reviews\ Feb 6, 2003 at 7:00 pm

Black & Bruised - PS2 - Review

Taking on Knuckles Nadine in a boxing match takes more than just fancy footwork and fast uppercuts that sting like a bee.  And since the buxom Texas belle is known for slipping a horseshoe inside each glove you‘ll find yourself waiting for your chance to slip in a well placed punch that will leave her black and bruised.  This is the off the wall world of Black & Bruised, a boxing game that’s more like a madcap arcade-styled boxing title than a standard boxing simulator.


There are six modes to choose from in this game: First-player Fight, Two-player Fight, Tournament, Survival, Training and Boxer’s Life.  The first five modes have been seen before in sports games, particularly Tournament, which offers a series of challenging fights (varying in difficulty) to win the championship belt.  The first and second player fights are single exhibition matches, with the Two-player Fight mode the game’s multiplayer mode.


Boxer’s Life is the game’s main story mode, taking a cast of fourteen (there are also five new characters to unlock) colorful fighters through a series of story-driven matches.  Each of the fourteen fighters has his or her own personality that plays through a series of animated cut scenes that lead up to the match in the ring or wherever it takes (Ally Gator occasionally fights in her homey swamp).  The most interesting part about the story mode is that the story throws in things that play a hand in changing the fight.  For example, at one point Jumping Janet finds out that the greasy monkey Holly Vixen put wrenches in her gloves.  Now Janet must do more blocking than fighting if she wants to win.  In another match, she gets tired from a workout so she’s too exhausted to throw combos or multiple blows.  These things do change each match, keeping matches fresh and unique.


The matches in a Boxer’s Life don’t play like most fighting games where you’re constantly interrupted by a bell.  Here you fight until somebody is KO’d or unable to get back up before the count of ten.  While slugging it out--dishing out a few combos and moves such as left hooks and uppercuts--is what this game is all about, there are several power-ups that help things out . . . and ultimately ruin a fun boxing game.  There’s a power-up that speeds up your punches, packs a heavy punch or regenerates your energy bar.  Power-ups can be activated when you land successful punches that fill a sort of star meter.  When the meter is full, you can activate it right away or save it when you really need it.  These power-ups are fun for the most part, but they can become an annoyance when you find yourself on the verge of winning and your opponent activates his or her power-up to win the fight before you can.


The fourteen boxers (nineteen in total when the other characters are unlocked) vary in sex, looks and even personalities.  Unfortunately the fighters don’t have unique fighting styles that really separate them--the only thing that does is when they’re dizzy: hamburgers that fly over Bronto Sore’s head or the clovers that fly over Mickey’s head).  It would have been more interesting to see these unique characters with their own unique moves.


Black & Bruised features some really good cel-shaded characters and backgrounds.  Because of the smooth framerate and the full-color animation, the characters seem to just come to animated life on screen as they move and punch.  The backgrounds are wonderfully rendered and are really very lively to look at--especially when you’re fighting El Luchador in Mexico. Landing a punch to the face, you’ll see your opponent’s head whip back, sweat exploding with your punch.  Enough punches to the face and you’ll see the visible bruising and puffiness of your successful punches.  This game just has the best animation and character movement.  The special effects from the power-ups also top notch.


Unfortunately the sound isn’t as impressive as the visuals, although the number of snappy and often hilarious taunts are plentiful in any mode you choose.  While the comments and accents are stereotypical of each character--Mickey McFist has a dead-on Irish accent and Knuckles Nadine makes way too many comments about kissing her grits).  The soundtrack is as cartoonish as the characters, not a bad thing really but could have been a lot better overall.  As for the sound effects, a more realistic approach would have suited it better.


Zany and often hilariously fun, Black & Bruised comes in strong and looses its steam way before the final round.  There are plenty of interesting characters and fun modes, but ultimately it’s the fighting element that just isn’t fresh enough to keep boxing fans hooked.  If you’re looking for a fighter in the vein of Ready 2 Rumble, then give this game a chance.  Otherwise, this is truly a weekend rental.


#Reviewer's Scoring Details


Gameplay: 6.0
The game’s modes offer plenty of challenges particularly a Boxer’s Life, which should keep gamers busy for awhile as they go through each character’s story and trails.  Tournament also offers a better challenge for gamers since the difficulty level automatically changes depending the farther up the boxing ladder they climb.


The controls are simple to manage and pulling of combos really isn’t that hard to do once you go through the Training mode.  The problem is that skill is not what wins fights here like most boxing games: this is a game where using power-ups at the right moment will mean victory or defeat for you.


Graphics: 8.2
The cel-shaded graphics are really a treat to watch in action as the wonderfully rendered characters move around the neatly detailed environments.  The use of vivid colors make the characters stand out, especially as they circle their opponent smoothly.  Gamers will love the facial damage done to each boxer, leaving the faces black and blue or puffy enough that the eye is closed.


As far as the environments and the surroundings, they vary depending on the situation.  Thankfully each fight doesn’t always take place in some ring.  Sometimes a fight takes place in a greasy mechanic’s garage or some country-western bar in Texas.  You’ll find fight fans pumping their fists in the air during a fight.


Sound: 7.0
There’s some good voice acting to be found in this game and the funny little taunts each character makes really brings each personality to life.  Each voice is exactly what you might expect from each character.  Knuckles Nadine, for instance, has a charming--and occasionally comical--Texan drawl while Jumping Janet has a spoiled California Valley Girl voice.  Still, the dialogue can become a bit repetitive.


The game’s soundtrack is as cartoon-like as the visuals are and strangely enough it fits the game nicely as the narrator in a Boxer’s Life tells the story.  The running soundtrack does a better job than the sound effects that sound less like a boxing glove making contact with flesh.  The punches sound more like a foot stomping on an empty cardboard box. 


Difficulty: Medium
There are enough difficulty settings to satisfy all levels of boxing gamers but the game is still something of a challenge even in the normal setting.  For one thing, the use of power-ups can either help or hinder your progress through each bout instead of skilled fighting.  It’s frustrating when you’re seconds from victory and your opponent activates a power-up that just manages to knock you out with a single punch.


Concept: 7.8
Like the Punch-Out games for the old Nintendo system, the game’s main attraction are the wacky fighters themselves that don’t really showcase interesting and unique boxing styles but rather wild and unique personalities.  A Boxer’s Life really dives into these individual personalities and the most interesting part about this is that each cut scene plays a role in influencing the next bout.


Multiplayer: 7.5
The Two-Player Fight is your basic single exhibition match only you’re fighting a friend.  With fourteen fighters to choose from, there is serious fun to be had going up against a friend using your favorite fighter. While not quite a party game, it’s good enough to share with a group of friends looking for tongue-in-cheek boxing fun.


Overall: 6.5
Reminiscent of those classic arcade-styled boxing games like Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out or Ready 2 Rumble, Black & Bruised is colorful and fun . . . but, unfortunately, the boxing fun does grow stale a little too quickly.  If you’re looking for some lightweight boxing fare with enough modes and zany characters, this game is worth your time.  Otherwise, all other boxing fans should find this an interesting weekend rental.

Above Average

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