Boxing, at least in America, has become the Great Big Sport That Was. Once upon a time, fights like Ali-Frazier, Leonard-Duran, Tyson-Whatever Unfortunate Bastard They Put In Front of Him used to be appointment viewing. Now, you pay 60 bucks for the chance to watch Floyd Mayweather beat someone in a 12-round decision, or you hit the lottery and Juan Manuel Marquez puts his fist through Manny Pacquiao’s face. Compounding the problem of boring, turgid fights is a corrupt system of promotion, questionable judging, and the ever-looming possibility that you might very well watch someone actually get killed on live television. However, the beauty of sports video games is that we get what we want out of a sport, in this case, the chance to punch another man in the face repeatedly, without the sad realities that plague the real-life spectacle. So today, we delve into an overlooked title from the days before we realized boxing was beginning to suck and mixed martial arts was poking the corpse with a stick: Boxing Legends of the Ring for Super Nintendo.
Legends features eight of the greatest boxers in middleweight history, an odd choice at first, given that most games and movies tend to focus on the heavyweights, but the roster is actually quite solid: Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran, Rocky Graziano, Jake LaMotta (of Raging Bull fame), Thomas Hearns, both Sugar Rays (Robinson and Leonard) and James Toney. Yes, THAT James Toney. Believe it or not, there was a point where he weighed less than 160 pounds and didn’t get choked out by Randy Couture. You can use the legends in exhibition mode or “Battle of the Legends”, an 8-man tournament.
However, the big draw of the game is Career Mode, where you create a boxer and try to climb the rankings. If you finish Career Mode, you receive a password so you can take your created fighter into the Battle of the Legends tourney. Now, you can create yourself, you can make a fighter you felt was left out, or you can do what I did and create Scott Tenorman in the hopes he’ll one day be able to get his revenge on Cartman. It’s up to you.
Alas, the create-a-fighter mode isn’t exactly deep: you’ll pick a boxing background that decides your starting attributes (and get some more points to upgrade them), you’ll choose how strong you want your individual punches to be, and you’ll pick one of three super punches you can deploy with Select. The problem is, you can’t really change your appearance…your fighter will have the same facial features no matter what, so if you choose to make a black guy, he’s basically going to look like Rocky Graziano in blackface.
Anywho, once you make your fighter, you have a preliminary fight against a fictional tomato can named Kinikini. After laying out Kinikini, you get a couple more attribute points and start fighting actual legends. Your ratings will be below those of your opponents, drastically at first, but they won’t exactly be the smartest opponents, either, so it balances out. As you continue to improve your stats, the difficulty ratchets up, until you’re basically on completely even footing. Along the way, you’ll end up fighting everyone twice, once to climb the rankings and a “grudge match” after the next fight. A little cheap, perhaps, but it does help stretch it out a bit.
Play control is pretty intuitive here. Y controls your left hand, A controls your right, and holding a button on the D-pad changes throwing hooks, uppercuts, and body shots. The shoulder buttons clinch, which can buy you a few precious seconds if you’re getting beaten down and need to rest up or kill clock to get to the end of the round. Select throws your super punch, which is unblockable, but can be stopped with a well-timed counter punch or dodged. You start a fight with one super punch, but knocking your opponent down gives you another, as does starting a new round until you reach the maximum of three. Also, unlike many other boxing games, you have a meter represented by a glove that turns black as you continue to throw punches. Throw too many , and you’ll tire yourself out and won’t be able to attack until the meter goes back down. It’s annoying, at times, but it does discourage button-mashing.
In fact, the only real problem I have with the gameplay is that increasing difficulty levels don’t necessarily make your opponents better…basically, the CPU fighters tend to attack with predetermined combos instead of looking for real openings and counterattacking. As the difficulty goes up, the combos become more elaborate and get used more often, but they don’t actually change during the fight. If you can memorize these combos, you can basically romp and stomp your way through the game without much trouble.
Presentation here is solid. An over-the-shoulder view is used during the fight, and you see the fighters from the waist up on a simple 2D plane, but they’re large and rather well-rendered. By default, your fighter is on the near side of the perspective, but you also have the option of selecting the far side or having the perspective switch between rounds (which is probably the most fair for 2-player mode, as the near fighter can obscure the far one at times). Damage is visualized through portraits at the top of the screen, which range from “I’m alright” to “Holy shit, we need to get you to the hospital, it looks like you’ve been attacked by a swarm of hornets“. There’s a less-well rendered referee, who shows up before the fight, to count knockdowns, or to break up clinches. It’s a small detail, but it helps. Also, the Las Vegas Hilton and HBO logos give Legends an extra bit of big-fight atmosphere that wasn’t seen elsewhere at the time.
Music here is also extremely well done, especially the intro music, which builds up to an almost gladiatorial chorus while introducing the available fighters. The crowd will also voice its opinion as well, popping huge for a knockdown and booing and yelling “Come on!” during clinches.
I doubt most of our readers happened upon this game, which is rather a shame, because it’s really quite well made. I dare say for a 2D boxer, it holds up pretty well even today; even with rather simplistic graphics and play control, you can still get emotionally invested in a tough fight as you swap punches with the computer. It may not be Fight Night, but the developers really tried to make a serious boxing game with a big-fight feel, and there’s something to be said for how well they did.
Intuitive controls, really sharp presentation, a much better boxing sim than anything else on Super Nintendo.
The roster, while solid, is still kinda small. All that’s needed to win consistently is the ability to memorize combos.