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Back in the good old days of the Commodore 64, it seemed we were forever being "treated" to what were (generously) called "clones" - unofficial versions of well-known games designed to make money on the back of another game's success. With a few notable exceptions, most were woefully inept, blatant cash-ins.
Wind the clock forward 25 years and nothing has changed, as demonstrated by Super Knockout Boxing 2 (SKOB2 from now on) for the iPhone. It's little more than Nintendo's popular Punchout!! game given a fresh lick of paint.
The challenge is to take on a series of boxers to compete for the world title. It's not a traditional boxing simulation, however, because the only moves available to you are punch and dodge. As in Punchout!! the action is viewed from behind your boxer and, also as in Punchout!!, each of your opponents has a set pattern of moves. The secret to beating them is to work out this pattern and how to counter it, hitting them with a combination of punches when they are at their most vulnerable. Each fighter also has a sneaky special move and you need to spot when they are winding up to use this - getting caught will see a massive depletion in your energy bar. As such, the game is more about learning and spotting patterns in your opponent's fighting style than it is about real boxing.
SKOB2 certainly looks the part. The graphics are big, brash and bold, cartoon-like and instantly appealing. Your own fighter is a blond, spiky-haired punk (not unlike Little Mac from Punchout!!), whilst the opposition fighters are also nicely rendered, cartoon-like caricatures. Presentation throughout is good, with bright colourful graphics, attractive menu selection screens and some amusing animations and cut-scenes. They do bear more than a passing similarity to the fighters in Punchout!! though and you wonder how on earth the developers have managed to get this published without incurring the wrath of Nintendo's lawyers.
Sound is also good, with a number of reasonable tunes and atmospheric sound effects. The roar of the crowd, the dinging of the bell and the smack of punches landing all help to make this a well presented game that sums up the spirit if not the more technical aspects of boxing.
Thanks to the simple gameplay, controls are well implemented and work well. A couple of buttons on the left control your punches (including body blows or headshots), whilst the controls on the right hand side allow you to dodge and defend. They are incredibly easy to pick up and very responsive. Unlike some iPhone games, there were very few occasions where I found myself howling in frustration because the controls failed to react to my frantic pressing in time.
The real problem is that the game itself is actually rather dull. Even though it shares much of its DNA with Punchout!! it somehow manages to be a far less entertaining game. There is a severe lack of variety to the whole affair and I quickly found myself getting bored. Even though there are plenty of achievements to unlock, several different game modes and lots of fighters to discover, I actually found there was little incentive to keep playing and unlock them all. Essentially, the gameplay boils down to working out set moves and weak spots and then timing your attacks to coincide. Once you have worked this out, it becomes all too easy to beat many of the fighters.
There's also a rather strange learning curve. Early fighters are beaten far too easily, leading to rapid initial progress. Then there is a massive difficulty spike where the fighters suddenly become faster, more aggressive and more ruthless, so that even when you spot their defensive weakness, you need perfect time to be able to exploit it. It was at this point I found myself giving up on SKOB2 because the gameplay just wasn't interesting enough to make me want to keep playing.
SKOB was also one of the first games to really push that aberration of the modern gaming world: the in-app purchase. The game itself is a free download, but due to the sudden difficulty spike, you might find yourself needing some "Roids". This isn't (as it sounds) an unpleasant medical condition, but rather a power-up available to buy at a cost of £1.49p for 3. These can help you get over a tricky opponent, but have their limits. First of all, if the difficult spikes I encountered are anything to go buy, you're likely to need to buy several packs of Roids to get through the game, which will end up being pretty expensive. Secondly Roids only last for 3 games, so if you fail to beat your opponent within that time you need to buy some more. It appears as though the game has been designed to be so touch that progress to later fighters without purchasing Roids is all but impossible. Difficulty level aside, the game also does its best to peddle this insidious in-app purchase at every opportunity. It's one of the main options on the title screen, and every time you finish a fight (whether you win or not), the first option you see is not "Next Fighter" or "Fight Again", but "Buy Roids".
If you have the patience of a particularly tolerant saint it's possible that there is some challenge to be had from SKOB2. There are lots of achievements to acquire and different fighters to encounter. The high unfairly difficulty level, meant that it held little long term appeal for me and unless you're prepared to throw a fair bit of cash at it, it's not worth the effort. It certainly looks and sounds the part, but it lacks the fun of the Super Punchout!! remake on the Wii. It might cost significantly more, but to be honest, I'd recommend going for the official Wii game rather than wasting your time with this disappointing clone.
© Copyright SWSt 2012