Sorrent, not typically noted for its attempts at lightheartedness, has taken a stab at topical humor with its new boxing title, Bush vs. Kerry Boxing. This pugilistic contest of presidential proportions borrows the vast majority of its gameplay mechanics from Sorrent's existing boxing title, Fox Sports Boxing--but Bush vs. Kerry Boxing is more than just a refurbished version of its cousin, thanks to its irreverent visual details and novel usage of online score-tallying.
Many pundits have been calling the 2004 Presidential election one of the most important in recent history, and Bush vs. Kerry Boxing wants to insure that you don't have to leave the results to chance. You can don the gloves of Republican incumbent George W. Bush or his Democratic challenger John F. Kerry, step into the ring, and fight your way up the ranks of famous politicians--all the way to the final confrontation on November 10. If you're playing as Bush in campaign mode, you'll have to tussle with a number of Democratic luminaries on the way to Kerry, including Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Al Gore, and John Edwards; Kerry must contend with an equal number of Republicans, such as George Bush Sr., John Ashcroft, Don Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney. Alternately, you can choose to skip the preliminaries and go straight to the main event.
In either case, Bush vs. Kerry Boxing utilizes essentially the same first-person boxing gameplay as Fox Sports Boxing. Your ring view is filled by your opponent, who dances from side to side, shifting his defenses and throwing salvos of punches in your direction. You basically have to use the entire handset to bob, weave, and mobilize your dizzying array of counterattacks, which include droll techniques like the vast right-wing uppercut as well as high and low jabs, uppercuts, crosses, and flurries. Both fighters have a stamina meter, which decreases incrementally as they throw punches or take blows. Run out of stamina, and it's canvas-kissing time, unless you jam on the 0 button enough times to make a recovery. Each round is scored according to the number of shots landed, with the more prolific fighter receiving 10 points and his opponent scoring nine points. However, you can set your foe back further or gain bonuses by scoring punch combinations, knockdowns, and knockouts.
The fighting system in Bush vs. Kerry Boxing is definitely unusual for mobile boxing, but once you learn how to identify your opponent's weak areas and think defensively, it can be a lot of fun. You must carefully ration your punching, as it depletes your energy rapidly if unsuccessful. Flurries and special combinations, though powerful, are also especially murderous to your own well-being, so they are best reserved for when your opponent drops his guard entirely. Your opponent will shift his defensive strategy constantly, always leaving at least one quadrant of his body exposed while dodging around. Success in the game hinges on moving laterally with your opponent using the D pad and pounding his undefended flesh. Dealing with the surfeit of usable buttons and the D pad can be a real pain, but it's manageable after some practice. On the defensive side of the equation, Bush vs. Kerry Boxing lets you pick from three levels of automatic defense, which range from the freewheeling "straightline" to the much more conservative "covering-up", or you can choose to control your own defense by pressing down. The automatic defense is an excellent way to avoid cluttering the controls further; however, the other defenses don't provide much variety, so covering-up seems to be the best option by a wide margin. Even if your fighter blocks automatically, the game still lets you stay involved in your defense by enabling lateral movement, which can give you a respite from combat and allow your stamina to recharge.
Bush vs. Kerry Boxing is probably most notable for its graphics, which include the digitized montages of a wide range of notable American politicians. The assorted heads of state look great, but, disappointingly, they lack facial animation of any kind. It wouldn't have been such a great task to dig up a couple of pictures of each politician, but Sorrent just stuck what it had on single, skinny white torsos and let them loose. On the other hand, your opponents bruise convincingly, acquiring black eyes and displaying bell-ringing tweety birds when hit in the head. The game runs very fluently on the Sanyo SCP-8100, too, with smooth scrolling and no slowdown in the gameplay. The game's most hilarious visual feature is its inclusion of Hillary Clinton as referee and Ralph Nader as the ring girl, clad in what appears to be a stars and stripes Speedo (it's nice to see these figures make an appearance in the game, even if it is peripheral). Bush vs. Kerry Boxing's sound is adequate but not spectacular, featuring ring bells, punching noises, and a "Hail to the Chief" fanfare for the title screen.
Another interesting feature is Bush vs. Kerry Boxing's national polling system, which tracks how many times each one has won the main event across the country. You can check the results from your phone, which will upload your "votes" as necessary as you play the game. The game keeps track of the two contenders' local results as well.
Overall, Bush vs. Kerry Boxing is a clever repurposing of Sorrent's existing boxing game, providing a rare example of a current events-based game that's actually fun to play. Even if it's not original, this game strikes the good balance between humor and gameplay, and its three difficulty levels make it more than just a novelty. Clearly, Sorrent has no doubts as to the efficacy of the American democratic process--and, if you're a boxing fan who doesn't already own Fox Sports Boxing, or you are in the market for an election-based laugh, neither should you.