ABC’s Wide World of Sports Boxing – PC Review

And Round One
begins…. Black
Adder comes out
confidently and meets
Bruiser Bilotta at ring center.
Adder fires a crisp left
jab which scores. Adder
fires another jab, and a
third, all scoring effectively.
Bilotta ducks inside a
fourth jab only to be met
by a straight right. Sensing that Adder is already
on his game, Bruiser fires his own jab,
but Adder comes downstairs with a punishing
right cross to the body. Bilotta winces
from the blow and Adder has found the weakness
he was looking for. Blow after blow
rains into the mid-section of Bilotta and
down he goes. The referee counts to five and
Bruiser rises defiantly, but it seems only a
matter of time. Again, Adder starts off with shots to the head and
then pulverizes the body, looking for weakness. Down goes Bilotta
a second time. There’s the five count, but again he rises. This
time, however, there is no escape. Black Adder rushes in, eschewing
defense, as he looks to finish off his man. Punch after punch,
pounding with the incessant meter of Bilotta’s own pulse, comes
in. Adder meticulously searches for the finishing blow. Finally, a
solid right cross does the trick and Bilotta goes down for the
final time. Adder wins on a TKO due to the three-knockdown rule.
Feel-Out Round (Introductory Matters)
ABC’s Wide World of Sports Boxing is a hybrid action/strategy/
role-playing game that allows players to create a customized boxer
from scratch and direct his entire boxing career — both in and out of
the ring. Not only does the game rely on performance in the ring,
but upon money and personnel management. ABC’s Wide World of
Sports Boxing offers a unique perspective in taking the boxer from
the “Who is Joe Balogna?” stage through the “Who can beat Joe
Balogna?” stage.
During the boxing action itself, the fighters are viewed from a sideon
perspective. Ring movement is simulated by a dynamic background
and it is easy, for example, for fighters to find themselves on
the ropes. So, even though a full view of the ring is not available, the
tactics which make use of the full ring are accessible. The selection
of punches is limited to a modest assortment: jab, cross, hook and
uppercut. As for the on-screen figures, note that both of the fighters,
as well as the referee, are modelled off the same actor. Various hair,
and skin tone styles have been rendered onto this digitized base.
This game might well be entitled “Cutter’s Revenge!” A couple of
years ago, the present writer spoke to John Cutter at Cinemaware
concerning their TV Sports: Football product. While John may not
remember the call, it appears that this reviewer may have made a
tactical error in describing the original version of TV Sports: Football
as “easy.” During the interview, upcoming plans for TV Sports
Boxing were discussed. The latter, alas, never appeared, but ABC’s
Wide World of Sports Boxing is a soulmate to that design, and it is
intriguing to see the number of Cinemaware alumni (like Cutter and
Jerry Albright) who were involved with the design. Maybe John did
remember that “ancient” conversation since, under no circumstances,
could this game be called “easy.”
Caught on the Ropes
In fact, it is flat-out challenging. The joystick controls do not feel intuitive
and it takes five or six games to master an accurate jab.
Hence, setting up styles and combinations that work will take a number
of fights to perfect. Nevertheless, the wait is worth it and the
game functions become instinctive.
More important is the way boxing as a whole is portrayed in the
game. In the ’50s, boxing was a major sport, with the world champions
known to most sports fans. Today, boxing receives coverage
somewhat behind midget lawn bowling and full-contact croquet. The
multiple sanctioning bodies and expanding divisions have a lot to do
with that but, more important may be the overall sleaze factor associated
with the movers and shakers of the sport. Individuals such as convicted felon Don King control the major fighters and the outside
actions of Tyson and others have left a bad taste in the mouths
of many.
ABC’s Wide World of Sports Boxing embraces this sleaze. The
fight managers are characters like Don McQueen, “Very flamboyant
and powerful. He is untrustworthy and will do anything for a buck,”
and Fifi Lamore, who refers to her fighter as a “big stud.” On a personal
level, this critic finds that these characters detract from the
overall product. However, they do not detract from the game play.
Middle Rounds: Picking Up the Pace
The game offers enough options when creating a fighter that it is
possible to create widely different fighters in skill and style. Each
fighter has a base of points allocated for such attributes as Power,
Defense, Stamina, Cuts, Chin, etc. Experimenting with these settings
shows one of the strengths of the product. Every type of fighter from
a stick and move dancer to the slowest slugger can be created.
One note of strategy — for all their differences, Muhammad Ali and
Mike Tyson have/had one thing in common: incredible hand speed.
Unless one is a superb counter-puncher, the setting up of an accurate
jab is vital to the success of any fighter. Hand Speed and
Reach are important.
Counterpunches Score
There are a number of small problems in the program. For example,
during a fight, a fighter will be cut on the right side of the
face. Nevertheless, when the decision is announced, the cuts are likely
to be shown on the left. Further, a fighter can receive a rank of
65,526, obviously somewhat lower than one would expect even the
amalgam of fast proliferating sanctioning bodies today could
manage to create. Of course, with the confusion in boxing today,
that might entitle the fighter to a title shot!
Piling Up the Points
Practice, practice, practice. It is the only way to get any experience.
Use the exhibition option to learn the ropes. Use the jab to set up
combinations. Learn how to exploit a weakness and, most importantly,
learn defense. It is impossible to load up on every attribute and
the computer-controlled player will search (but not cheat) for the
weakness.
Going for the Knockout
The “Wide World of Boxing” magazine (documentation) provides a
number of features including rankings, schedule, results and classifieds.
These are, of course, provided to give the career option more
definition and substance. In this they succeed. Fighters move up and
down the rankings constantly. Smart players will keep notes of how
to beat a fighter, such as the body attack against Bruiser Bilotta, so
that as one’s opponents move up in the rankings, it will occasionally
be possible to fight a rematch to improve one’s own position.
A Strong Final Round
Data East must feel somewhat like Carl Lewis at the World Track
and Field Championships in Tokyo. Lewis broke the world record in
the long jump, but still finished a very close second. If this product
had been released a week earlier it would have been the champion
boxing game on the market with no close contenders. Now, one
would be remiss in ignoring the fact that the boxer’s movements are
inferior to the action in 4D Boxing (reviewed elsewhere in this issue),
but the career options and resulting emotional involvement in the
boxers created for ABC’s Wide World of Sports Boxing make the
latter somewhat superior. Regardless, boxing aficionados may spend
as much time arguing about which computer game is best as they
do about who will win the next heavyweight championship.

