Publisher: Ubi Soft
Released: November 2002
Genre: Sports (Boxing)
Capabilities: Memory Unit
Review Written: December 13, 2002
Can you go the distance? That’s what I’m wondering with console release of Rocky, circled around the five films of the little boxer that could, Rocky Balboa. You have to love the Rocky movies. It’s practically un-American not to. Nevertheless, I was pumped when Rocky was announced to be coming back to video games for the first time in god knows how long. I’m shocked that it took so long for a publisher to pick up on a hot movie license like Rocky (the first one won the academy award for Best Picture, y’know). For the most part, a good chunk of video games based on movies end up on the mediocre side, but you’d think there would be an exception with Rocky since it’s based on a sport. Let’s see if Rocky deliver the 1-2 punch were looking for.
Rocky loosely follows the events of all five movies that Sylvester Stallone made famous. You start off as a low Philadelphia club fighter going nowhere with your life, but through a stroke of fate you land a title fight with heavyweight champion Apollo Creed. You then rise through the ranks and face all the bosses from the movies including two version of Apollo Creed, a young Mr. T as the ferocious Clubber Lang, the steroid-fueled Russian Ivan Drago, and Rocky’s protégé-turned-nemesis Tommy Gunn. It’s too bad Hulk Hogan’s performance of the wrestler, Thunderlips in Rocky III isn’t included in the roster. This is probably because it would’ve been too complicated to program a wrestler into a boxing game.
I and other Rocky fanatics will be glad to know that all the boxers that had the slightest part or even just their name mentioned in the films are included in Rocky. This ranges from Union Kane, the paper champion Tommy Gunn knocks out in Rocky V to Spider Rico, the bum who Rocky conquers in the beginning of the first movie. There are also a bunch of other generic brawlers thrown in here with intimidating names like “Big Yank Ball” and “Dipper Brown” to give the roster some more depth. Even though all the generic guys don’t seem like much at first, each one has their own distinctive personality. All together, the roster for Rocky contains an astonishing 25+ fighters (too bad you only start off with three characters available).
If there is one thing I despise in games based on movies, it’s when greedy actors don’t agree to give their likeness to appear in the game. Such recent examples of this include the PS2 games of Minority Report & Men in Black 2 that don’t include star actors Tom Cruise or Will Smith, respectively. I was worried that this may have been the case with a key actor or two in this game, but I’m happy to inform you that all boxers appear in their exact form as in the movies. It’s ensuring to know that none of the actors got selfish and let the developers at Rage all program them into Rocky. I’m sure Dolph Lundgren could use the royalties these days anyways.
Speaking of the boxers, they all look damn near identical to how they did in the films. Each of the five versions of Rocky Balboa has the little changes from film to film like different hair styles and boxing trucks. Tommy Gunn boasts the mullet of shame. We even get a chance to relive a wrinkle-free Mr. T. Fighters will sport increasing damage as the bout progresses. This stuff isn’t randomized either. If you’ve been pounding away at the face the whole time, you’ll notice some serious swelling in the cut scenes between rounds. The blood stains on the mat are also a nice touch.
The venues you perform in are well done. All the key arenas from the films are in here like the chapel that starts everything off, to the Soviet auditorium where you dueled with Drago, and even the streets of New York where the last fight takes place in the final scenes of Rocky V.
One of the best features of Rocky is it’s recreation of clips from the films redone in CG animation. It recaptures all the best moments such as the infamous “I did it Speech” in the end of Rocky II. It actually makes all the effort of going through the main game worthwhile so you can unlock these to view whenever you please. Rocky boasts a sharp presentation with spectacular entrances for all the brawlers and sweet instant replays after a knockout. Boxers perform at a fluid pace, and all their respective jabs, hooks, and uppercuts are animated to perfection during a lightning fast frame rate to boot.
