Overall Score 68%
Universal Boxing Manager
Boxing is a funny sport. Two men, each wearing nothing but a pair of shorts and some comically large gloves, enter a square enclosure (which is, for some illogical reason, called a ring) and then start hitting each other. The winner either knocks his opponent unconscious or wins on points in a way that reminds me more of a ballet than a battle.
Okay, you guessed it. I'm not a boxing expert. The sport holds little appeal to me and so I initially had misgivings about a boxing simulator. But wait - this is a boxing management simulator! Here I'm on much firmer ground. That's right, folks, we have a management sim for review and it's NOT another one about football (or 'soccer' to our American readers). The basic idea is the same, just about boxing. You are the manager of a number of boxers (initially terrible ones, I should add, normally ranked in the 90s). Rather neatly you can start your manager at any age, with more experience, cash and fighters the older they start (but you retire at 60, so don't start too late). Your aim is to become the best - plenty of time. As the game plays month by month you've got a good 370-ish months if you start with a sensible 25-year old.
So what can you do with your boxers? You set them up with training routines to work on their various skills such as endurance, strength and agility. You buy the best training and medical support you can get. You arrange contracts with new boxers. And you arrange fights to both earn cash and improve the ranking of your existing boxers. You can watch the fights or let them run their course, but taking an active interest allows you to adjust your tactics as you fight.
Control is almost entirely mouse, with just a little keyboard entry for your name and so on. Helpful advice pops up at the bottom of the screen when you pass the mouse cursor over buttons and tables, making everything that much more intuitive. Buttons along the top let you access screens on your finances, your boxers etc. The tutorial covers the basics the first time you play and can be consulted again by pressing F1.
Graphically, everything is nicely laid out - thought has been taken to include a space at the bottom for help text, which in a game with this many buttons to press is near essential. The boxers themselves are 3D modelled on the Boxer screen with a variety of sizes and skin tones but curiously become 2D and identical when watched in the ring, made all the more bizarre by the thick, dark outline - however, this did not distract me from cheering my boxer on! It's also a fortunate coincidence that your boxer always wears blue gloves and the opposition always wears red ones.
There is no music, as is often the case with management sims - a repeating track in a game lasting several weeks of continuous play can be annoying. Sound effects are also limited in number but buttons make satisfying clicks and Winter Wolves have done their best to simulate the match atmosphere; crowds roar, punches impact with a variety of thuds and swish when they don't impact, the bell is in there... while the combination of graphics and sound isn't overly realistic, a bit of imagination can get you quite involved.
Playability is hard to judge here. On a purely functional level, UBM is easy to operate, though some areas seem a little odd. It is mostly intuitive but there are some oddities - arranging matches through the Rankings screen seemed strange and at first I kept trying to arrange bouts through the Boxer screen. There are lots of little things to arrange and, if you aren't careful, you suddenly need money and your boxers are all exhausted. The only way to really lose UBM is by being in the red for six months.
As with all management sims, this is a game that takes a long time to play. If you enjoy games like this, you'll find UBM a worthy distraction for a good while. The long term appeal is clear - in order to get some really tough boxers and earn big money, or to win title fights, you'll need to keep working on your reputation. You can save as many managers as you like, so there's no need to start again from the beginning if it all goes wrong.
I am sad to say that there are a few glitches in UBM that tend to disrupt your involvement. The most obvious one occurred to me on two or three occasions when I cancelled a boxer's contract, and from that point on the 3D view of my boxer appeared on what appears to be a boxer's surface texture instead of the normal training ring background. This seems semi-permanent as you can view other screens or fight statistics and it will reappear when you return. Other oddities include boosting the morale of your boxers - you can sometimes chat with a boxer, check on another and then chat to the first again! It seems that sometimes the wrong boxer is marked as selected. UBM was also quite unhappy when I tried to screen-grab some images for this review and does not like being minimised from full screen mode.
Overall I found Universal Boxing Manager to be entertaining and involving, two things I was not expecting from a game about boxing! If the glitches can be sorted out, this has the potential to be a great game, with a new twist on an old idea. Football management is dead - bring on the boxers!
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