With Don King's multisyllabic faux-cabulary and towering hairdo, it often seems like he's not a real person. The video game that his name adorns, though, tries very hard to offer a realistic depiction of the sport. There are licensed boxers from both this era and years long past, as well as famous arenas where classic fights were held. The slow-paced, defensive-oriented matches also mirror the real sport, rewarding well-timed blows rather than chaotic punches. However, this realism is marred by a severe lack of impact. Punching someone in the face should fuel the uncouth barbarian buried far below the average person's surface, but in Don King Boxing, it carries no weight. This sanitization makes the matches feel sluggish and bland, and even with a bevy of classic boxers to control, the game gets knocked out in the first round.
The controls in Don King Boxing are entirely motion based, and for the most part, they work well. You can throw three different types of punches--jabs, hooks, and uppercuts--by swinging your arms in the appropriate direction, and the game does a good job of differentiating between your movements. There are times when it will mistake your attempted hook for an uppercut, but it doesn't affect the in-ring action, so it's not much of a detriment. The defensive controls also work admirably. You hold A to put up your gloves, and then tilt the controller to dodge and duck. Timing your feints can be difficult when a heavyweight is bearing down on you, but usually it's only your dull reflexes that will be exposed.
However, even though the controls in Don King Boxing do a fine job of replicating the sport, their success is quickly forgotten because the action lacks intensity. You view matches directly behind your silhouetted boxer, and initially this does a good job of sucking you into the battle. But the advantage of being in the middle of the action quickly dissipates as the harsh reality sets in. You have no depth perception. It's incredibly difficult to know how far away your opponent is, so you'll often swing wildly and miss when he's a hair out of reach or take a shot to the chin when you thought he was too far away to do damage. Because you can't properly judge your distance, the controls are also severely compromised, making it difficult to plan a strategic combo or sway away from a punch.
People who want their legs to be as active as their arms during matches can use the balance board, but it doesn't make the fighting any more impactful. You can stand on the board to sway away from attacks, and though it does respond well to your movement, it's a little too sensitive. You have to hold yourself poised and motionless if you want to stay still; if you accidentally shift your weight at any point, your boxer will mirror your movement, so it actually makes the fighting worse than it normally is. The balance board is also used during the training program, letting you perform an impromptu dance-off with your trainer. It works well enough, but the training routine lacks energy, making it feel flat before the first session has ended.
Like the matches, the training mode controls well but lacks the impact that would make it compelling. You can punch bags and jump rope with ease, but there is a severe feeling of disconnect. The training menu is separate from the story mode, so you can't easily mix in a bit of exercise between matches. With only four different training programs to choose from, the modes quickly get repetitive. Even if you do get sucked into the regimen, the game presents an artificial barrier that prevents you from enjoying it. You are limited to partaking in just one of the minigames per calendar day. Although you can jump into free mode whenever you feel like it, if you want to get credit for your hard work, you have to wait a full 24 hours or artificially move your Wii clock a day forward.
The action may quickly become monotonous, but the story is really well told. Don King and his boxing pals narrate the career of your character, dubbed The Kid, as he rises from ordinary gym rat to world champion. The live-action footage has these boxing fans recounting your career, which adds a bit of personality to the otherwise bland experience. In between their tales of your conquests are teary-eyed memories of real bouts long since past. These forays into the past recount the heartbreak of many classic fights, and in a novel twist, you can go back to relive history or change it. The gameplay doesn't change much in these flashbacks compared to your current brawls other than a black and white filter that makes everything harder to see, but it is an interesting diversion from the predictable quest to become champion.
With a bunch of real fighters and motion controls that accurately replicate real-life boxing, it seems as though Don King Boxing would be a smashing success. But the action is just too dull. The punches lack any impact, making it seem like you're punching through a cloud instead of an angry man's face, and the close-up view makes it difficult to judge the distance to your opponent. Even the addition of the balance board can't make the fights engaging, because it's just too sensitive to be a worthwhile alternative to the standard control scheme. If Don King Boxing had the energy of its outrageous spokesman, it could have been a contender, but in its sluggish current form, it's just another glass-jawed bum.