Matching greats from different eras has long been one of the biggest fantasies of boxing fans. They still argue about how Joe Louis would have stacked up against modern competition and whether or not Mike Tyson, in his prime, could have gone toe-to-toe with that guy who "floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee." And now some of these questions can be answered, at least theoretically, courtesy of Title Bout Championship Boxing. This text-based sports management simulation from boxing experts Jim and Tom Trunzo and Out of the Park Developments is an ode to the sweet science, and it's one of the most intricate and accurate sims of the sport ever released.
Essentially, Title Bout is centered around asking, "What if?" Gameplay modes see you setting up single bouts, fight cards, single- or double-elimination tournaments that feature as many as 16 boxers, and lengthy bout schedules. There are no career or role-playing options as seen in most sports management sims, although you can input your name, and you can track wagering on bouts. This can make fight cards a little more interesting, because you begin with a mere $10,000 stake and dreams of Jimmy the Greek grandeur. However, there are no in-game incentives to earning cash at the betting table.
Instead, your incentive for playing is provided by an incredibly comprehensive boxing encyclopedia. You choose opponents from a list that encompasses a century of boxing history and includes nearly 3,700 fighters. All eras and all weight classes are represented (and there are even some top women, like Laila Ali and Christy Martin), so you can stage bouts pitting today's stars against the greats of yesteryear. Anyone who's anyone is in the game, including all-time legends like Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Jake LaMotta, in addition to contemporary fighters like Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, and Roy Jones Jr. You can also throw fighters into the ring at different stages of their careers, from beginning to postprime. So if you've ever wondered how a young Cassius Clay would have fared against the older and wiser Muhammad Ali, this is your chance to find out.
Each boxer is rated in more than 30 categories (all of which can be edited) that run the gamut from hitting power and chin versus knockdown to killer instinct and conditioning. Training before fights can enhance categories like power, hand speed, and tactical skills. The game even tracks the percentage of punch types thrown, letting you know if your guy favors jabs, hooks, crosses, uppercuts, or combinations. These stats make a huge difference during bouts. Get in tough with Rocky Marciano or Roberto Duran and their high killer instinct ratings might kick in. You need to cover up quickly or risk hitting the canvas in short order. Take a postprime Mike Tyson into the late rounds and you've got a good chance of putting him down because of his low endurance score. All in all, fighters perform just like you expect them to.
And Title Bout doesn't stop at just the combatants. It also includes 94 cornermen, 298 judges, 78 referees, and 13 announcers that are all drawn from boxing's past and present. Want top trainer Lou Duva and legendary cutman Johnny Tocco in your corner? Up for the controversial calls of referee Luis Guzman? Interested in having Michael Buffer call the action? You can have it all here. Each is rated according to real-life performance as well, which means that Duva is one of the best motivators in the business, while Guzman tends to be very strict and will seemingly stop a fight as soon as someone gets cut. Judges even have adjustable bias settings that determine if they favor the higher-rated fighter, the hometown favorite, the champion, or a particular style of boxing.
Bouts themselves show that the developers at Comp-U-Sports and Out of the Park Developments really understand the complexity of boxing. Take over a corner during a fight and you get to run the trainer and the cutman between rounds. Each has 60 seconds of time to allocate to reducing swelling, fixing cuts, imparting strategy, and giving pep talks. Your fighter's condition is illustrated via a graphic of his face that illuminates trouble areas. Whenever a cut opens up or the area around an eye begins to swell, the graphic changes. Bars indicate how bad the swelling is around each eye, and additional sections detail other information, such as fatigue, whether the fighter is still carrying his hands high, and nose and lip conditions.
There usually isn't much to do during rounds--you can't shout instructions into the ring or throw in the towel--but occasionally something will happen that calls for direct action. If your man gets into trouble after a knockdown, for instance, a window might pop up asking if you want him to cover up to try to weather the storm. Varied, textual play-by-play keeps you informed about when your input is required, although at times the commentator is a little scattered. What you read isn't always reflected in points or on scorecards, so you can think you're winning a fight when you're actually falling behind instead.
Decisions made between rounds, however, are crucial. If cuts or swelling are getting bad, you have to devote a lot of your trainer and cutman's time to patching up these trouble spots. If your fighter seems to be dragging, additional motivation may be necessary. And choosing the right strategy is vital, too. Have a tough round and you may need to send your fighter out covering up or fighting outside defensively. Have a good round and you might want to send him out by having him go for it all in hopes of delivering a knockout with an opening flurry of punches.
All in all, this feels like boxing. Staying on top of the action in the ring, managing tricky cuts above the eyes, and keeping an eye on the points awarded and the scorecards all combine to form a deeply satisfying re-creation of the real sport. The depth presented by this strategic system is tremendous, allowing you to get right in to the corner for every bout. About the only complaint about the game is its absence of career-based modes of play. This makes Title Bout seem somewhat restricted. Staging fantastic bouts, enjoying incredible cards that feature a dozen or more legends, and participating in tournaments that will allow you to see who really is the greatest is fascinating, but it's not as fascinating as it would be to slip on the gloves of a young boxer to try to carve out a niche for yourself in boxing's pantheon of greats. It's hard to guide Joe Louis through a bout--no matter how impressively realized--without thinking about how much more amazing it would be to take over the entire career of "The Brown Bomber."
Visuals are also lacking. The game is plain in appearance, with unadorned names and numbers turning most screens into vaguely confusing jumbles. At least the interface, as a whole, is easy to navigate. Boxer information screens do feature pictures, but a single picture of an out-of-focus pugilist is used to represent everybody. This design philosophy works better when simming bouts, because the blurry graphics present the illusion of motion when the boxers are fighting in the ring, and the overall effect is something akin to a moving LeRoy Neiman painting.
Sound is a fair bit better than the average sports management sim. Crowd noise livens up every fight, and the audience even reacts to what's taking place in the ring with cheers and boos. Expect to hear it when you tell your fighter to both stick to defense and clinch whenever possible. The slap of glove against flesh is also convincingly brought to life, as is the referee's count whenever a fighter is knocked down. Furthermore, the announcer's call when the decision is read after the bout is also realistically handled.
Overall, Title Bout Championship Boxing is an admirable, intricate simulation that you could call lovingly crafted...if the sport in question wasn't all about punching people in the face. Anyone who appreciates boxing will be enthralled by the pure way that it re-creates ring life, and those who don't know Jersey Joe Walcott from Joe Frazier may gain a greater appreciation for what takes place inside the squared circle.