Rocky is a great game. It's easily the best boxing game I have ever played and one of the best multiplayer games. It's possibly my game of the year. There are flaws, no doubt about it. But none of them are really that serious. In fact, the engine is so strong, and the details of the game replicate the movie so well that it's very easy to forget about them. In this review, I will try and go over what makes Rocky the best boxing game I have ever played. I won't pull any punches, and I'll try to expose the games flaws as well as its positives.
The first point I would like to make about Rocky is that it is intended for two players. While the game is good for one player, it does not shine as a one-player experience. The AI is decent, but it can be exploited. I set the game on easy and ran through most of it in a night and a day, really only amounting to 5 or 6 hours. On medium difficulty, the game is more than challenging. You can have some really fun and rewarding matches. However, nothing replicates playing the game with a friend. Listen to me when I say this, Rocky was made for two players. Two players call for much more strategy, tactics, and pacing. It's so well done that you can easily lose hours upon hours in grudge matches.
Having made that point, I need to make one more before I go on to the review itself. It's a known fact that in a real Rocky fan's bible, it states that Rocky V never happened, so we won't be talking much about that aspect of the game. For the three of you who loved Rocky V, rest assured that that movie is given just as much detail as all the other movies in the game. Now, let us never speak of Rocky V again.
Rocky's a quality title. It's evident from the second you boot up the disc and see the FMV montage video of all the classic Rocky films come on. The menu screens with classic Rocky pictures in the background will impress you. The look of the training screens will, as well. The cut scenes, while a little rough and jumbled, are a treat and will bring a smile to any fan's face. Hardcore fans will smile when they see that the poster of Rocky in the Philadelphia auditorium is wrong, exactly as it was in the original movie. The look of the fighters is meticulous in detail from head to toe. Exact mouthpiece colors and glove shades are all done perfectly. Even Mickey's sweater is dead on. The presentation isn't 100% though. Rocky's stance is right handed in the game, yet he was a southpaw in real life (I'm guessing the game engine called for everyone to be right handed). Drago's Russian trainers don't look like they did, nor do they sound like they did. Rocky III only has first Clubber fight trunks; he does not sport the stars and stripes that he did in the second fight. Rocky IV does sport the stars and stripes trunks, but it's puzzling that he has Apollo as a trainer, since he was dead in IV. These are mostly just nitpicks though, nothing major.
Rocky is a beautiful looking game for the most part. Famous fighters like Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, and Rocky Balboa all look like themselves. Rocky has diminutive stature; Clubber looks like a beast; and Apollo has the look of a champion athlete. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the characters are identical, but they are near identical. Apollo's face looks slightly off at times, little things like that. Body statures for some of the fighters seem a little too stocky, or some might seem a little to thin. These details are nothing but being picky though, some would say the characters are absolutely identical.
The fighters of Rocky are such an important part of the movie and game that I have to spend some time on them. They are really portrayed well in the game. They all look, stand, move, and fight exactly as they did in the movies. For a guy like me, who knows those fight scenes back to front, it's a really cool experience to see Apollo throwing his jab just as he did in the movies. It doesn't stop there though; all time favorite Clubber Lang has his style replicated perfectly. He throws those huge hooks that we all came to know and love in the movies.
The costumes of the characters are another part you'll really appreciate if you're a fan of the movies. Every character has two outfits. Rage could have been cheap and given us just one outfit, but they didn't. They pulled out most of the stops for this one and it shows. Since there are five versions of Rocky, that's 10 outfits and five body types. You'll recognize other fighter's signature outfits such as Drago's Golden Gloves and trunks, Clubbers light blue trunks, and Apollo's stars and stripes. Boxing gloves are especially cool since they come in a variety of shades and colors, and you can see their shine and leather crease. We are talking nice detail here.
Motion blurs of special punches and stars over the heads of the opponents add a surreal look to the game. Rocky is a violent game, so expect to see physical damage on the boxers. The physical damage system is by far the best seen in any boxing game. Fighters can gain realistic injuries as a fight progresses. Everything ranging from terribly swollen eyes, blood dripped on the chest from various facial wounds, to body bruises. While the damage can be extreme, it is not over the top. The damage will be in proportion to the action of the fight. The damage system does seem to be flawed, however. At times you will see blood or bruises appear on the fighters back. This is rare, though.