Virgin’s Vengeance of Excalibur – PC Review

Many have tackled the tales of Arthur and his knights, with
varying degrees of success. Rather than tread such wellworn
ground, Virgin Games took a unique tack with
Spirit of Excalibur by setting it in the period following Arthur’s
death, during the reign of his little-known heir, Constantine. Now,
the saga continues.
Though he took great pains to prove himself in Spirit, Vengeance
leaves the new king out of the running. In fact, the opening
sequence places Constantine in a magical stupor, while the Arthurian
relics (Excalibur among them) are whisked off into the
night by a Demon Lord. The wicked, though perhaps capricious,
deed sends the noble roundtablers scurrying across
Europe to locate the treasures. The player, after selecting four
worthy knights (some of whom may be chosen from Spirit)
shortly docks in Iberia (the Spanish Peninsula for post-industrial
types) where, amidst warring armies, agitated Moors
and masochistic monks, the desperate search begins.
It is not an open-ended search, however. Vengeance, like its
predecessor, is structured as a series of “episodes,” each of
which must be completed in order. As a result, there aren’t a
lot of surprises. One has only to read the TV Guide-style
episode summaries in the rule book to know where the story
is headed.

The advantages to such a system are more subtle. In a standard
open-ended setup, plot progression is tied to geography
(i.e., one must complete Castle A to get Key B to open Castle
B, etc.). Episodes bear a closer resemblance to story chapters.
They also permit the entire game world to change from
episode to episode. Hence, different “chapters” can have different
subplots, characters, and, potentially, stronger plot
progressions.

Sadly, on this level, Vengeance does not compare well with
its predecessor. In Spirit, Constantine’s efforts to prove himself
in the shadow of Arthur had a dramatic “oomph” and the
episodes involved a refreshing variety of mini-plots that gave
the game something of the feel of the original Grail stories.
Here, however, the episodes aren’t very interesting at all and
the overall plot is a “Foozle hunt” for the stolen relics, leaving
the story, in many ways, in the shadow of the shadow of Arthur.
There is also a rather ambiguous morality to the proceed ings. After reading a somber description of the “Roles of Faith
and Nobility” in the rules, this reviewer was surprised to find his
Faithful, noble knights merrily slaughtering innocent dwarves in
order to obtain their treasure. Lancelot also had no qualms about
rifling dead bodies to search for extra gold. One might presume
his affair with Guinevere loosened his integrity.
Like the game, the manual has a nice historical feel, but lacks
certain details. The background info is nice, but more on the individual
knights, the relics and the mythos, would have been appreciated. In addition, while some players may enjoy discovering
what spells do, this reviewer prefers having basic playing info
“spelled” out.

