Review by Linkman 145

Reviewed: 03/02/07 | Updated: 03/05/07

An arcadey boxing game that's not only a joy to play, but is also true to the series.

Hajime no Ippo: The Fighting is the only GameBoy Advance entry of the famous manga and anime series Hajime no Ippo. And it succeeds magnificently, ranking up there with the biggest boxing classics in videogame history. But allow me to describe you why I believe so.

To begin, I'll say that your boxer consists of nothing but a pair of blue gloves. You could use your imagination and pretend your boxer is there, but the truth is, all you see is a pair of gloves. The gloves will be in a position fitting the boxer you're using, and right in front of you will be your opponent, in all his glory. Around him are the ropes and corners, and behind him is a loud audience cheering for a knock-out.

This is the scene that you'll see in Hajime no Ippo: The Fighting, and it fits the game perfectly. It's not a graphical masterpiece by any means, but it certainly looks very crisp and well done. The crowd cheers loudly, the gong sounds, and the referee blurts out a resounding "Fight!" The atmosphere is definitely set, but how does it hold up?

Your pair of gloves (hereby referred to as boxer, for merely technical means) can do pretty much all the basic boxing moves out there. Jabs, Straights, Hooks, Uppercuts, Body Blows... And all the others. Your guard is set by default, unless you are moving or throwing a punch. You can duck, or dodge to the left or right, or even moving up. But how do the punches connect?

First of all, there's a range bar. The ring has 10 spaces in a straight line, and your character is placed in one of them. So if you're in one corner, and your opponent is in the other, there's a max of 9 spaces between you. You can reduce this distance by walking forward, or increase it by walking backwards. Depending on the kind of punch you throw, you'll need to be in a certain distance. For instance, jabs can be thrown from two spaces away, which the game calls Middle range. Body blows, however, need you to be as close as possible, with both fighters being right next to each other. This is very important to the game's mechanic.

So you've got the right distance; you can throw a punch and try to knock down your opponent. Both you and the other boxer have a bar that measures their damage. Punches can deal either Red or Yellow damage, or even both. Yellow damage is cause by lighter blows such as Jabs; it's main problem is that it heals with time. Red damage, however, is permanent; it's only healed between rounds. To knock down your opponent, the combination of Yellow and Red damage must be higher than a down limit common to every boxer. And when your opponent's down, he has the usual 10-count to stand up; be aware that when he's down, his yellow damage still heals. If he doesn't get his damage back within his down limit by the count of 10, the boxer will lose... Unless he uses a spirit move.

Yes, spirit, just like in the manga. Your fighter has a bar of Spirit, which can be depleted to use Spirit moves. Hitting your enemy generates spirit for your bar, so if you're winning the fight, chances are you'll be able this moves a lot. They range from defensive moves, such as the earlier one that allows a character to stand up despite of the damage, to extremely offensive ones like Ippo's trademark Dempsey Roll. These moves can be devastating, not to mention tons to fun to use, since they emulate their manga counterparts so well. All boxers have several Spirit moves, most of them being exclusive to them and outstanding in their own right. It's a great addition to what otherwise would've been a standard set of boxing moves.

The final point of gameplay is perhaps the best one: Combos. As I said before, there's a plethora of punches you can throw, plus Spirit moves as well. But the fun part of this, and it's part of what makes the game so enjoyable, is comboing this punches together. Sure there's Jabs, Hooks, Uppercuts... But if you use them individually, they have noticeable lag and start-up time. Combos, however, end up being your best choice of attack. For example, Ippo can throw a Jab and be done with it... But if you press the Jab button yet again, he throws two Jabs in rapid succession. And if you feel like more, you could throw a Body Blow and Ippo would throw a rapid combo: Jab, Jab, and then quickly a Body. All characters have different combos, and it's great fun finding them all. And, if you think this was good: Spirit moves can also be comboed with normal moves! And even more amazingly, with other Spirit moves! Yes, you can now do Ippo's devastating Liver Blow to Gazelle Punch to Dempsey Roll combination. And it feels great to do it.

In the end, the battle will be a 4-rounder, a 6-rounder, an 8-rounder, or in the case of a Title match, a 10-round bout. Between rounds, you get a scene with your second in the which you can choose to use three events: A sudden motivation that increases your Spirit bar, a skill that increases your down limit so you can withstand more attacks, and another skill that reduces your damage taken so far. And in the end, it comes down to a KO, the 3 knock-down rule, or a decision.

Now that's a common bout in Hajime no Ippo: The Fighting. But when do you fight? There's three Single Player modes.

The first one, is Story Mode; you get to take our favourite boxer Makunouchi Ippo through the Japanese rankings, until the fated Title match with the Champion, Date Eiji. In this mode, you only to get to use Ippo.

The second one, is Championship Mode. Pick a boxer, and take him through ten fights, with each opponent being harder than the previous, in a sort of Tournament. This is the meat and potatoes of the game, since you can play as any boxer you want, and you'll also face most of the other boxers. You can also create your own Custom Boxer (with the custom part being the skills; the face of the fighter is just one of the game's boxer of your choice) and take him through this mode to get points and buy more skills.

And finally... There's exhibition mode. Here you can face the CPU in a single match, or you can hone your skills against a stationary boxer.

And that's it, really. That's how the game plays. But in the end... You want me to blurt it out. Is it worth it? The answer is a definite yes. Hajime no Ippo: The Fighting is an excellent boxing game, with a very fun battling system, and also a surprising accuracy to the series. It's a shame this never saw a western release, but if you're a Hajime no Ippo fan... You owe it to yourself to try this game.

In short? It's probably better than Punch-out and it has Ippo in it.

Rating: 9

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