Thanks to James Swift for tackling this boxing game with a thousand names!
PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous
PUBLISHER: Sega (US, EU), SIMS (JP), Flying Edge (George Foreman)
DEVELOPER: SIMS, The White Team (George Foreman)
GENRE: Sports – Boxing/Fighting
Master System – 1990 – (US), 05/1991 – (EU), 1992 – (George Foreman, EU)
Game Gear – 12/27/91 – (JP), 05/1992 – (US), 1992 – (EU)
If you grew up in the 1990s, you may recall a Sega arcade game called Title Fight. It has two video monitors and translucent blue and red handles in lieu of buttons (peep for yourself).
Title Fight was a spiritual successor to Sega’s earlier title, Heavyweight Champ, which had a similar gimmick. Instead of two video screens, however, there was only one, and instead of bright, opaque controllers, there were two gigantic metal bars welded onto the front of the coin-op that you had to shift up and down like transmission clutches to virtually box.
Now, what happens when you take away that funky gimmick and try to turn it into a straight-up console game? You wind up with Heavyweight Champ on the Sega Master System and Game Gear.
Actually, that’s a bit inaccurate, since the only thing these two 8-bit games share with the arcade title is the namesake. The gameplay is totally different, eschewing the pseudo first-person perspective of the arcade game for side-to-side button mashing action. The core gameplay is pretty much the same thing as James Buster Douglas Knockout Boxing/Final Blow on the Genesis, except executed slightly better.
We’ll take a gander at the SMS version first. Now, believe it or not, this game was released under three different titles, which hinged on which region you were in and what year the game was minted. In Europe it was initially called Heavyweight Champ, but when first released in the U.S., it was called James Buster Douglas Knockout Boxing (this, despite being totally different from the Genesis game of the same name). The game would get re-christened a year later, this time as George Foreman’s K.O. Boxing – even though the only thing that changed was the character you played as, and a very small – yet hilarious – tweak to the in-between round cutscenes.
Regardless of what the game’s called, James Buster’s George Foreman’s Knockout Boxing Heavyweight K.O. Champ plays identical. At the beginning of each game you’re asked to choose either “slow speed” or “fast speed,” although there isn’t much of a palpable difference between the two settings. You can move left or right, with the up and down buttons on the directional pad allowing you to block your head and protect your stomach, respectively. Hitting button 1 throws a straight right and hitting button 2 lobs a no-gimmicks-necessary left. If you hold either buttons while also holding the down button, you can throw an uppercut (although all this does is effectively register as a body blow).
The action is simplistic, but it’s tolerable. Since every fighter has the same reach, each fight becomes a tit-for-tat long distance battle. You rush in, record a punch or two and fall back – rinse, repeat, recycle. You can try to have an up-close-and-personal slug fest, but nine times out of ten the computer will just unload on you without a single opportunity to defend yourself or counterpunch.
You do, however, have the ability to charge up a “power shot” and go for a super knockout punch of death whenever you want. In fact, you’re granted three “super punches” a fight, which, if timed just right when your opponent is on the ropes, pretty much guarantees an instant knockout. The rub there is that it’s pretty hard to pull the things off, since your punch-meter stops charging every time you get hit. Your foe can also block your “super punch,” which – again, about nine times out of ten – the computer will easily dodge.
There are only five opponents in the game (the line-up in Heavyweight Champ and James Buster are identical, while the names and sprites in George Foreman are altered a little) and once you’ve defeated them, it’s game over. You can easily blaze through the game in 30 minutes, and although the two-player mode is decent, it’s not enough to keep you glued to your Master System for more than a few battles.
Which brings us to the Game Gear iteration. While keeping the Heavyweight Champ namesake in Japan, the game was known only as George Foreman’s K.O. Boxing in the U.S. and Europe.
Gameplay-wise, it’s the same as Heavyweight Champ on the SMS, only with slightly better looking sprites and more garbled audio. The controls are the same, and while there have been some changes to the sprites, SIMS reduced the number of fighters George takes on to just four. If you know when to spam the “super punches,” you can probably beat the whole game in only ten minutes. You do have the option of cable-link assisted one-on-one battling, but I doubt that would add much longevity to the game.
While fun in short spurts, there’s just not enough meat in Heavyweight Champ, etc. to warrant anything more than one or two playthroughs. For the most part the SMS and GG versions are identical, although if you were to play just one version of the title, definitely go out of your way to play the George Foreman SMS iteration. Why? Simply because it features the titular character eating a hamburger in between the rounds of each fight, and even hoisting a big ol’ burger to celebrate every victory.
If only they would’ve included the George Foreman Grill as an unlockable character.
4 replies on “James “Buster” Douglas Knockout Boxing (MS/GG, 1990-92)”
Good read! I played Heavyweight Champ for my blog and you’re right, it’s ridiculously easy. If you engage the computer in fisticuffs, you’ll get battered. If you mash the ‘1’ button two steps away from the opponent, you’re unbeatable!
I received the Game Gear game as a birthday gift (probably for my 12th), and it is still in my collection today. It’s fun enough, with decent graphics for the SGG. As far as the boxing games in my collection, I’d rank it above Rocky (which has less fighters, and in a two player game P1 is always Balboa), but clearly below Evander Holyfield for the Genesis, which was substantially more of a sports game than an arcade game. But I do have good memories of the game, trying to time those super punches so that if need be you can get a TKO to beat an opponent.
The strange history of releases for this game is probably more interesting than the game itself. No joke, I was reading an ebook about the Master System while on a plane ride earlier this week, and Heavyweight Champ was featured. I took one look at it and said “That’s George Foreman KO Boxing!” So your posting of this article is very timely!
What I am unclear about is how the Foreman versions came to be released by Flying Edge (Acclaim). It was even advertised in two ads from Acclaim showcasing their SGG games. Also featured were Bart vs the Space Mutants and Spider-Man… which was a port of the SMS version, programmed by Sega… the heck is going on here?
So, did Sega/SIMS approach Acclaim to release the game? Did Acclaim license or purchase the code to make the game for the Sega 8 bit machines? Was Sega working directly with Acclaim to get more “third party” titles released for the SGG? Part of me thinks that it must be that it was cheaper for Acclaim to obtain the code to Heavyweight Champ than it was to port the NES version or develop a new game. It would also let them release the game on more platforms relatively cheaply, as I am assuming the Foreman license was the biggest cost.
All that said, this game is a flashback for me, so it carries a lot of nostalgia. I can’t be too hard on it, given that perspective. Thanks for the review!
Hey Luke! Thanks for the comment. Those are all solid questions that… I don’t have the answers to. Not sure James does either. Perhaps when we delve into Bart Vs. The Space Mutants and Spider-Man, we’ll get more answers.
I never spent much time with this one, but the little bit I did play was fun and the music was pretty catchy too, but when it comes to boxing games, nothing is ever going to top Nintendo’s Punch-Out! games.
Boring Collector Fact:
Buster Douglas Boxing is the rarest* and most expensive US Master System game.
*Technically the US release of Sonic the Hedgehog is rarer, but that’s identical to the European release, other than an easily removable UPC sticker on the outside of the case, so a would-be collector can just grab the European one and call it a day.