Boxing venues are all varied and extremely good looking. Every venue that appeared in the Rocky movies makes its way into the game perfectly replicated. You'll fight in such areas as the famous Moscow Arena with the imposing picture of Drago and the classic Philadelphia ring. There are also a bunch of venues created just for the game. They sport impressive effects such as sunlight glare on an outdoor ring, and a moving overhead fan shadow that covers the ring.
Animation is very good. The in-ring movement of the fighters looks silky smooth. Most punches look very smooth and true to the movies. Upon watching the replays and, at times, during the actual gameplay, the animation for both boxers interacting is very impressive. The reactions to punches are straight out of the Rocky movies. You'll see players being lifted off the floor from bruising body shots and faces distorting from the impact of hard hits. Knockdowns are also good looking and satisfying; you'll feel good when you lay someone out. However, at times things can look a bit stiff. Sometimes the boxers will look a bit robotic, usually when throwing hooks and in certain parts of their walk to the ring.
There are a variety of modes in the game. They are sparring, movie mode, exhibition, knockout tournament, and gallery. Sparring is helpful; it gives you a dummy partner that you can program a command list. Movie mode is the meat of the single player portion of the game. In it, you take Rocky and guide him from obscurity to his long run from Rocky I-V. You'll encounter no-name fighters and the classic Rocky villains. Throughout the movie mode, you'll train Rocky in a variety of exercises to build certain attributes. Attributes range from strength (the power of the punches), speed (speed of the punches), determination (how Rocky gets up after a knockdown), Stamina (how much punishment he can take and how many punches he can throw before he's winded), and movement (the speed in which Rocky moves around the ring). These training modes are actually enjoyable mini games,\ and are not a chore. If you don't want to do them, you can choose to auto train. As you progress through movie mode, you'll unlock boxers, venues, and cut scenes for your gallery. Knockout tournament is more or less self explanatory. You enter up to 16 players in a tourney. Then there is exhibition where you can play against the CPU or a friend with any of the boxers you have unlocked in any of the venues you have unlocked.
The AI of the game is more than decent. Some have complained about it being too hard, while others have complained about it being too weak. I find that on the medium setting, it is challenging and rewarding. On the bad side, the AI can be exploited if you learn its patterns, and it fights the same with every fighter. Still, I have had a lot of really good one-player matches.
What really makes Rocky good is how the use of attributes all comes into play in all the fighters. In movie mode, you can mainly depend upon gaining strength and speed to lead you to victory. But when you play with the actual versions of the characters in exhibition, you should be aware of all their strengths and weaknesses; in fact, each player has a selectable biography detailing them. For example, Apollo Creed is a light-footed fighter who depends on his hand speed. He needs to be played like how Muhammad Ali fought in real life. Clubber Lang is a vicious destroyer who goes for the KO in the early rounds; he should be played like Mike Tyson in his prime. Really, you know your boxing and you'll know how to play the game well. What's really impressive about the game and a point that should not be lost is that it allows for different styles to do battle against one another on a fair field. For too long I have felt that most boxing games were about trading blows, knowing when to move out and regain energy and move back in. I felt they were sluggish and boring. Rocky is not. It's a breath of fresh air. Your able to stick and move, bob and weave in close, use pacing, cut off the ring, use the ropes to your advantage, land well timed counters, -- the list goes on. Basically, you can do nearly everything that goes on in a real life boxing match. This makes for some great fights. The classic Slugger/Boxer fights you can have with Apollo and The Rock are easily the closest things video games have seen to the "Thrilla in Manilla". It's kind of embarrassing for other boxing games such as KO Kings that actually have Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, the participants in the Thrilla.
It's not all perfect. First, there's no clinch. It's not a huge thing, but since Rocky does so much, so well, it surprising that they left the clinch out. I don't know if the clinch would have made the game better, but it would have made it more realistic.
There seems to be no flash KO's. Normally, this would be a major downer for me. But the epic wars I had with friends and the CPU show me that it might be a good thing. Still, it would have been nice if there was an option for turning flash KO's on. But it's still possible to stun your opponent with power punches and/or combos.
The use of stamina and health bars is something I've come to appreciate in Rocky. The great boxing game, Victorious Boxers, did away with them and made me a believer in having only your eyes and ears to register the state of your fighter. I don't think this would work with Rocky. The game can be so back and forth that an eye is needed on the health and stamina bars to make a good strategy. Still, it would have been nice to have an option to turn the bars on and off.
