Before you finally go down for the count, though, you'll throw a flurry of punches and kicks that merely graze the face and torso of your opponent and milk the onlooking crowd to raise the stakes. Then, as the final seconds tick down, your knuckle/heel onslaught falters and you suddenly catch a rash of body blows. Oops, you're down.
This is the flip side to The Con's gameplay, and easily the most impressive idea behind the fights - even when you lose, you win, so long as you've carefully orchestrated the outcome and you work the crowd. You'll have to win, of course, since the end goal of the game and it's utterly ridiculous storyline involves netting yourself $100,000 and respect from everyone around, and that latter part only happens if you win, but it's still a nice bit of mixing up to be had.
So too is the option to create your own combos and customize the hell out of your relatively complex create-a-character team of fighters with new bits of clothing and the occasional bit of jewelry, but in the end, all the stuff you can do around the fights can't save the fights themselves from being clunky, unresponsive messes. The extra stuff helps, sure, but the core of the game just isn't there.
You're able to pick a fighter from five different styles; Jeet Kune Do, Kickboxing, Street Fighting, Tae Kwon Do and good ol' Wrasslin', and then train them in between matches to slowly level up their abilities. As you progress through the game, the caps on abilities and the amount of cash you can bet on fights goes up, so there's a nice sense of progression. The stats themselves; endurance, speed, skill, power and health are all linked, and working one area will usually cause two or three others to drop slightly, so it's a balancing game.
Again, though, all this more or less goes out the window once you get into the fights themselves, because it becomes nearly impossible to string some of your more advanced combos together due to the delay from button press to action and with characters dodging all the time. Presumably the delay was to keep people from just hammering the punch buttons (for most styles, the Square and Triangle buttons are left and right punches, and X and O are left and right kick), and it makes doing things like tapping the left shoulder button at the moment you get hit to pull a "perfect con" to increase the odds on a fight or the right shoulder to parry an attack fairly easy, but it all ends up feeling sloppy.
For all the clunkiness that the game has in matches, it's nowhere near the agonizing wait between customization and fight sequences. The load times are downright terrible, with just loading up some of the basic face templates taking upwards of a couple of seconds per face. It makes trying different items or purchasing them later on a chore, and it's enough to dissuade you from even trying later on down the road. The pre-match loading screens with the same four or five shots of the arena cycling over and over again run upwards of 20 seconds sometimes, and all for something that's usually over in a minute or two.
If it were loading a ton of textures or ridiculous amounts of detail on the sidelines, it would almost be understandable, but this isn't an especially pretty game. The art team did a fair job of creating a look that is unquestionably suited for the PSP screens strengths, namely some nice texture detail and colors that can pop at times like few games on the PSP, but the overall look isn't all that impressive, and you'll see the same rings a couple dozen times before the game's over.
The framerate, for what it's presenting, does stay fairly solid throughout. It's never more than a good 30 frames a second most of the time, but this is the PSP after all, and running on hardware capped at 1/3 of the real speed.
The audio is even less ambitious. You'll get a bit of cheering from the sideline crowds, and the smacks from punches and kicks are there, but they aren't especially heavy or feel like there's a lot behind them. The voice acting during cutscenes is brief, but tolerable, though the music throughout is little more than a short looping collection of beats and lightly funky riffs. The stuff that plays while you customize or train your characters tends to get so grating that I just muted the PSP while I was plodding through the stuff I unlocked.
The Con has an incredibly intriguing concept in place, and the actual execution of the side bets, light RPG-style beefing up of your charcters and the character creation and customization are all perfectly good foundations for something better, but the fighting, the meat of the game, is just too bland and unresponsive to keep things interesting beyond the attraction of the risk/reward that comes with the bets.
Should we get a sequel, there's a lot that can be done with the franchise, but it's going to take an overhaul of the actual fights for it to be anything beyond a very bland experiment.