From “Punch-Out” on the original Nintendo to “Ready 2 Rumble” on the Dreamcast, boxing games have been incredibly successful. However, no title has effectively recreated the realism of the sweet science. EA Sports entered the fray with its “Knockout Kings” series that spanned the original Playstation to the current PS2, yet in spite of its licensed boxers, the games fell flat. Taking a cue from their baseball franchise, this year EA scrapped the entire framework of “Knockout Kings” to create “Fight Night 2004.”

Like its EA Sports counterparts, “Fight Night” stresses the reality of the sport. The completely revamped play mechanics enable the game to stay true to boxing, as punch location determines the effectiveness and power of every blow. “Fight Night” foregoes the conventional control scheme of using the face button for each specific punch and instead utilizes the right control stick to execute jabs, uppercuts and hooks. Blocking is easy, allowing the gamer to reenact almost any fighting technique.

Featuring a roster of all-star heavyweights like Roy Jones Jr. and Lennox Lewis, the pixilated pugilists look incredible – even past greats such as Muhammad Ali are available to take into the ring. The character models are meticulous, recreating each athlete to near perfection. As fights progress, blood, sweat and bruises emerge to add to the authenticity of “Fight Night”‘s matches.

While exhibition matches using the selectable cast of fighters can entertain – especially in multi-player situations – the single-player experience is best spent in the intuitive career mode. In career mode, gamers control either a custom-made fighter or one of the famous boxers and then takes them through a rigorous career of training and boxing. The fighter, regardless of who it is, begins with little skills and needs to be built up through a series of mini-games that add attribute points to the boxer. Along the way, matches open up and belts are won. Unlike the Dynasty modes found in other EA Sports titles, career mode doesn’t offer the sheer breadth of customization, but it provides a solid foundation for the next installment to build upon. Additionally, after the boxer is fully developed, the mini-games become gratuitous and take time away from the action in the ring.
Boxing games, much like the actual bouts, seem to be considered as a step below the major sports titles. “Fight Night 2004” marks a real effort by EA Sports for its boxing game to be judged along with its stellar “Madden” and “NHL” series. While not without some faults, “Fight Night” easily becomes the best recreation of the sport available on the market.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

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