I've always been a fan of the Fight Night series of console games, so I couldn't wait to strap on the virtual mitts for EA's new Fight Night Champion for iPhone. After going a few rounds with Ali, Tyson, and 18 other boxing legends, I can safely say this: the game lives up to the Fight Night name.
Which is to say, it's fun but flawed. Fortunately, it's roughly a 90/10 split between the two. Anyone familiar with the console versions is sure to have a ball with this one.
The app probably comes closest (in gameplay, not graphics) to Fight Night 4. It gives you 20 famous boxers (and two from "the console storyline," to quote EA) to fight as and against, but you can also create your own character and build a career. This is no arcade-style boxing game a la Beast Boxing 3D--there's real depth here. Your character actually ages and faces eventual retirement.
As with its console counterparts, half the battle in Fight Night Champion is learning the controls. EA did a commendable job leveraging the touch screen, with actions that logically correspond to moves: tap to jab, swipe sideways to throw a hook, swipe up for an uppercut, tap and hold both thumbs to block, and so on.
But there's a lot to remember, so give yourself some time to learn everything. It took me three or four matches before I felt like I'd mastered the controls. And even now there's one area that gives me trouble: movement. You move your boxer by tilting your iPhone, and I find it really hard to multitask that alongside the various screen controls.
As for the actual gameplay, it's fast and furious, though I do have one gripe: when you block or slip a punch, there seems to be some lag before you can answer it. What's the point of good defense if you can't take advantage of it?
Also, the game crashed the first time I ran it. After resetting my iPhone, it worked--but this time with no audio. (Awesome crowd noises and ringside commentary accompany each bout.) Eventually it ran properly, but obviously EA has some bugs to iron out.
I wasn't able to test Fight Night Champion's multiplayer modes, which support head-to-head boxing over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. (Note: multiplayer requires a third- or fourth-gen iPod or iPhone.) In an ideal world, EA would add online multiplayer, as all the Fight Night games are best when played against other humans.
A few minor gripes aside, this is my favorite iPhone fighting game to date. All that's missing is an iPad version.