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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.