Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Smash Boxing

Hello and welcome to the first Big Mean Flash Gamer of 2010 - indeed, of the decade. Following last week's abomination, I hope you can understand when I say this week's game isn't as woefully awful as you'd usually expect. Honestly, I don't know if I'll ever find anything that reached the heights/plumbed the depths (delete as appropriate) of Platform Robot 2 ever again.This is not something I cry myself to sleep over. But so great was that - ugh - game's impact on me, I retreated to something that was poor, but which didn't make me want to eat my own face.

Smash Boxing is a 2D flash beat-'em-up in which four gangs vie to be kings of the street, or something, through a series of bareknuckle boxing matches. Naturally it's all very dark and gritty, with tough hoods engaging in no holds barred fisticuffs. Or at least that's the idea.

One positive thing that struck me was the impressive number of characters available. Each gang has five members, giving you a full roster of twenty to choose from. What's not so hot is how every character looks so ridiculously stereotypical, meaning it's hard to take any of them seriously. They remind me of what network executives working on 1980s TV dramas thought inner city gangs looked like. If these guys making stupid macho faces actually walked through South Central LA, they'd probably end up stripped of their clothing and tied to a lamp post outside the local VFW hall. Those characters who don't look like idiots just look scared and/or stoned, neither qualities one looks for in a street fighter.

The game itself looks OK. It's not great, but it doesn't annoy or induce a migraine. The graphics are pretty much like everything else in Smash Boxing. The controls? They're OK. The animation? It's all right. The music? Generic, but it's not awful. Such is the paucity of ideas or innovation that Smash Boxing becomes a victory in mediocrity, if nothing else.

Anyway, the game takes place in some kind of basement or alley with a boxing ring surrounded by barbed wire ropes. Doesn't that sound just a little bit like overkill, guys? Every street fight I've ever watched on Youtube has been little more than two fat men stripping to the waist and throwing wild, drunken punches. Even Fight Club kept things simple with a padded floor. It doesn't really matter, as the ropes are nothing more than a barrier for the sprites and you don't get hurt for walking up to them. It just seems so over the top that, again, any sense of drama is erased. The characters' movements are solid, if unspectacular, but hit detection and character reactions are poor. You can easily find yourself eating half a dozen punches without any chance of escape. Not being able to punch as you move backwards is also a problem; in fact, if you want to punch or hold guard, you have to stop moving completely. Attacking and defending on the move is a big part of actual boxing, so it doesn't say much for the developers of Smash Boxing that they couldn't do anything to improve the lacklustre controls.

Winning this game isn't actually all that difficult. Victory comes down to stamina above all else. Pick the guy with the highest amount of stamina and you'll be able to throw more blows for a longer period of time. Your gameplan should basically be this:

1. Step in.
2. Throw a jab.
3. Step out.
4. Repeat.

You can go in and throw haymakers and uppercuts if you want, weaving around your opponent's punches, but why bother? You're just going to tire yourself out, leaving yourself defenseless. Walk in, punch, walk away - as long as you don't get caught up in an actual fight, it's the surest path to victory.

Now, tell me this: What does it say about Smash Boxing if you can throw any and all challenge out the window within a few seconds? I'm not one of the OCD gamers who absolutely must win at any and all difficulties, so I'm not about to go back and try to beat the game with a weaker character. Besides, most of the characters have very similar stats, and none of them possess unique moves or qualities that might differentiate them and maybe allow an added layer of fun. No, Smash Boxing walks proudly down the middle of the road - not awful enough to raise your ire, but certainly not good enough to warrant repeat plays.

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