In between 1998 and 2005, anime was probably at its most popular peak here in the U.S. than it has ever been, so naturally, when something is on fire and has momentum, it’s going to get a video game adaptation in an attempt to cash in even more on the gravy train until it’s milked completely dry. It isn’t really so much that I’m playing a video game based on two kids who like to eat McDonald’s or that scary ass Burger King mascot who stalked around people to give them horrible tasting Rodeo Whoppers and stale onion rings, but if you make you video game a FUN experience instead of selling a name, this could have been a salvageable endeavor for the anime-based run of the lot.
Yeah, anime was not immune to this defacing, even worse because unlike lousy blockbuster film based games and television cartoon offerings, some of the anime video games in Japan are quite good, or at the very least playable. I don’t know how much litigation goes into the distribution of said video games as far as international releases, but I am almost certain that we got the short end of the stick and for a number of years, the United States was bombarded with some awful games from some big names like Inuyasha, Mobile Suit Gundam, and Dragonball Z (I left out the Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokemon games because those were pretty enjoyable for the most part and probably the best of the lot.) One title that I didn’t even know existed, much less made it into this country was Victorious Boxers (Hajime no Ippo): Ippo’s Road to Glory for the PS2.
I’ll save my resentment and my overall disappointment for the PS2 for another time, but I have to say, a good majority of the console’s first generation library was pretty watery, and this game is only a mild example of some its flaws even though it had been a full calendar year since it’s release. Called Fighting Spirit here in the United States, it’s an archetypical shōnen anime about Ippo Makunouchi and his quest to be the best featherweight boxer, or whatever division he belongs to. The anime itself, I was not impressed by and didn’t watch anymore than a season’s worth, but it’s an international phenomenon throughout Japan and Europe. I am an avid gamer and at the time a huge anime fan (I was watching the show at the time of the game’s subsequent phantom release), so maybe it was the localized name that might have thrown me off, but I had not heard of this game until a good friend pointed it out to me and said that I just had to try and play it. I was intrigued, so bring it!
I was informed that this game yielded some the most frustrating controls they have ever seen, and most seasoned gamers understand all too well how hard it is to describe awful controls to somebody who hasn’t played it personally. So either this was a generous donation or a means of reeking cold-hearted revenge against me for something I did to them. Whatever it was, I am deeply sorry.
VISUALS 6.5/10:The graphics aren’t that bad. The in-game models resemble their respective characters well, albeit a bit blocky and devoid of facial expressions. Most of the scenes are virtually identical with different dialogue, and the arenas and venues change depending the degree or importance of the fight, which is a nice visual reminder that the stakes are getting higher.
Everything is bright and distinguishable, which is more than I can say for Orphen Scion of Sorcery, but overall, it’s kind of boring to look at scenary-wise. Then the characters start “boxing” and moving around. Some of the opponents you face fidget and twitch around like a speed freak high on crystal meth and Starbucks Double Shots. Victorious Boxers also boasts some of the funniest knock-downs I’ve seen since Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, not because they were made to be humorous, but due to wacky wire frame animation. This technology was still in its infancy and the early results were character models falling and flopping around with total disregard for the human anatomy. One solid shot would send Ippo or his opponent literally crumbling to the mat in a heap, and by heap I mean your shoulders would be touching each other while your legs wrapped around your head. I call this “The Bouncer Syndrome”. Pummel your enemies around and see how many funny poses you can get them to land in!
CONTROLS 3/10: Victorious Boxers’ death knell are its controls. These are some of the worst controls I’ve ever handled playing a sports game that didn’t say 989 Studios on it. Movement, punching, defense; none of it feels finished, polished, or fluid. Guiding Ippo around the ring starts out as a chore, as the scheme is an inverted Y/X axis on the analog stick. Up moves you forward, down moves away, and left and right shimmies you in the respective directions. This would be simple enough if the damn camera didn’t auto-fix itself towards you without warning! In the heat of a fight, there’s a good chance it will throw you off, as you would instinctively expect the control scheme to revert adjacent to the perspective. In an effort to avoid getting trapped in a corner or against the ropes, you might dodge right into an uppercut. Speaking of dodging, jutting the left analog stick is your only way to avoid damage in close quarters. The smartasses behind this turkey thought it would be a cruel joke to make a boxing game WITHOUT A BLOCK BUTTON!!!!! Yeah, that’s like making Super Mario Brothers except you can’t jump over gaps!! What in the damn hell were they thinking?! If want to not get hit in this game (rimshot), you have to jerk the left stick in the direction away from where the CPU is punching. I mastered this technique to the point where I was a human punching bag, losing fights in record time.
The offense is equally annoying, featuring some of the weakest punches I can recall in ANY fighting game. For a protagonist that’s supposed to be as strong as Ippo, none of his attacks in this game feel like they have stopping power, speed, or accuracy. The dual shock lets you know when you hit with some force, but most of the punches you throw don’t feel like they connect, and there’s never a sense that you are in control of the fight until your manager tells you you’re doing well. Every time I knocked someone down, I was legitimately surprised. To actually get pretty decent in this game, I just went with read and react as opposed to getting too offensive or playing too defensively. If you play safe and just try to land big shots, you’ll waste energy and get picked apart. Button mashing will get you nowhere as constantly punching will lock you into place and you can’t change the direction you’re striking. Bop and weave will win you almost every fight the same way, but it gets old, fast.
Difficulty 7.5/10: Once I finally adjusted to the shitty controls, I got pretty “good” in this game. as I mentioned, I beat most of my opponents the same way of capitalizing on their patterns, and at the very least most of the opponents don’t fight the same. Some guys are very agile, some hit with devastating special attacks, while others are head hunters who can be worn down with body shots. I made to the very last guy who has no exploitable weaknesses and is tricky to read. The real challenge is getting a hang of the sloppy boxing mechanics themselves, as they will be your greatest adversary, but even if you do, not much fun can be had attempting to accomplish this game. Bop and Weave.
OVERALL SCORE 3.5/10: There is a feeling that at a decent game could’ve been salvaged here if they went for a more arcade-styled punchfest much like Midway’s Ready 2 Rumble Boxing for the Dreamcast. Instead, it’s simulation approach lack enthusiasm and energy. The music is passable, but nothing you will be humming while at work or milling around. There is dearth of options and accessories, sans a bunch of guys who are actual characters, apparently. It doesn’t feel like a finished product on a console that didn’t start making consistently good games until two years after it’s launch. If you’re a die-hard Hajime no Ippo fan, play if you want, be prepared to be disappointed. If you’re an obscure-obsessed gamer looking for rare gems, skip this game and go play The Guardian Legend for the NES. If you’re looking for a crappy boxing game to play, at least go over to Ring King and spring for a blow job.