Hajime no Ippo: The Fighting is still the champion of handheld boxing games
Boxing games have a bad track record when it comes to handheld game consoles. Simple and uninspired gameplay, uninteresting visuals, and lack of replay value permeate handheld boxing games. This lack of quality rings true for games on the Game Boy Advance. Punch King, Boxing Fever, and Wade Hixton’s Counter Punch follow Punch Out’s formula without adding much to it. They have jabs, uppercuts, body blows, and a power meter that fills as you land strikes. As a result, these games fail to make boxing exciting to play. However, Hajime no Ippo: The Fighting developed by Treasure for the Game Boy Advance manages to rise above these cans and become the champion of handheld boxing games.
Treasure developed unique action games like Gunstar Heroes, Ikaruga, and Sin and Punishment. It’s no surprise this game delivers action in ways that other boxing games don’t. Bouts are fast-paced battles where you evade, block, and piece together combinations using various punches and special moves. The B button is all you need to punch and pressing it alone fires a jab. If you press it while holding up you’ll fire an uppercut. If you press it while holding down you’ll throw a punch to your opponent’s body. You can evade by holding one of the four directional buttons and pressing A. You can perform special moves by holding R and simultaneously pressing a directional button and A or B. Offensive special moves use the B button and defensive ones use the A button. You advance by holding the up button and retreat by holding the down button.
The Fighting is light on content but it’s the boxing that keeps me playing. No type of punch feels useless or weak. Jabs are snappy and the arcing hooks look powerful. Uppercuts snap your opponent’s head back and a body blow is so powerful it physically moves your opponent. Punches by themselves are great but it’s the combinations that make them satisfying to perform. You can fire two jabs, an uppercut, and finish with a body blow. After landing two hooks you can finish with an uppercut. You can do more damage by ending a combination with a special move. Defending is nearly as satisfying as punching. Since blocking is automatic, you can absorb hits while waiting for your opponent to finish their combination. Special moves such as g-Cross, auto-evade, and the elbow counter improve your defense. Evading shots feel good because your opponent freezes for a moment. This opening lets you punish your opponent by using a combination.
Unlike other handheld boxing games, distance and range play a role in this one. The position meter shows your location in the ring. The number below it shows your distance from your opponent. Distance affects the punches you can use. Some characters can jab from long range and others can’t. You can’t land punches like uppercuts, hooks, and body shots if your opponent isn’t close enough. If you punch from a range your opponent isn’t in you’ll automatically approach him to land the strike. However, this leaves you wide open for your opponent’s attacks. It’s an interesting feature that evokes the feeling of moving in a boxing ring. My favorite character is Mashiba because of his ability to throw jabs from a long-range. This allowed me to play in a style that took advantage of his reach. His elbow counter let me simultaneously block a strike and create distance. If you could move in four directions it could’ve made the ring a prominent feature. A bout could take place in the center, against the ropes, or in the corner. Being against the corner or the ropes could limit a boxer’s ability to counter, deal damage, or use special moves. The ability to move in four directions instead of two could create new striking opportunities. You could jab from long range while circling your opponent. Perhaps you could move left or right in the middle of combinations. All this sounds like it would be in a sequel but unfortunately, this game didn’t get one.
Wade Hixton’s Counter Punch and Boxing Fever have story modes that feel tacked on. The Fighting’s story mode doesn’t have a plot but the boxing is so fantastic that I didn’t need scenes of exposition. The gameplay is addicting, entertaining, and downright better than other handheld boxing games. 17 years since its release, Hajime No Ippo: The Fighting remains undisputed.