reviews\ Nov 25, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Rocky - XB - Review

A little more than twenty-five years have passed since Sylvester Stallone starred in a movie (he also wrote the script) about a Philadelphia boxer trying to make it to the top.  Some gamers might be asking themselves why, after a couple of years since the last sequel, is a game based on all the Rocky movies being released?  The truth is that the Rocky Balboa story is an interesting one filled with plenty of great characters and exciting fights.  Besides who doesn’t want to go a few rounds with Mr. T‘s Clubber Lang?     


There are three modes plus one Sparring Mode used to perfect your punches or just get more comfortable with the controls.   The Movie Mode, the game’s main mode of playing the game that takes you through a series of fights (a few unknowns are tossed in to lead up to the main fight with the more well-known fighters like Apollo Creed). Exhibition Mode puts you directly into the fight with any fighter you just happen to unlock in the game’s main mode (every fighter you defeat in Movie Mode becomes a playable fighter for the other modes).  And Knockout Tournament, a mode the opens after completing the main mode) pits you against all of the sixteen fighters.


Movie Mode places the Italian Stallion up against small-time fighters at first like the fight against Spider Rico in the run-down chapel to work your way up to the first fight with Apollo Creed.  The game follows this formula throughout the game, pitting you up against three unknowns and then taking you to main fights with the fighters from all the movies.  Cut scenes break the action from time to time, allowing gamers unfamiliar with the films to get to know Rocky Balboa and the characters surrounding him like his true lady love Adrian and gravely-voiced manager Mickey.  You’ll watch as Rocky changes the farther up the heavyweight ladder he goes and how Apollo Creed transforms from nemesis to Rocky's best friend.


There are also some segments between matches where you can beef up physical attributes such as strength, stamina or speed in several different training challenges.  For example, to increase Rocky’s strength you can punch mitts while your trainer calls out the punches.  They’re all timed challenges that can be frustrating at times but it’s a welcome feature nonetheless.


Still, this game is about the boxing and this is where it really fails.   Rocky comes well prepared with plenty of moves such as various uppercuts and jabs.  He can dodge and block just as easily as moving him along the screen.  The problem is that while the moves are smooth, the response time of some punches can be somewhat delayed (shades of Mike Tyson Heavyweight Boxing) before they make an actual contact.  Secondly, while you can deliver several different combos, you mostly find the certain punches make more damage to different fighters and you’ll just be throwing the same punch over and over until you win.  Here, you can pin an opponent against the rope and simply send a series of body jabs until your opponent’s meter health meter diminishes.  


And to top it all off, the boxing rules in this game are hardly what you might call fair or realistic.  You’ll discover that the game counts every punch landed.  That means that if you managed to knock your opponent down once or twice but you didn’t throw more punches than he did, you could still lose the fight.


Rocky’s visuals dances between good and just plain average, but one thing for certain is that much attention was placed on making the game look exactly like the backdrops seen in the films.  It’s enjoyable to see Rocky pounding on the slabs of meat in the meat packing plant’s meat locker like in the movie and then see him throw down in the grimy streets of Philadelphia with Tommy Gunn.  The background details are actually quite astonishing.  It’s just too bad that the same can’t be said about the character models.  Sure Rocky looks something like Sylvester Stallone, but there’s an odd shape to his body and head that draws away from any other physical resemblance to the actor.  The same can be said about many of the other notable fighters.   


The sound shares the same boat with the graphics; but then again, it’s amazing how a recognizable theme can get a gamer pumped up.   Each time Rocky Balboa makes his entrance, the movie’s opening theme music plays--this does get tiresome after awhile, but it’s never annoyingly tiresome.  You’ll also find the rich score scattered throughout the game and it does work nicely.  The problem lies with the way the voices are presented.   Sound clips taken directly from the film are inserted in the animated cut scenes but this just doesn’t work because the dialogue seems muffled and quickly pasted on.


Rocky comes in strong and manages to slip in some really solid punches here and there, but it is not the best boxing the Xbox has to offer.  Still, there is some fun to be had here and fans of the movies as well as boxing in general will be entertained.  This is one of those recommended weekend rentals for sure.   


#Reviewer's Scoring Details


Gameplay: 7.6
The weakest part of the game is the controls and while it doesn’t completely make a mess of the game, it is hard to ignore.  Rocky can deliver some really solid punches and can smoothly dance around the ring, but sometimes he has trouble connecting a punch.  He might stop in mid-punch or throw a punch that is delayed for a fraction of a second.


And while the other boxers aren’t smart enough to adapt to your style of fighting, they each have a style of their own that is unique to them.  Clubber Lang, for example, comes on strong and isn’t afraid to throw punches.  Ivan Drago is lean and fast.  And Tommy Gunn, obviously trained to half-perfection by the Italian Stallion himself, has both power and perfect movement.


Graphics: 8.1
Visually, the game can be seen as both good and not so good.  The backgrounds are amazingly rich in details and will surely please those gamers that know the movies like the back of their hand (e.g. like me).  Whether it’s a ring in some grimy bar or a ring in a ritzy arena in Moscow, the backdrops are perfect replicas of those seen in the movies. 


There are also some great detailed injuries featured in this game.  When landing a solid head straight, the head whips back with droplets of sweat and blood along with it.  The more punches you deliver to a fighter’s face, the more visible the damage done.  The mat also collects the drops of blood depending on the area you were standing when the blow was made.


Sound: 7.0
That very inspiring Rocky theme song can be found here and it rarely gets tiresome to hear even when you’ve fought your tenth fight.  The remixes are actually pretty good but some notable music is missing such as “Eye of the Tiger” (which, incidentally, is a phrase Apollo Creed uses to inspire confidence in Rocky when he needed it the most). 


There are some sound clips taken directly from the movies to move the story along, but these are done somewhat poorly.  Some of them sound as if they had been re-recorded using old stereo.  Still, there are some great grunts, growls and that movie version sound of boxing gloves connecting with the body.


Difficulty: Easy
While some fighters can be more challenging than others can, the majority of them have a weakness for body jabs and head straights.  In fact, you can win an entire round just sending out these punches.  Occasionally certain fighters like Apollo Creed or even Ivan Drago will surprise you with some clever moves. 


Concept: 8.5
Making great use of the license, Rocky manages to be faithful to the movies and the characters.  The main mode reveals just enough to lead up to the major fights and Rocky’s transition from small-time (Rocky) to a boxing manager (Rocky V).  With the ability to assume the role of any of the fighters you unlock, gamers can set up some pretty interesting fantasy matches (e.g. Ivan Drago versus Clubber Lang).


Multiplayer: 8.0
With no shortage of boxers to choose from in the long lineup of characters, the game is a lot fun going up against a friend in Exhibition Mode.  Any character unlocked in Movie Mode is available as playable fighters so if a friend wants to be Ivan Drago he can be found in the lineup.


Overall: 7.8
Rocky is a game with a lot of heart and, despite its few faults, is able to provide enough fun for fans of the movies and boxing fans alike.  It sure doesn’t come close to touching the more superior Knockout Kings 2003, but there is still much to enjoy about this game.  Rent this one before considering buying it.


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