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Evander Holyfield’s “Real Deal” Boxing

Genre: Sports Developer: ACME Interactive Publisher: Sega of America Players: 1-2 Released: 1992

If Sega was anything during the 16-bit era, it was astute. Buster Douglas, still reeling from kissing the canvas in his first title defense against Evander Holyfield, was dropped a second time later two years later, this time by the company that had given him a hefty endorsement deal for his Genesis boxing game. Douglas had seemingly lost the title even before the ink on his contract had dried, so Sega was forced to begin negotiations with his successor. The result was 1992’s “Real Deal” Boxing, which sported box art that had Evander Holyfield literally draped with title belts, almost as if to reassure potential buyers that this time, the champ would still be on top when his game shipped.

The image of its boxing line up wasn’t the only thing Sega sought to improve. I’m sure that management was very keen on actually designing a game around the celebrity this time around, as Buster Douglas “Knockout” Boxing had basically consisted of a simple palate swap and name change to Taito’s Final Blow (they did also add a new boxer, Iron Head. Oh me, oh my…). In an obvious effort to bolster consumer confidence (as well as sales), Sega built a game wholly for the new heavyweight champ, and though it’s still in the shallow end of the boxing pool, it’s still a vast improvement over Douglas’ rain puddle-like effort.

The visual presentation has been greatly improved in this release, and the character sprites are quite large, though not as large as in Knockout Boxing. Sprites are clean and detailed, and the new engine is very smooth and crisp (Sega would revisit it a year later for Greatest Heavyweights of the Ring). The revolving ring looks great, as do the cuts and bleeding when a foe is repeatedly hit in the same place. Another cool touch is that the audience increases as fighters move up the ranks. Early bouts have few people watching, and there’s even a couple making out in the front row!

I do wish the sound had been given more attention though. The whoops and hollers of the crowd when one fighter begins to dominate and their boos and jeers when little action is going on are really nice in theory. However, they’re not nearly as exciting as they should be. The announcer’s voice is very clear, but it too is a fleeting sound bite.

Players can choose to either go with a premade boxer or create their own, but most will probably opt for a custom fighter. There’s some great customization here, and everything from head shape, hair style and color, and trunks to overall stats can be set. Sega went the extra mile here and allowed multiple custom boxers to be saved simultaneously. Players can even pit them against each other to see who’s truly the best! The oddest part is that custom boxers begin to age after twenty-five fights, and their skills begin to deteriorate with time and each battle. They’re automatically retired after forty fights or after losing three in a row. Should Evander himself fall to a custom titan, that boxer will become “the greatest” and retire as champion. Pretty neat, I think, and it gives would-be champs something to shoot for.

Fortunately, the boxers are much more manageable here than in Knockout Boxing and have a great deal of freedom of movement, and there’s actually some technique involved in the matches now. Instead of mindlessly punching, players must master the simple-but-effective button layout to determine when to land the best punch. There are no convenient cues to strike, a la Punch Out!, so it all comes down to reading body movement. For instance, opponents who tend to stick low against head shots are just begging for an uppercut, and too many punches to the left leave them wide open for a wide right. Each bout can last up to twelve rounds, depending on the rank of the computer opponent, and some of these guys can take a lot of punishment before going down for good.

Determining a boxer’s effectiveness is simple, as the in-game HUD is easy to read. Each fighter has a red energy bar, depleted with each hit he takes. If it empties, he’s down for the count. The black bar behind it is his ability to take punches, and a short one means he’s not far from a knockdown. There are indicators for each fighter’s body and head too, and they turn more and more gray with each blow. If they lose their color entirely, the referee stops the fight and the other boxer is awarded a TKO.

Fighting wins cash, and the goal is to attain a lifetime purse of over $50 million – Holyfield’s total earnings. To that end, the time between bouts is spent training. Nineteen different items are available, though only three can be accessed from the start. With each victory, new items are opened, and each adds a bit more to the stats of power, stamina, speed, strength, and defense. The whole game more or less boils down to “fight and train,” but that at least means that there isn’t too much time wasted between battles.

This is what I found most engaging about “Real Deal” Boxing. The gameplay modes may not be pretty expansive – typical for a console boxing game of this era – but most gamers will probably dive right into career and leave the exhibition mode for pummeling friends. Career mode is where it’s at anyway, and rising through the ranks from last (#30) to finally reach Evander himself is why I’m playing in the first place. Thankfully, there’s a save option, so the game and its twenty-eight fighters aren’t a one-sitting affair.

The only major flaw I found with the gameplay, aside from the bare bones options, is that many opponents tend to run away when their energy gets too low. That might just seem like sound boxing strategy, but they also recover their energy very quickly, and a rival who was seemingly about to go down can have an energy bar that’s two thirds full in almost no time. This means that fights tend to drag on the full amount of rounds, and since the computer taps and runs, players can often find themselves losing by decision.

Aside from this small gripe, which some might even argue adds a degree of realism to the game, “Real Deal” Boxing is a solid title that, while not deep on the customization and options, is a fun way to spend an afternoon. The save feature means players can play it in spurts, which simply adds to the enjoyment. Find a copy and show Buster Douglas the way real men take out Holyfield!

SCORE: 7 out of 10

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