ANIMAL BOXING

The Baltimore Sun

$20 for Nintendo DS. Rated Everyone 10-plus (cartoon violence) ** 1/2 ( 2 1/2 STARS)

games

For an unassuming handheld game about boxing animals, Animal Boxing sure covers some ground. It's brilliantly clever, yet fundamentally broken. It's impossibly easy and unnecessarily difficult. Finally, depending on the quality and proximity of your friends, it's both easy and impossible to recommend.

As touch-screen boxing goes, Boxing, which stars you as a custom-designed human fighting some 50 not-so-innocent anthropomorphic pugilists, nails it. The game uses the touch screen as the top screen - you play Boxing by holding the DS upside-down - and your punches are registered through corresponding gestures: Tap to jab, swipe horizontally to hook, swipe vertically to uppercut. Effectively dodging punches looks and feels really cool given Boxing's first-person perspective.

Unfortunately, the actual fight mechanics don't keep up. Playing Boxing the way it's meant to be played, by dodging punches and landing a few of your own while your opponents' defenses are down, is far too difficult with the ludicrously small window of time you're given to recognize your opponent's action and react.

As if to compensate, Boxing includes a block mechanic that isn't dependent on timing. But it's too powerful - players are able to dodge flurries and super punches alike without any need to lay off the button - and it makes the game too easy to exploit. Your fellow fighters don't vary in technique as much as they do in appearance, and once you realize the block button stops pretty much any attack cold, it's entirely too easy to lean on it and sneak in enough jabs to score a cheap victory.

Had Boxing slowed down a few ticks and adopted the same pace of Punch-Out! or even Fight Night, playing it legitimately would provide a perfect mix of challenge and intuition. Hopefully, Gammick can tweak the speed for a follow-up endeavor that does the engine justice.

In the meantime, this is where your friends come in. Assuming you can agree to resist exploiting the block function, Boxing works fine as a two-player game. The fact that you and a friend are mashing on each other does plenty to recenter the emphasis on all Boxing does right.

Alas, Gammick hasn't made this as easy as it should be. Boxing's only multiplayer outlet is via multicard wireless, which means you'll need two copies of the game to fight each other. That's not an insurmountable obstacle given the generous $20 price tag, but it's an obstacle all the same.

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