World Championship Boxing Manager II is, as the name suggests, a boxing management simulator and it comes to us by way of Pittsburgh programming crew Mega Cat Studios, a studio that formed some twenty-five years after the original game came out.
As in the original game, you play as a boxing manager who has to recruit boxers, manage their training, book fights and upgrade your gym’s facilities all with the singular goal of leading your boxers to greatness. However, as this is a game where there’s no playable boxing, you’ll be handling, and micromanaging, quite a few elements.
Cleverly, the devs have put in a Story Mode option that gives you a pared-down version of the career mode which reduces the length of the boxer’s career, improves your training facilities and gives you a grasp of all the management elements you’ll need to master for the game’s much-longer Career Mode. It also adds some visual novel style story elements and even some conversation choices. It’s all pretty superficial though and nothing you do really affects the end of the story but it’s worth playing first.
However, it’s the Career Mode where most of your hours will be spent. Both modes play much the same but in Career Mode there’s no story elements to worry about and the progress of your fighters’ careers is a fair bit slower. But it’s a good mode for explaining the game’s mechanics and to also look at it faults and successes too.
Everything in this mode requires money. From signing boxers to training them. So we signed up one male boxer and a female one and got to work. You can schedule fights pretty much whenever you want, including having boxers fight on back-to-back dates. However, these bouts, and all their training, will cost vital energy so you’ll need to give them time to recover.
However, once you’ve booked your fight, you can then assign training or rest days to your boxer. Training takes a day but, from your perspective is entirely passive (there’s no mini-game action here) and it’ll increase one of eight stats (there are training options later on that can increase two stats at once but they’ll also reduce another, so we tended to avoid that nonsense). But, of course, the main concern here is to not over-train your fighter. Getting them to the fight with 100% energy is definitely a better idea that using up valuable rest days with more strength training or running.
On fight night, your involvement is fairly limited. Initially, you get to pick your boxer’s strategy for the first round. Your options equate to a neutral mix of attack and defense, a more offensive output with less consideration for incoming attacks, an all-out risky approach where your boxer essentially dumps all their energy into near-constant punches and a final, ultra-cautious approach where they shell up and only throw a handful of punches.
A round only lasts twenty seconds (and this can be sped up) and then you get to advise them again. Between rounds you can pick the next round’s strategy (from the same four options) as well as focusing on either repairing damage or replenishing your fighter’s energy reserves before sending them out for the next round.
And, barring a knock out, that’s it for each twelve round match. While it offers you very limited involvement, there is something super satisfying about making the calls that ultimately help your fighter with the fight, especially if they run into early adversity.
Once the fight is over, you head back to the office/gym but now with a bit more cash to fund your fighter’s next training or, if you’ve saved a few thousand dollars, you can start upgrading your gym or hiring new training or medical staff. Of course, no staffing choice is ever clear cut though with them all having advantages and disadvantages.
As you continue through your career, you’ll get better facilities, hire more boxers and will start making more money. It’s a nice enough gameplay loop but a few factors do start to annoy while other missed opportunities also became apparent.
For example, there’s no ranking system for the boxers. We amassed a pretty decent 20-1 record with our first boxer but he was still fighting by the bins outside some sketchy building and there was no real sense that we were managing our boxer up the ranks. Whenever a ranking event came up, there was no sense of where our opponent was in the mix, no feeling that this was the guy that’d give us access to the next class of opponent.
Also, giving how much scope there is for this sort of thing, you never get to negotiate TV deals or sponsorships. Why aren’t there clothing brands that you can advertise and then wear their stuff in the ring? Why can’t our boxers do press conferences? Wouldn’t it be nice to point them in a certain direction where they can either be a trash-talker or a Floyd Mayweather style self-promoter?
And while the boxing is a step up from the original game (which just showed you the commentary from a couple of pundits), it feels like the in-fight stuff is quite lacking. The option to step in and play as the boxer would have been cool but even without that, they could have done more. Why can’t we yell instructions? It’s super annoying see your opponent dump all his energy only for your boxer to hide behind their guard and not take advantage of it. I mean, we can’t even hire cornermen.
However, the biggest issue is when a difficulty spike hits you. You can knock out twenty opponents straight but then all of a sudden some guy will come along who’ll eat all your punches and will hand you a defeat and it often feels like there was nothing you could have done about it. After a while that gets very old and by then you’ve had dozens of bouts for each of your boxers and with no real progression in the game. The motivation to keep playing does start to drain.
In terms of the presentation, the game does honour its retro roots by using a 16-bit aesthetic that works well enough in the context of this game. There’s no eye candy on offer here but everything is clear and easy to understand. We’re glad the game didn’t choose an awful Knockout Kings style modern hip-hop soundtrack but the generic retro synth soundtrack didn’t stand out much from a crowd of similar ones on PSN.
For a game with a very limited appeal (you pretty much have to be a fan of boxing and management sims), we’re not sure that World Championship Boxing Manager II does enough to appeal to its target audience. We’d have loved to have seen a bit more around the boxing in terms of technique and strategy whilst the management stuff seems to only really focus on a small part of a what a boxing manager might deal with.
But if you want a more casual sim with a reasonably addictive, and short, game loop this could be for you. Especially if you’re looking for a ‘podcast’ game to chill out with. But when it comes to the nuts and bolts of the business this is probably a bit more Tommy Fury than Tyson.
+ Easy to get into
+ The story mode is a good introduction to the game
+ Using the right tactics to win a fight can be rewarding
- Difficulty spikes can test your patience
- Presentation is a little underwhelming