If there's one genre that the iPhone has yet to conquer, it’s fighting games. There have been experiments and attempts made to set fists and feet flying around the App Store, but no noticeable success stories.
Publisher extraordinaire Chillingo is attempting to change that by bringing us Touch KO from the Brothers Mechtley, which puts you in a 3D boxing ring against a series of increasingly capable opponents.
Fighting games are inherently ‘arcadey’, which means they demand good, solid (ideally physical) controls. The most important aspect of Touch KO is the control system, so that's where we'll begin.
And it's a very easy place to begin, since the control system is an unequivocal success. Its simplicity is the key, and it gives you full and easy access to both of your boxer’s gloves. On either side of the screen is an invisible button (of sorts), each controlling one of your knuckle sandwiches. These buttons are probably better described as control pads, since you throw a different kind of punch depending on the gesture made in that area of the touchscreen.
Tapping the left-hand area, for instance, throws a left jab, while swiping horizontally throws a hook, and swiping vertically launches an uppercut. Holding your finger down on either area raises that particular glove as a block. Combinations are just as simple, only requiring a little extra attention to the timing so you can land a robust one-two on your opponent's chin more effectively.
Movement around the ring is automatic, with the boxers simply matching step the whole time. This aspect is a tad unrealistic and wooden, making the fighters look a bit like they're attending their first ever same-sex ballroom dancing lesson. The only other form of movement you're granted is a left and right dodge achieved by quickly tilting the handset in the appropriate direction. Successfully dodging a punch is damn difficult, but the game is definitely richer for its inclusion.
Graphically Touch KO is immensely impressive and appears to push the iPhone to the limits of its 3D capabilities. There are no obvious polygons poking you in the eye when you look at the incredibly well animated fighters, while the textures add a level of depth and realism to the human characters that has rarely - if ever - been seen on the iPhone.
Clearly this level of detail and quality takes its toll on the CPU, however. The game regularly warns you to reset your device before playing, which is a task that I - as a hopelessly addicted iPhone user - mostly refuse to do. Dropped frames are not at all uncommon, though they rarely occur during the heat of battle, cropping up instead during the stunning slow motion replays and moments of intense animation.
This is Touch KO’s greatest criticism, and to be quite honest I'm simply throwing stones at Mount Everest. The dropped frames and extra battery load feel like a very fair trade-off for such an accessible, gorgeous-looking and brutally entertaining game. The extensive character customisation and experience system is the icing on a remarkably tasty beat-‘em-up cake.
Packing in this kind of heart pounding, high-octane gameplay would be more than enough to score a Gold Award. But Touch KO places the same importance on promotion and presentation as Don King does on his epic sporting showcases.
The graphical style, beautifully animated cut-scenes and superb audio accompaniment add a vital showmanship to the veneer of Touch KO that really makes the game live and breathe (or, more accurately, pant for breath through aching ribs).
Should any updates throw a multiplayer mode into the mix while fixing the slightly laboured code experienced on the iPhone, then you should feel free to mentally bump this one up to a Platinum Award.
The iPhone finally has its killer fighting genre application, and I pity the developer who chooses to get in the ring with this heavyweight champion.