Ever since Street Fighter II first burst onto the arcade scene in 1991 and revolutionized the genre, fighting games have sought to continually improve upon those that came before by creating ever-larger rosters of characters with unique move sets, while balancing out the strengths and weaknesses of each fighter in order to achieve excellence in competitive videogame experiences. Unfortunately, Real Steel does not aspire to such heights. The truth of the matter is, it is basically the Urban Champion of the iPhone generation.
Now, don’t get us wrong: we enjoy Urban Champion, be it the original for the Nintendo Entertainment System or the newer version for the Nintendo 3DS. But we won’t pretend to fool anyone, either: it’s an incredibly basic, simple game that manages to endear itself to what fans it does have by way of some indescribable charm. Real Steel, based on the upcoming Hugh Jackman movie, itself based on a 1956 short story, is not quite as basic and simple as Urban Champion, but it doesn’t set the bar much higher, either.
The game features three modes: Tournament, which has you select one robot and fight your way through the rest of the roster in succession; Sparring, which is a single match against an opponent of your choosing; and Practice, in which you can… well, practice against a second character who only stands there as you beat him up. A staple of most (if not all) one-on-one fighting games, the two-player versus mode, is not present. This is unfortunate, as it might have made the game quite a bit more enjoyable.
The crowd is as charged up as the robots’ batteries.
Most fighting games favor a best two-out-of-three round system, but in Real Steel, one round is all that is necessary to vanquish your opponent. During the rounds, you can’t jump or move around the 3D environment in directions beyond left and right. You can attack high or low with your left or right fist, use a special punch, or employ a few other variations involving the directional buttons. Combos are done by mashing one punch button repeatedly, or pressing one of the punch buttons in conjunction with the SP button. In the latter case, if you manage to pull it off successfully (the virtual buttons can be a bit finicky in their responsiveness), your character will begin an automated combo.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Real Steel is that the characters tend to lack variety where it counts most. Each has a unique look and a custom logo, but the problem is that they all basically play the same. Each utilizes the exact same control scheme, but before anyone cites Super Smash Bros. for doing the same, let us say that the results here are not nearly as diverse among the characters as the difference between flapping a cape and firing a missile.
Many of the attack animations are very similar, if not exactly the same, between the different robots. This is disappointing in some cases, as we would have loved to see what the cowboy-themed Six Shooter or the samurai-like Noisy Boy could have brought to the fighting arena.
Put your programming on the line.
One of the more amusing aspects of the game is the stamina bar. As you throw punches, especially the SP button maneuvers, your stamina decreases; when it gets too low, you are unable to attack efficiently. What’s amusing about this is to see robots have to deal with such a hindrance during bouts lasting under 90 seconds, whereas humans in other games are able to go the distance without missing a step.
Another aspect of the game that comes up short is the characters’ stats. There are three main categories: Armor, Power, and Speed. Each character has different values attributed to each, and in Tournament mode you gain one point with each victory to apply to the category of your choice. However, a well balanced character does not seem to go far, as we learned early on; but if you dump all of your points into Power, you should have little problem reaching the end, where a harder difficulty and the rest of the roster are all unlocked at once.
Finally, for a game based on a movie, there seems to be very little of the movie in the game beyond fighting robots. Don’t expect to see Hugh Jackman or anyone else from the human cast here, or any semblance of a story or ending. You’re here to fight, and fight is what you will do, period.
Real Steel is a mediocre game that’s not especially deep or complex. With the movie not due in theaters for several days yet, it’s difficult to say how true it is to its roots. With that, we advise caution; like Urban Champion, some people are going to find it fun enough in its own right, but it is probably not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.