, quasi-polygonal characters with eerie, Mortal Kombat-like digitized faces. In terms of offense, the controls are surprisingly solid, with a pretty good variety of punches you can mix and match for bruising combinations. Alas, the defensive controls are very clunky, while the hit detection sometimes feels a bit spotty. The career mode is alright, but not on par with Greatest Heavyweights or Boxing Legends of the Ring, and the presentation (especially the minimalist music) is uninspiring for a game that came out so late in the Genesis’ life cycle. Foreman For Real isn’t a terrible game by any stretch (indeed, I consider it a vastly improved sequel), but doesn’t compare to the Genesis’ other heavy hitters.