Platform: PS Vita
Developer: Vivid Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Real Boxing became an overnight success on iOS and Android. Vivid Games' Unreal-powered punch 'em up was quickly showered in critical praise and user recommendations when it released last year, despite a few bugs, offering an immediately accessible and brutally fun take on boxing with deep character progression. Now, however, Sony has reached out to Vivid in order to get yet another cracking indie game onto the PlayStation Vita.
For starters, an expanded version of the mobile original version is included in its entirety, complete with its simple touchscreen controls, extensive career mode, character customisation, training and online options. Players create an avatar out of a wide selection of cosmetic features (I favour a ridiculous moustache myself) and gradually work their way up the ladder to fame and fortune, learn new skills and improve their avatar over time in a training gym. The Vita hardware allows for a wealth of increased detail and improved fidelity on the graphical side of things, already looking gorgeous on that luscious OLED screen thanks in part to extensive motion capture - a rarity in most handheld games. An entirely new arena, more fighters to battle against, a retooled economy and extra cosmetic features bulk out the content offering.
So far, so good, but Vivid's main focus has been squarely aimed at gameplay. Real Boxing turns into a completely different beast when you switch from the casual touchscreen mode to the brand new Vita controls. At the risk of going a pun too far, it punches up the boxing experience immeasurably, and becomes a totally different game.
Punches are now mapped to the D-Pad and right analogue stick. You'll push up to jab, outwards towards the edge of the handheld to uppercut and downwards to uppercut, controlling each hand independently. Punches can be modified towards the body by holding the left trigger, giving you Getting used to the new setup only took a matter of minutes despite me being a relative novice, due in part to the intuitive placements of hooks and uppercuts, and the overall feeling is that of vastly improved control and more responsive timing.
However, perhaps the most major new addition comes in the form of movement. That's right, instead of being rooted to the spot like an Unreal homage to Punch-Out!, you now have full control over your boxer with the left analogue stick. Darting in and out of engagement range makes matches more tense and realistic, with the ability to duck out if you need to recharge your stamina as your opponent closes in. Though relatively simple, it adds a literal new dimension to the combat.
Counter-attacks have been smartened up considerably. Hitting the right trigger just before an incoming blow slows time to a crawl, allowing you to gracefully dodge the attack before replying with a brutal slow-motion riposte of your own. It's a visceral and empowering mechanic that rewards perfect timing, but after soundly abusing the move, I was worried that it could potentially unbalance the game, leading to players leaning on counters as a crutch. It was difficult not to imagine bouts turning into stand-off warfare with both players waiting for their opponent to make the first move.
Thankfully, Vivid Games are one step ahead. Counter-attacks can themselves be countered... and then countered again so long as you're fast enough and hit the tiny window of opportunity. As such, novice players will likely rely on them to get by, but more experienced boxers will get the drop on them in short order. Bouts between master players will likely be much more focused on clever footwork and blocks, each knowing that their rival can easily turn a reckless counter against them. Stepping away from an incoming punch and moving back into range with a hook of your own will be just as effective.
Put simply, Real Boxing seems to be as engaging as its mobile predecessor, but packs an extra layer of satisfying depth, strategy and tension that makes it feel like an entirely new game. And, crucially, it's bloody good fun. It's easy for fun factor to get lost in features and specifications, but here it's front and centre.
Motion controls have only been implemented in the simplest of ways, with clinches resolved by rotating the Vita to keep an on-screen icon within a green safe area. That's your lot. We like this immensely, especially since the gimmicky rear trackpad has been prudently left well alone.
Instead of assaulting us with frippery, Vivid Games have decided to focus on the console's strengths, including its multiplayer functionality. On top of online multiplayer over the PlayStation Network, the Vita version will also support local Ad-Hoc bouts that only take a minute to set up. Seeing your opponent face to face makes flipping their counter or winning a clinch so much more satisfying. Better yet, you can even share out clothing or cosmetic items via Near. Remember Near? It's great to see a developer actually making use of the criminally under-utilised feature.
Pricing hasn't been finalised yet, but Vivid Games assure me that it will retail at "under £10." We expect it to probably aim for the £7.99 price bracket, though naturally we'll keep you up to date on that score. Pleasingly, there are apparently no plans to include micro-transactions or a premium currency, so that all players can enjoy the same content and earn everything through skilled play. Again, we like this immensely.
Real Boxing may not be the most authentic boxing simulation of all time, but it absolutely doesn't need to be. Deep enough to satisfy, intuitive enough to instantly engage with and good old-fashioned fun, the shinier Vita version may well be the definitive edition of this brutal and content-packed brawler. We'll endeavour to bring you a full review in August.