I’m not a boxing aficionado, I don’t even harbor romantic ideas of a glam Vegas fight night, but I’ll be darned if donning lucky gloves and punching some guy in the face ’til he’s napping on the mat doesn’t make me go “ooh”. Chillingo’s Touch KO developed by the Brothers Mechtley brings boxing in grand style to the iPhone and iPod Touch.
Controls, the making (or breaking) of any fighting game, are the core achievement of Touch KO. The left and right side of the screen each control the corresponding arm. Tapping is a jab, a swipe toward the center of the screen is a hook, and an upward stroke is an uppercut. Holding both thumbs down blocks, and you can alternately block one side of your face or the other. Another slick move is tilting the device to dodge and like combos is just a matter of timing.
Since the game’s focus is on punching, the only movement you control is the tilting to avoid a shot. In the 3D ring the boxers are in a mirrored lockstep, but at least you don’t get any of that lazy hanging on each other it seems amateur boxers resort to. The focus is on the hits, and I didn’t lament the inability to move around the ring so much as the inability to “work the body”.
The speed and effectiveness of your punches are tempered by your fatigue and damage. The longer the fight and the more damage you take the slower your assault. On the top of the screen are the meters for each athlete. Energy is green and permanent damage is in red. You lose energy for punching as well as for being punched. Damage cannot be undone but builds throughout the fight and will affect your ability to attack. Energy, however, can be regained while you wait for the opponent to peel himself off the mat and when you two are dancing around one another, gloves up. Between rounds there is a funny mini-game where you reduce damage and the swelling in your face by rubbing each side of your boxer’s visage with ice. Fights are won by judge awarded points, or by KO. A boxer taken down three times in a round loses by TKO, and one knocked down after taking too much damage results in a loss by KO.
There are two modes, Quick Play and Career. Quick Play allows you to grow accustomed to the game or if you want to squeeze in a match without committing to your career stats. Otherwise, Career Mode starts you off with some dead easy bouts so there is no reason to fear beginning there. Your fight style and effectiveness is governed by three primary areas, strength, stamina and agility, and you level up each of them throughout your boxer’s career. Before fights you choose an area to train to give a 5% improvement to one of the three, though you don’t actually partake in the training exercise (which would be a fun mini-game addition). Since you view the stats of your opponent beforehand you can gear your training exercise accordingly, choosing an advantage in agility perhaps while they dominate in strength.
In Career you can choose and purchase items that act as bonuses, with gloves, trunks and shoes that offer boosts to your strength, stamina and agility. I only hope that real boxing gloves don’t cost $300000, though I suppose if real gloves packed 5% magical bonuses they could command that kind of price point. Most of the amateur bouts are a no-brainer, but once you get through the Professional belt you really have to focus. Track your stats, your popularity as you win fights, and work to build a well-rounded boxing machine, then retire the champ to begin again.
Adding to the reward of winning titles are achievements like Unstoppable for a 5-hit combo, or win 10 fights by TKO to snag No Contest. The online leader board tracks your TKO stats, and you can issue a challenge to a friend. However, there is no multi-player locally or via Wi-Fi and since you can’t scroll through the stats you may not be sure whether your 20-some TKOs are impressive compared to your friend’s or no. As a bonus you can add songs to the game’s track list and bring a little levity by listening to some Moldy Peaches before a fight.
In addition to leveling your boxer’s experience you can choose from a number of well-rendered character models. Select righty or lefty, add some tats, and you too can have yourself a street fighting Dubliner. The impressive graphics and textures of the game seem to really push the limits of the iPhone. Stubborn as I am, I put off the requested reset of my device telling myself the lag was a trade-off for a good looking, compelling game. The frame rate issues came in during the slow motion replay when a boxer gets sent to the mat, and after I finally reset my device I did not encounter the same problem. Follow directions, kiddos. Regardless, these replays aren’t particularly exciting, so I mostly used them to take in my surroundings or eat a cookie.
As a fighting game Touch KO rises to the occasion and delivers solid, simple controls, and a rewarding Career Mode. Achievements and a Quick Play feature round out a satisfying game. I am totally prepared for fight night, or at least prepared to say that Touch KO is an excellent fighting title.