Review by Frogacuda

Reviewed: 01/21/03 | Updated: 01/21/03

Ippo steps out of Punch Out's shadow to deliver a unique style of arcade boxing sure to please.

To some extent, almost every boxing game that comes out is cursed to be compared Nintendo's Punch Out games. It's almost inescapable. The game was one of the ones to define the genre, and is still generally regarded as its peak. Nearly every review I've read of an arcade boxing title has mentioned Punch Out in the opening paragraph, and I'm not about to buck that trend. It's impossible to deny the importance or the quality of the game, and comparisons are inevitible. Now that that's out of the way, I'd just like to say, that this game ain't Punch Out. Hajime no Ippo delivers a fast-paced style of arcade boxing action all its own.

Hajime No Ippo: The Fighting is based on a manga (comic) which has recently been experiencing great popularity due to a successful PS2 game and popular anime. Having secured the rights to the franchise for PS2, ESP wanted to captialize on this success for GBA outing. To develop this title they turned to long-time co-conspirator Treasure, who have built a very strong reputation for themselves during their 10 year lifespan, especially among the critical press and ''hardcore'' community. The game marks Treasure's second outing on the GBA, and first venture into the boxing genre.

The game is set completely in first person. You do not see yourself, but only disembodied boxing gloves which deliver your blows. Sound familiar? Well it should. Mejesco's Boxing Fever, a compotent Punch Out derivative, tried this last year with decent results. But whereas the camera in Boxing Fever was constantly in motion, bobbing up and down and following your punches (very dizzying) Ippo uses a more fixed camera. This works to its advantage because of the fast pace of the game.

The game features a single punch button. When pressed while holding the D-pad in any of the 4 directions it will deliver different punches. Dodging is handled with the A button, again pressed in conjunction with the d-pad. Dodging takes some getting used to since no sense of motion accopanies it. You just see the gloves move. You get a feel for it after a while. I just wish the background parallaxed no make you feel like you were moving left or right. You can press up or down to move accross the ring, and you can pin your opponent in a corner and likewise get stuck in one yourself, so it's important to be agressive enough to hold your ground. Also, distance from your opponent affects what punches you can and can't throw.
Blocking is fully automatic. If you stand still, you will block all incoming punches. Likewise your opponent has the same ability. However, this doesn't mean you can turtle. After a couple good combos, your guard will break down leaving you only the option of attacking or dodging. Get a few good blows in and your guard will return. It's an interesting way to handle things.

Comboing is a big part of the game, and it's handled differently from most boxing games. Combos are to a large extent, scripted. What I mean by that is that they don't strictly consist of the standard punches. For example, land a left hook with Ippo (and land it right) and you can hit punch a few more times to juggle him around with a left-right-left-right combo. You can change up these combos with different punches, but the combo system does NOT work by stunning or leaving a vulnerable area, so the combos flow amazingly quickly. The combo system is not deep, but the game is balanced with this in mind. What it does offer is an incredibly fast and stylish feel, and it makes delivering a combo not only cool to watch but satisfying as well. You also have a ''spirit guage'' which works much like a super bar in a fighting game. You build up levels by delivering blows which allows you to unleas ''spirit punches'' by holding R and a direction (correspinding to the move) and pressing punch. These can be strung into combos as well (best placed at the end). There are also a number of defensive spirit manuevers.

Graphically, the game is superb. I find it difficult to conceive being disappointed with the game's visuals. Your opponents are large, detailed, and well animated. I mean well animated in the stylistic sense, too. The game's anime and manga routes are plainly apparent in the way the characters move. You opponent scales in and out smoothly, and actually looks good from all distances. Your own blows, conveyed through the disembodied gloves are very well done as well and once again, very evocative of the anime style. This game looks, moves, and feels like an anime boxing match, and is sure to delight fans of the anime. You really need to see this game in motion to appreciate its sense of style.

Aurally, the game is less impressive as much as effective. Sound effects are juicy, and voices are well acted (the voice actors from the anime lent their talents). Music is of the boxing anthem variety, but NON's style is still appearent (shades of Mischeif Makers in the melodies). However the music is pretty quiet and subdued, and underscores the action more than anything else. It's effective but it doesn't stand out much.

The game does offer a very nice selection of modes. The main game is the story mode, which ironically does not live up to its name. There is no real story at all. For a game based on a manga I would have expected some cutscene stills or something. Story mode is the best balanced, but only Ippo is playable (though I had thought I read that Miyata also had a story... perhaps an unlockable?) and there is no selectable difficulty. However, after playing through story mode, each character you have beaten becomes playable in the more enjoyable Tournament Mode. Tournament mode is a basic fighting game setup, where you choose your character, and fight through the ranks. There are 10 playable characters, each with his own selection of moves and combos. Charaters are varied nicely, though some seem to be alot better than others. There's also selectable difficulty in this mode. The game also supports link play, which I'm sure is a blast, though it requires 2 carts and I haven't tried it out. A very nice addition to the game is Customize Mode. This allows you to create a character, and through playing the game earn points to buy new moves or stats. You can create and save up to 10 characters, and play with them in Tournament or Link play. It's a very nice touch and sure to extend the game's life. There's also a feature-packed Training mode which helps alot for getting a feel for the game's mechanisms.

The game makes a very well rounded package. There's extended options that will keep you coming back for a long time, mid-game save which makes it a good short-play (important for a handheld), and most importantly the fighting is fast, stylish, and loads of fun. The more I play this game, the more I like it. It breaks out of the Punch Out mold and brings a style all its own to the arcade boxing arena, and it does it admirably. To those considering buying one of the other boxing games on the GBA, I highly reccommend you look into this one. Fans of the anime and manga are also well advised to check this one out, as it captures the spirit nicely. This truly is my favorite boxing game since Super Punch Out, and it's fully capable of standing on its own.

Rating: 9

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