The famous theme for the films, “Gonna Fly Now” is included in its full form. It’s the only tune played while you browse the menus, and you’re subject to grow tired of it rather fast, but at least the game plays certain parts of it in specific menus. Unfortunately the other song the movies made famous, “Eye of the Tiger” isn’t included, even though its name is mentioned several times throughout the game! One keen part of the audio is that all the actors for the bosses have voice samples directly taken from the movies that they use during game play to taunt you with. Every time I hear Apollo taunting “You go down, you stay down!” I get more immersed into game play. Mad props to the developers to include little touches like this that make gamers appreciate this game a lot more.
This isn’t just a mediocre boxing engine slapped on with the Rocky license. The programmers actually took it upon themselves to make this one of the best boxing games out in the market today. The controls are easy to learn, and you should be able to pick them up in no time. The four main face buttons act as weak jabs, holding the button with a direction pad results in a slightly more powerful straight. By combining a face button with the R trigger is when you roll out the mighty uppercut! I hate getting stuck in the corner, and it happens all too often in Rocky, but the trusty evasive jabs you perform by holding both trigger buttons and a direction can get you out of there just like that.
It’s too bad you can’t tie up with an opponent if they’re beating the crap out of you; thankfully it’s the only flaw with the game engine. There’s a sparring mode in Rocky that helps you perfect your strategy and master all the moves. The crowd is responsive to how you perform. They’ll cheer and chant for you when the battle rages and they’ll boo and even throw trash in the ring when you’re giving a lackluster performance!
Rage did a commendable job on the AI in Rocky. The computer opponents are one heck of a challenge as they force you into playing smart ala using combos instead of relying on the same punch again and again. They’ll pick up on your cheap tactics right away and you’ll be destined to mix it up so you can win the round. The actual game play is a mix of the simulation-heavy Knockout Kings, and the arcade themed Ready 2 Rumble. Fights don’t tend to last two or three rounds like in R2R, and not the full length like in KK. The boxing mechanics lean towards the simulation side, but there are arcade elements thrown in for some variety. For example, opponents will get dazed after you unleash a flurry of successive punches, this will leave them vulnerable to one of two super punches from any boxer that take away a wealthy amount of damage.
“Movie Mode” is the main way you’ll be playing Rocky. You start it off right from the beginning of the first film as you duel with Spider Rico. After each bout you have to complete two training sessions which improve your attributes. Some of these training sessions are fun like the pads training which improves your strength, and the speed bag where you attempt to punch the bag as long as you can for a continuous steady rate. However, a couple of sessions such as performing sit ups, and the heavy bag training are unbelievably difficult. And right when you think you got a good rhythm going, the final score says you’re a chump and you have to listen to Mickey calling you a bum. Thankfully there’s an auto-train option that gives an average result so you don’t have to hassle with some of the poor training sessions. All of the training proves worthwhile as it helps you take out all the opponents.
The pattern of opponents in Movie Mode is you face several generic boxers, then a boss from each Rocky film in chronological order. Once you defeat each boxer, they are unlocked for use in Exhibition mode. I love playing this against my friends. All you hear in the room is “My Rocky is going to kick your Rocky’s ass!” Once you complete Movie Mode, Knockout Tournament is unlocked for use. Remember the King of the Ring tournament in most of the current WWF/E games out now? Just replace the wrestlers with boxers and that’s what you got here. It’s fun to play through once or twice, if not to only unlock the last couple of hidden characters you get from beating it.
You’ll spend a good amount of time to complete Movie Mode. It’s vital you do so if you want to unlock all the characters, venues, movie clips, and Knockout Tournament. The exhibition mode provides countless bouts with your friends as you recreate the battles and possibilities from all the movies.
+: Over 25 characters in the roster, damn good boxing engine, the Movie Mode fun to play through and has plenty of awards as you complete it
-: Can’t tie up with your opponent, some of the training sessions are extremely hard, no inclusion of Thunderlips or “Eye of the Tiger”
Game play: 9.2
Replay Value: 9.0
I honestly didn’t expect Rocky to be this good. I usually get bored with most average boxing games, but this is completely different. Rocky boasts an excellent single player mode with plenty of benefits from completing it, and probably the best boxing game engine since Evander Holyfield’s Real Deal Boxing on the Genesis. If you’re a big fan of boxing, and especially if you enjoyed the Rocky movies, then I highly recommend this game for you!
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