The game engine in Vengeance is identical to Spirit’s. Play is
controlled through a set of on-screen icons. This interface is so
extremely well-designed that the highest compliment it can be
given is that it doesn’t get in the way of game play at all.
As for the graphics — in EGA, they look, well… red. In VGA
they look red, too, but it is a prettier red and there are a lot
more shades of it. The EGA text boxes have an ornate typeface
that is difficult to read until one gets used to it. The soundtrack,
on the other hand, is a pure delight. Many of the themes work
well with desperate key clicking and this reviewer often found
himself pressing the joystick button right in tune.
Action takes place on three levels: the map, for moving from
town to town; the scene, where individual encounters take place
and army combat, for the obvious.
At the scene level, knights appear on the left side of a local
background. Occasionally, one knight will get crowded half off
the left border, creating an amusing “cropped” family portrait
feel. There’s an appropriately “flat” look to these graphics, giving
them a subtle resemblance to the tapestries and woodcuts of the
period. NPCs, friend or foe, appear screen right. If friend, the
NPC will repeat his little animation sequence while talking in text
boxes. This reviewer was particularly amused by several monks
who periodically beat themselves in the face with wooden boards.
If a foe, the figures automatically meet center screen for unavoidable individual combat. Though the manual claims there is
some strategy involved, this reviewer could not find it. The player
can control the lead knight’s sword strokes (two types of attack,
swipe and jab), but a rapid, random succession of button presses
seemed the most effective. Although various commands can be
issued to different characters, including the use of spells and objects,
combat was often over before any such commands could
be issued. (Game hint: Brandeleis, while he has a lot of cash, is
a lousy fighter with a low sense of self-preservation. Keep him in
the back.)
The scene level also provides an occasional “maze” to wander
through, represented by a series of backgrounds with varying
exits and entrances.
The map level, as one might guess, provides a map of the immediate
area. It is here, in this elegant overview, that Vengeance
achieves its greatest success. While the player moves about, all
across Iberia, armies and NPCs also move about, independently
warring, conquering and killing. This is a world constantly in motion,
a situation continually degenerating. The player’s attempts
to avoid stronger forces, reach certain locations before certain
NPCs do, and complete specific tasks in time, provides a sense
of immediate, impending doom which, alone, makes the game
worth playing. The ease of failure in such instances requires
saving early and saving often.
When armies collide, an army combat screen is provided. The
player has a few options for his forces, but superior forces beat
inferior forces, often with or without player participation. Vengeance,
it seems, only creates the illusion of combat strategy.
There is, however, strategy on other levels. As in life, it’s crucial
who one picks to be his friends (or in this case, who one pays to
be his mercenaries).
In the end, the final battle is disappointing. Once the appropriate
objects have been obtained, the main villain goes down
like a house of cards, while the closing sequence is an uneventful
series of text screens and still pictures that rattle off how nice
it is to save the world.

So, it is a mixed bag, but even where it fails, Vengeance of Excalibur
does so in intriguing ways. If you are looking for some
tense real-time running about, with a potentially interesting
gaming structure, give Vengeance of Excalibur a shot. If plot,
character development or combat strategy are your pleasure, a
heartier mead might be provided elsewhere.

World Circuit Series Synopsis

Race behind the wheel of a Formula 3, F-3000, or Formula 1 in World Circuit Series for the Nintendo Game Boy. You can compete in a single race or join in the circuit, which is a championship series of races. The number of races depends on which type of car you drive: Formula 3 (five races); F-3000 (eight races); and F-1 (16 races.) You can choose one of the prebuilt race cars, or you can customize your own.

From time to time, you must exit the track and enter a pit stop. Here you can get repairs to your engine, tires, wing, and transmission. To help you prepare for upcoming turns, the entire track is pictured in a little box near the top right side of the screen. You can play World Circuit Series by yourself, or you can compete against up to three friends.