Being like Mike in Fight Night Round 4

I’m always going to remember the mid-to-late ’80s. It was a simple time for me, and a lot of people my age (I’m 30). School was easier, life issues were easier … and if you wanted to know who the best person was at almost anything, there’s a chance his first name was Mike, and there was a chance he had an unearthly talent.

You had young Michael Jordan building his mythos through the air. You also had the other MJ, dubbed the “King of Pop” and always a moonwalk away from another chart-dominating piece of work.

Then, there’s this guy:

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I can’t remember anyone who seized my attention more when I was younger than Iron Mike Tyson. Jordan soared, Jackson dazzled, but there was something about Tyson’s contained feral energy that captivated me and millions of other people. As a gamer, the only real taste we had was in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, and he was a boss battle.

All this sentiment is why Fight Night Round 4 was especially important for me. I had a thought in my head that maybe I didn’t need to invest myself into it as much, since my fighting jones would be sated with UFC: Undisputed. I was kidding myself: UFC’s a fine game, but I don’t remember watching those dudes when I was 10. I remembered Tyson, and I wanted to see if EA was watching the same guy.

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The thing that captivated me about watching young Tyson fight wasn’t just his power, but how he applied it. He threw clusters of combinations. He attacked the body, sometimes slamming a right hook into his opponent’s ribs to set up an uppercut from hell that came right up the middle. He could do damage and end the fight from practically any body angle he was throwing from, and he was an excellent defensive fighter (EA apparently thought so as well, as Tyson’s defensive ratings are pretty solid across the board). This was, of course, before prison, quotes about eating children, the face tattoo and The Hangover.

With that in mind, I took Tyson into battle, but not against Ali. I figured everyone would do that. I decided to go toe-to-toe with the pre-grill, less-happy incarnation of George Foreman, a guy with hands so heavy that some people feared for Muhammad Ali’s life before the Rumble in the Jungle. In terms of power, Foreman was a bonecrushing juggernaut, a fearsome precursor to Tyson. Also, I figured a power-on-power matchup would make for a simpler fight and give me time to get familiar with the punch controls.

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The fighter entrances provided a nice bit of visual flair, with Tyson coming out with his trademark death stare, black shorts and black shoes with no socks, and Foreman coming out in a classic red robe and some funk-sounding track that seemed a good matched for his era. The fighter models themselves have a vibrant, larger-than-life look. I’m tempted to say cartoonish, but then I think of Facebreaker, and that’s not going to work.

Now, to the fighting. Anyone who simply thinks they’ll walk in and start knocking people out just by throwing a lot of punches will get crushed. Parents, if you have a kid that dreams of simply rolling over anyone he sees, beware — there’s a chance they will simply want it to be returned because they stink at it, wondering why people on Xbox Live or even the computer actually hit back. That’s because the game takes into account things like stamina, which ties into punching power, so you can’t throw haymakers for the whole fight. Then there’s head movement and defense, where making your opponent miss or blocking his punches can open up prime chances to counterattack. Many times — especially with a short, stocky fighter like Tyson — it was the best way to generate offense.

That leads me to think about how the game handled styles. If you know boxing and how some of these fighters plied their trade, it feels like the game rewards you for that knowledge. If you use Lennox Lewis, you jab to set up his big right hand over a usually smaller opponent. Ali worked people over with surgical precision, using his jab as the weapon of choice before unleashing anything else to finish off a beaten-down and frustrated enemy.

One of Tyson’s old nicknames was “Kid Dynamite,” and it suited him — the closer you got to him, the greater chance there was of something exploding in your face. So, I attempted to use Tyson’s head movement and defense to work my way past Foreman’s slow, death-dealing hammers to cut loose with a combination inside. This was in the second round, by the way, as I used the opening round to see what would happen if I brazenly tried to throw nothing but bombs at the future fat-burning grill salesman. It was a foolish experiment, as I was dazed within a minute. The game gives a lot of respect to punching power, so you can either work your way to a KO or, in the case of power punchers, get a guy on the ground by catching him at the right time.

I played the previous Fight Night, so the learning curve for the retooled punching system wasn’t that steep. The right analog stick controls what kind of punch you throw, be they jabs, hooks, straight rights and lefts, or uppercuts. Combinations seem to flow a little better here as well, as I was able to use Mike to rip off some nasty hook-and-uppercut twosomes on Big George. However, I thought the punches sometimes came a little too slowly, not quite matching the blazing speed I had gotten used to seeing from him in the past. I can understand the other heavyweights seeming a little slow, but Tyson and even Ali had faster hands than the ones they show here. I got this feeling even in the lower and faster classes, using Manny Pacquiao against Miguel Cotto as test subjects. Perhaps it’s the way I’m fighting, but I saw a couple moments where both fighters seemed a little lethargic.

As for Tyson vs. Foreman, I managed to seal the deal in the fifth with a left hook after dazing big George with right uppercut, a punch that commentator Teddy Atlas said “comes from Brooklyn.” I enjoy the occasionally repetitive commentary, mostly because I get to hear Atlas pontificate about a host of past and present fighters, even taking into account how they would fare strategically in each matchup. Good stuff.

Overall, I was happy with my maiden voyage into Fight Night Round 4 with a mythic figure from my childhood. Young Tyson’s hands could have been a little faster, but there were times where I actually was reminded of the menacing, unbeatable force that millions watched purely to fight more than a decade ago. I’m a long way from making my style impetuous or my defense impregnable, but I’m enjoying the work so far. I’ll have a review for the paper as soon as I can.

Until then, I leave you with this. Enjoy.