The scoring system -- the manual actually goes into great detail on exactly what the game does. The game uses the ten point must system, just like in real life. This means that one fighter always scores ten points, and the lowest the other can score is 8. The manual also goes into detail about what constitutes a win for a round. It states that every punch landed is a plus. But it also states that 3 powder puff punches don't score as high as one crushing hook. From my experience, I'd say the game replicates this, more or less. I've never been dissatisfied with the outcome of a fight decided by points, but I have felt that certain rounds should have been decided a different way. It will never score anything outlandishly wrong, and for the most part, it's right.
The back and forth action of the Rocky movies is one of the things that makes them so exciting and entertaining. Rage has done a wonderful job of transferring that into the game. It's possible to make a comeback at almost any given time, and you'll often see rounds going back and forth just like in the movies. At times you'll think you have your opponent, only to be knocked down by him or thrown in a corner for serious punishment. As you gain experience with the game, you'll see how tactics begin to take over button mashing. You'll also learn the strengths and weaknesses of your favorite fighter and opponents and how to utilize and exploit them. I haven't experienced anything this fun or enjoyable in a boxing game ever. You are really able to have epic wars with a friend, the kind we have come to love from the Rocky movies.
The control set-up is one of the best aspects of the game. It is nearly identical to Knockout Kings; it's easy to become familiar with. It's simple, and it allows for a fair amount of combos. Buttons are responsive, and the player moves where you want him. What really sets Rocky apart from other boxing games is the mobility of the boxers. You truly feel in control of their movement around the ring.
Just like the graphics, the audio for the most part is very well done. The first things that many boxing games neglect in the audio department are the impact of the punches. Thankfully, Rocky does not. You will feel the impact of these hits. You'll actually hear the same sound effects from the movies when the hits land. You'll also hear voices to accompany the punches. Rocky's famous "Hurrgh!" when he lands a strong body shot or is hit hard, and even Clubber Langs "Urrghh!" when he throws a super hook. Unfortunately, some of these effects can be drowned out. I recommend lowering the crowd volume a bit to help out with this.
In-game cut-scenes, player taunts, and training sequences have a small amount of voice work. It's really mediocre for the most part. You have the actual voice work for Sylvester Stallone and Mr.T, but it's drowned out and poor quality. Some of the taunts are also puzzling. Instead of taking actual taunts used by the fighters in the movies, the developer chose to use movie dialogue such as "Aye yoh" or "time to go to bed, champ". On the positive side, I have to mention Clubber Lang's heavy breathing and grunting taunt. The actual movie actors did not do the voice work for Mickey, Drago, and Apollo. The quality of Apollo and Mickey are decent, but Drago can be laughably bad. What's worse is that many of the trainers you'll encounter have Apollo's voice, or a fighter will have the same grunts of a famous Rocky villain. Still, you get to hear "Yo Adrian, I did it!" in perfectly quality.
The ring announcers are wonderful. While there is no in-game commentary, these guys do introductions better then any boxing game ever. Depending on the version of the fighter you pick, the venue, and possibly the fighter's clothing, he will be introduced in a different way. One announcer may choose to accentuate the word "CHICAGO" when telling where Clubber Lang hails from while another will not. Fighters also have various nicknames depending on location and/or clothing. Drago, for example, can be introduced as "The Siberian Bull", "The Siberian Express", or "Death From Above". Those are all his nicknames from the movie folks, very cool.
The classic Rocky theme also makes its way into the game, and it's as inspiring as ever. You'll hear it from the menu and intro music, as well as Rocky's in-game intro. Every fighter has his own unique score, even the no-namers. You won't hear any "Eye of the tiger", but there are some faux 80s rock songs in the game. Clubber Lang's theme is totally 80s.
I want it to be clear that if you're primarily a single player, you may not want to shell out $50 for Rocky. If you have friends over who like to play, you should give no thought to shelling out the $50. Don't be mislead by the arcade look and movie license of the game, Rocky is the boxing simulation. The truth is this: Rocky manages to capture both the inspirational and exciting atmosphere of the movies while, at the same time, giving an extremely smooth, rewarding and playable system of boxing. It's the best boxing game I have ever played, and possibly my game of the year.
11/19/2002 Sebastian Guerriero