Real Boxing, by developer Vivid Games, puts you in the virtual gloves of an up-and-coming boxer, and gives you a handful of modes to battle through: Career (where you level up your boxer’s statistics), Quick Fight (spar with AI opponents), and Multiplayer. It’s a familiar setup, due to the devs trying to emulate the ever-lusted-after “console-quality on a mobile device”, but does it deliver?

Let’s mention the good points first.

The Unreal Engine-powered graphics are quite a spectacle, since the engine allows your fighters to look realistic in a manner unheard of in older iOS games. The boxers duck, punch, and physically react in a true-to-life way, rocking with each received swing. The advanced engine allows for other effects too, like having lights reflect on the fighters and having cuts appear on their faces as the rounds roll on. The sound, while not as good as the graphical presentation, does back up the game reasonably well. Effects like hearing the boxers’ heartbeats when they are weak and having the crowd noise drown out during intense moments are neat little additions.

Good presentation alone doesn’t make games automatically winners, though, so how do the game’s fundamentals hold up?

The basic gameplay remains constant throughout all the modes, and the same goal drives you along: knock out your opponent by depleting his health bar. The in-ring action tries to be as basic as possible to “work with” iPhone controls, so all fist movement is controlled by various taps and swipes, and all boxer movement is automatic. While this is a good, simple control scheme in concept, it’s far from practical in execution.

For starters, there’s no way to block specific punches, since all blocking is automatic while holding the “block” button. In other words, trying to vary your punches won’t make a difference, because you/your opponent can’t specifically control what part of their body they are protecting. The same goes for dodging, since a tap of the dodge button will automatically have you duck, regardless of the incoming swing’s direction. So since the computer controls all that for you, the punching itself must be really in depth, right? Wrong. Although you can control which punch you throw (jab, uppercut, or hook) and which direction (left or right), you can’t control where the punch will land, so the computer decides if your fist moves towards the head or the chest. Since so many of the decisions are automatic, there’s little in the way of strategy, so relying on an overly simple punch/dodge/block pattern over and over works too well. The addition of a “stamina bar” (every thrown punch depletes it and the depleted bar weakens your damage output) helps little, because a few successful blocks or dodges will have you back at full power in no time. The other peripheral add-on of a tapping minigame when you go down or clinch (man-hug your opponent to regain health) seems fine, but it’s far too easy to manipulate. Just tapping with more than one finger will speed up the meter, easily winning the minigame. So in short, the gameplay isn’t holding up.

The Career mode isn’t anything new. You get a fighter with three stats to level up (Speed, Strength, and Stamina), a series of training minigames to help in the stat acquisition, and a series of fights to punch through in an effort to further up your skills. The problem here is that the coin used to buy the stat upgrades is also available through In-App-Purchase. You can level up your stats purely with coins earned through fights and/or by training, but that way is slower and you have to wait for the training minigames to become available after every use (five Career matches before you can use them again). In addition, the training minigames themselves aren’t engaging, all three being quick, tap-based, and very short. The actual fights, too, have their own problems.

The Career has difficulty spikes as high as Mt. Everest. It’s amazing how much two percent more in a stat can make, which you’ll witness when you go up against slightly higher leveled opponents, to be beaten into a pulp. Without leveling up your stat percentage, you’ll feel like every light tap your enemy gives you almost cripples your fighter, while at the same time your most powerful swing seems to be about as effective as throwing bubblegum wrappers. The difficulty curve requires either quick cash to burn on upgrading your fighter (IAPs), or for you to revisit the previous tournaments to gain more cash and train further (the slow way). And if you do go back to an old tournament to stock up your wallet, you’ll notice the fighters that previously crushed you now drop like flies before your gloves.

Once you’ve beaten your way through all of the Career’s tournaments, you’ll probably want to try your gloves at Multiplayer. After a few rounds though, it’s revealed to be as inconsistent as the Career. The lack of strategy in fighting games’ multiplayer isn’t a new problem, but still, Real Boxing fails to fix it. The overly automated controls are more harshly evident here, as they can turn multiplayer matches into wild haymaker-fests, and fights unfortunately end up feeling chaotic. But that’s only when the game runs like it should. During my multiplayer time, I encountered total crashing, Game Center “losing connection”, and two instances where the controls locked up and the game wouldn’t recognize my taps or swipes.

In Conclusion

In shooting for an amazing presentation, Real Boxing neglects core gameplay setup. What could have been a great boxing game instead becomes an overly basic letdown of a fighter. Sure, it looks pretty, but it lacks in the ever-important fun department. All in all, Real Boxing ends up getting knocked on its back.

Post-Script: on the “V-Motion” controls
My arms hurt from furiously flailing about, only to lose the six-round fight I went through with this control scheme on. I even changed my shirt to a dark color, stood on a mostly white background, and put my iPod in as good a position as I could. I really have nothing to say other than: “true motion control is a ways off……also, I can’t see my iPod’s screen when I have to have it propped up four feet away from me!”