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Sometimes you get pummeled. And sometimes you get pummeled by a very tall man wearing shiny, purple boxing gloves.
With the almost-literal gold rush to develop titles to be sold on the App Store, there comes the risk of a company having to port one of its best-selling console titles to a new set of devices.
Sometimes this doesn't go well. And sometimes they get it almost perfect.
Fight Night Champion by EA Sports is definitely the latter situation. The game draws you in, boxing fan or not. You create and build a fighter from the ground up or take on a preconfigured champion fighter in the form of Mike Tyson, Muhammmad Ali, George Foreman, Oscar De La Hoya, and others. Then it's easy enough to assign points to specific skills (power, speed, stamina, damage resistance/recovery, etc.) and launch your contender into his first fights on the way to the title.
She's finishing dental school.
While the graphics aren't quite as beefy as those found on the console versions of the title, the textures, models, and smooth animation still impress. The voice acting has a presence of its own, though your trainers' between-rounds advice and the running commentary during the fights gets a bit repetitive. And it's fun to land the perfect punch and hear the crowd come alive in the background.
As nifty and customizable as your character might be, it's the controls that make the game stand out. Prior to your first fight, you'll tap through 10 tutorial slides to learn how to throw specific kinds of punches and dodge as needed. Once the fight begins, it's surprisingly easy to designate what kind of punches to throw at your opponent, and lining up combinations becomes second nature by the second or third bout.
Even a standard jab will lead to explosions of painful sweat in Fight Night Champion.
The realism factor makes or breaks a title like this, and here Fight Night Champion scores major points. Every fight is just that: a fight. There are almost no easy victories, and even if your character towers over an opponent in terms of stats, each bout is a process in which you'll have to wear the other guy down, deplete their stamina, keep your character relatively healthy, heal between rounds, and try to find your opponent's weaknesses and exploit it. During a 12-round bout, I chased after an exponentially faster opponent who wouldn't stay still no matter what, and I had to find a way to avoid a rain of fast, light punches, actually catch my opponent, and wear him down by any means necessary.
It's elements like this and finding a hole in an opponent's defense and exploiting it (i.e., targeting an eye and pounding on it) that reflect a genuine boxing experience and add a certain credibility to the title. It's not pretty, but it's the sport in question, and Fight Night Champion doesn't dodge this as much as embrace it.
The thrill of victory, brought to you by the letters K and O.
With the exception of Fight Night Champion's controls being a bit finicky at times (one could argue that you didn't order those several extra punches that threatened only the air between you and your opponent), the application performs like a dream, running beautifully under iOS 4.3.1, resuming paused and saved games as well as you could ask and never crashing during testing.
The bottom line. If there were ever any doubts that a great boxing game could be brought to the iPhone, this removes them. EA Sports did its homework and delivered up a great way to kill at least 10 minutes at a shot.
iPhone or iPod touch running iOS 3.0 or later
Good graphics and sound, responsive controls, nice level of character customization, and just plain fun.
Somewhat repetitive dialogue, the controls are good but not perfect, and one wonders where those extra punches that went nowhere came from.