The impending release of Mario Tennis Aces has my mind wildly speculating as to what is in store for us this Friday. Camelot Software is well known for being quite capable of masterfully combining RPG systems with sports games, which is why I’m so excited for Aces. Thinking about this over the past few days had me revisiting my sports/RPG nostalgic reserves as well and, specifically, the first sports game with light RPG mechanics that I ever played. That game was none other than Evander Holyfield’s Real Deal Boxing.
Released for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive back in 1992, Evander Holyfield’s Real Deal Boxing actually isn’t billed as an RPG at all, instead it’s labeled merely as a boxing simulator. What this game brought to the table back then is actually pretty impressive though. Of course, you are given a bread and butter exhibition mode, in which you can compete in 1P v. CPU, 1P v. 2P, or CPU v. CPU matches. But the real meat to the game is its career mode and the boxer creation within it.
You can have a lot of fun creating your own boxer. While the system may seem a bit limited and dated in retrospect, at the time it gave you a ton of options. You are able to select your boxing stance, trunk color, hair, and skin color. Once finished, you are able to bring your fighter from rags to (hopefully) riches, and have a direct impact in all of the steps in between.
You will work your way up the competitive ladder by fighting those that are currently ranked above you. In between bouts, you are able to train, and that is where the RPG mechanics come into play. Depending on the outcome of each fight, you will have the ability to partake in up to three training regiments. These sessions are the fuel behind crafting your fighter’s Power, Stamina, Speed, and Defense. Each of the statistics have a meaningful impact on how your fighter handles himself during a fight, rather than it simply being a tacked-on system (or one that really carries no weight beyond just increasing numbers in the background).
But this system isn’t as simple as it seems. Not all of the training programs are equal, and you also have the fighter’s condition to consider. Your stats will naturally decay over time, and at a more severe rate after you’ve completed 25 fights. You will find yourself asking the question, “should I go for a more rounded character or attempt to stack up on only a select few stats” pretty often.
But if you specialize too much, your other stats will begin to suffer drastically, so a balance must be struck somewhere. Now, I haven’t played this game since I was a kid, but I do remember very much enjoying this system. Never before had I played a game where I could make my own character and have almost complete control over his progression in a sports setting. With the prevalence of progression systems in almost any game these days, it’s easy to dismiss what was accomplished early on in mainstream gaming with Evander Holyfield’s Real Deal Boxing.
Although I don’t insist that you should play the game NOW (no idea how it has aged), it was definitely a marvel for its time, and likely a title that was overlooked by many people over the years as being nothing more than a cash grab during the reign of Evander Holyfield.
What are your thoughts on RPG mechanics in sports? Like them, hate them, or don’t care?