We didn't know who Don King was before we played this game. We know, we're just dumb that way. After playing it, we're still not entirely sure. The way the game portrays him, he seems to be some sort of patron boxing god, overlooking the fates of these duelling combatants and offering encouraging praise to up-and-coming young stars. A quick Wikipedia search reveals the truth, that he's a boxing promoter, responsible for promoting such legends as Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson, so we were close. Don King Boxing (also somewhat confusingly known as Don King Presents: Prizefighter) sets out to turn you into the big man's next rising star, and on the go to boot with this portable iteration on Nintendo DS. Does it deliver a knockout punch, or just end up biting your ear off?
The first thing that hits you as you start up Don King Boxing is the ultimate pump-up song, 'Eye of the Tiger', albeit a little compressed. There is a decent selection of music in the game, most likely from its big-brother console counterparts. There is also a reasonable amount of voice work in the game, although as far as we could tell nothing from Don King, and the announcers can get a little repetitive after about the mid-way point of the career mode. The game's graphics are also decent, but nothing special. Character models are bland, and in the first-person perspective from which the game is played, your arms appear to be hovering and disembodied, which is a little scary. For some reason, there is also occasional slowdown, especially in the replays which occur after you have knocked your opponent out. This is probably because the game utilises a full 3D environment, with no 2D stand-ins or trade-offs that you might usually see in a DS game. While it's impressive that they've got it up and running on the DS, the slowdown doesn't do the game any favours.
The main mode in which you'll be spending your time is of course the career mode, which allows you to create your own boxer, although from very limited customisation options. There are only three different body types, and you can only customise the colour of your shorts, gloves and shoes, not their types. Your boxer can be outfitted with pre-made tattoos, but they're quite small and hard to see. Career mode progression sees you select a venue, then a rival boxer to fight. For every fight you win, you unlock another venue, although you can go back and fight all the boxers in a past venue for completion's sake. Occasionally Don King pops up and tells you that you're doing great, although we suspect this is the same talk he fed Mike Tyson right up to the ear incident. All up, it lasts about six hours.
As mentioned, Don King Boxing is a first-person boxing game, and primarily utilises the touchscreen for all your punching antics. The D-Pad controls your movement, holding L allows you to block and dodge, and various swipes and presses on the touchscreen allow you to pull off different jabs, straights and uppercuts. The game divides the touchscreen into four quadrants, allowing you to aim your attacks at your opponent quite effectively. It's a little overwhelming when you first start off, but once you realise that the secret to successful combos is in the rhythm of your punches, you'll find it easy to cut a swathe through the roster of boxers that are thrown at you. There's only a basic array of moves for you to pull off, but it's still quite an enjoyable system.
You'll also build up an adrenaline bar as you fight better, which allows you to pull off 'power combos' - prompted quicktime events which see you touching arrows and closing circles in a minigame similar to Elite Beat Agents. Following these directions successfully will land a powerful combo, and will also leave your opponent dazed for a little longer so you can punch away some more. Conversely, when you're knocked out, the screen fills with blood, and you have to wipe away the blood with your stylus before you're counted out. It's an inventive mechanic, although it is quite easy to complete in the time limit. The only kink we didn't like in the fighting system was the fact that it can be a little difficult to build up a sense of fluidity. It's perhaps the inherent evil in trading in dual analogue control for the touchscreen, but you'll often find that your flurries of punches are rather stop-start than a smooth flow of moving like a butterfly and stinging like a bee.
Within career mode you'll also find a 'Classic Fight' mode, that lets you compete with some of the legends of boxing. Beating them results in unlocking that fighter for exhibition matches, as well as the venue you fought in. Since you can't customise your boxer's style, you can level up his stats, which include stamina, dexterity, agility and strength. You do this through four minigames in a training mode, which feature Jump Rope, Heavy Bag, Focus Mitts and Speed Bag. They're all fun if you're looking for a rest from the endless matches. Multi-card multiplayer is also offered, but unfortunately no single-card or online play is on the table. The multiplayer works well, although the way power combos are handled is a little unfair, as you're just provided with a 'warning' screen moments before you're dazed and pummelled by your opponent.
Don King Boxing offers a solid boxing experience on the DS. For the first title in a new franchise, it does a lot of things right, namely the actual gameplay and career mode. There's a noticeable lack of customisation options, not a huge deal of depth to your fighter's style, the presentation isn't all there, and the slowdown does hurt the game in the end. But if you've been hunting for a portable boxing game that offers great first-person controls and a decent career to work through, Don King Boxing has got the right amount of spirit, and the right amount of guts.