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by Sotenga - July 22, 2015

Final Blow (ファイナルブロー) / James 'Buster' Douglas Knockout Boxing - Arcade, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, FM Towns, Genesis (1988)

Japanese Arcade Flyer

European Mega Drive Cover

Japanese FM Towns Cover

Taito's certainly done it all, from maze games to puzzles to action-platformers and all that jazz. This also includes sports games, such as various baseball and soccer titles. Among these sports is none other than the rather ironically dubbed "sweet science" of boxing, two dudes putting on padded gloves and punching each other until the bell rings or one falls down. It's hard to screw up that formula for the most part, but there are quite a few bad boxing games out there that are either sluggish, clunky, or just somehow off. Final Blow, their first crack at boxing, is unfortunately among the stinker pile. It was certainly an ambitious effort, and it oddly serves as a slightly integral part of the Sega Genesis' history, so it deserves a look regardless of how it actually plays.

You get to pick from one of five scrappers: Detroit Kid, Dynamite Joe, Kim Nang, King Jason, and Fernando Gomez. They all have different heads and skin tones, but their builds are the exact same, meaning the roster is full of "headswaps" by fighting game lingo. The boxers themselves are the most impressive part of the game graphics-wise, as their heads, bodies, and limbs all seem to be made of different sprites that move in tandem. For 1988, these were some huge characters, predating SNK's Art of Fighting and its giant sprites by four years. Yet by today's standards, something about them seems a bit off and uncanny, a bit like the ragdoll parts of Earnest Evans but not quite that extreme. At least the referee is animated well and the crowd is substantially detailed.

The controls are simple, at least in practice. You get two punch buttons, where one tosses out quick jabs and the other puts more power into your fists. You'll toss out different types of punches depending on if you're holding forward, up, and down, or just standing still. There's also a third button that allows you to duck while holding towards your opponent, closing the gap and ideally getting into a better attack position. What you're not told is that pressing both punch buttons together brings out a slow but incredibly powerful punch that has a good chance to knock down your opponent if it hits just right. If you're fighting the computer, you'll likely be laid out by a few of these superpunches before the lightbulb clicks above your head. Until that becomes apparent, the gameplay is primarily about shuffling towards your opponent and mashing the punch buttons. Also, you can attempt to block punches by tapping up to protect your face or down to defend your guts. Getting too close to the opponent will render your punches useless, and staying too long will cause the referee to call for a break to separate the boxers.

Final Blow (Arcade)

There's really not much strategy or variety to fighting and it quickly devolves into button mashing while the referee keeps breaking you apart. Once you've played for a minute, you’ve basically seen everything the game has to offer. They tried to make a somewhat realistic spin on boxing as opposed to the simpler pattern-based approach of Punch-Out!! from a few years back, but that game is so much better despite having no head-to-head mode. Even with two players, Final Blow feels unnecessary to play nowadays when there are so many other boxing and fighting games that have more to offer.

Despite Final Blow not exactly leaving a fine impression, the executives at Sega of America wanted to offer a counterpart to Nintendo's Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!, but instead have it feature James "Buster" Douglas, who at that time in 1990 had beaten Tyson and claimed the championship belt. Without enough time to develop their own game from scratch, they licensed Final Blow from Taito, had a team at Sega of Japan port it to the Genesis, replaced the Detroid Kid with Buster Douglas, and published it. The most hilarious part of this whole tale is that, after the game went gold and just about to hit stores, Douglas lost his big match against Evander Holyfield, so Sega's big new boxing game featured someone that was, by all definitions, a loser. Plus, the graphics and sound are considerably worse than the arcade version, and the fact that the port was rushed is extremely obvious. Nonetheless, the game sold extremely well, enough to see a second print run under the "Sega Classics" line. This tale is elaborated on in the book Console Wars.

Final Blow (Arcade)

Incidentally, the Master System version of James "Buster" Douglas Knockout Boxing was not based off of Final Blow, but rather is similar to the earlier Rocky SMS game. This game was released outside of North America under the name Heavyweight Champ, which is also the same name of a completely different Punch-Out!! style boxing game from Sega released in the arcades in 1987. Two years later, Sega released a game starring Evander Holyfield, of course, though this was developed by Acme Interactive and is totally unrelated to Final Blow (and quite a bit better).

Final Blow also made its way over to the Commodore 64, Amiga, and Atari ST with the ports being handled by a company named Storm. The background has less detail with a non-moving crowd, but the graphics weren't translated too terribly. The gameplay more or less remains the same, which isn't a compliment, but it does interestingly double the roster with five more boxers: Krusha Kev, Killer Ken, Cool Shaun, Kid Steve, and Demon Dave. If you can believe it, these fighters are even lamer than the default five and are painfully generic. It seems their names are derived from members of the mysterious Storm, which is somewhat amusing.

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Final Blow (Arcade)

Final Blow (Arcade)

Final Blow (Arcade)

James 'Buster' Douglas Knockout Boxing (Genesis)


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Final Blow /
James "Buster" Douglas Knockout Boxing

Page 2:
Prime Time Fighter /
Top Ranking Stars

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