Rocky is a huge license and many people may wonder at the lack of previous attempts to bring it into the world of video games. Well, it may be partly due to the lack of success that boxing titles have had. While the martial arts have spawned legions of top selling titles and even wrestling has sold big in video game form, boxing has gone largely unexploited.
Brought to you by Rage and under license from MGM, Rocky is here to change all that. The game comfortably bridges the gap between accessibility and depth. This title offers a casual gamer satisfactory results from button mashing while retaining a level of difficulty and complexity for more experienced gamers. The film clips used for the attract mode and those that play as you progress through the game are a mixture of authentic footage from the Rocky films and recreated scenes in the form of FMV´s.
One of the key things about any title which is based on a license is how it exploits that license. As much as possible it must be authentic, it has to look and sound like the film to some extent, as that will be the main reason that people will buy the game. However the developers still have to put a game in there and in this case that meant creating a boxing engine that feels fun to use but allows for the development of complicated combinations of punches as the player improves, much like any beat em up.
Rocky allows you to play as pretty much all of the characters that appear throughout the five films and a few more besides. However to unlock them you will have to play through the game in Movie Mode. This basically means guiding the Italian Stallion through all five movies. You will need to defeat twenty opponents in total including Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang (Mr T), Ivan Drago and the anticlimatic Tommy Gunn. Once beaten the losing boxer becomes available for selection in the other modes. Exhibition mode allows you to play a friend or the xbox, Knockout Tournament allows you to set up a tournament with up to sixteen boxers and the Sparring Mode allows you to practice on someone who won´t hit back.
As you play through the game, in between each bout, you get two training sessions. Auto training gets you a guaranteed five points, but if you don´t go for more than that, then you will find Rocky struggling against some of the opponents you have to face later. There are five different training types - Strength, this utilises the punch mitts, your trainer calls out which punch to throw and the faster you react the higher the points you get. Speed, this involves the speed bag, you have to maintain a certain speed and throw the right punches in order to score. Stamina, macho skipping, apparently you can do tricks while skipping but I found this impossible. Determination, situps, with some unfriendly character dropping a medicine ball on your stomach every few repetitions. Movement, which involves moving and pulling off combination punches to score.
The training sessions are alternately fun and frustrating. I found the movement one the most useful as it teaches you various combinations of punches, the strength training is good for improving your reaction time but both the speed and stamina sessions are way too difficult to master. However the training sessions are a nice idea and they add a satisfying feeling of building up your boxer as you progress.
The game is attractively realised, basically it looks good and even better it is fun to play. Upon entering the ring as Rocky his trademark music blares out, Mickey is in your corner (until you reach the point at which he dies in the films) and he dispenses advice to you in between rounds. There is a nice bit of build up from the ring announcer as he introduces the two opponents. The crowds look nice and they are well animated, in some of the dodgier venues they will even throw bottles and cans onto the floor of the ring while you are fighting. Fights initially start with only a few rounds and get longer as you progress, the number of rounds is also affected by the difficulty level you select upon starting a game.
The control system takes some getting used to but favourable results can be gained from button mashing. The animations on the boxers as they get hit are excellent, the blood and sweat flies across the canvas. Knockdowns are also very satisfying and there are a range of animations for the felled boxers as they bite the dust, my personal favourite is when they drunkenly stumble for a few steps before hitting the deck. You move the boxer with the D-pad or the left thumbstick, X and Y are punches to the head, A and B are punches to the body, and combinations of right trigger and these buttons offer still more punch types. Once you improve it is possible to string various punches together into a smooth destructive combination attack on your opponent. In addition to this each boxer has two super punches, if you catch your opponent with one of these he will generally become woozy giving you the opportunity to finish him off.
The scoring system for the fights is very easy to follow, if you win a round but there are no knockdowns then it will be scored ten to nine in your favour, if you win a round after knocking down your opponent it will be scored ten to eight again in your favour. At the end of the fight, barring a knockout, the points are tallied up and the winner is announced. Couldn´t be simpler really.
This game is, above all, great fun. As a single player experience it is enjoyable but in multiplayer it gets even better. The main criticism I would offer is that the game does require a fair bit of stamina, your hands are going to be aching and the Xbox pad is not the greatest design in the world. I found playing through the movie mode with a friend was the best way to approach it, playing a few rounds and then switching players allows you a bit of relief from the frantic button mashing and might save you from the dreaded blisters. It is also frustratingly easy for someone new to the game to beat an experienced player by repeatedly pulling off a fast punch, however over a few rounds that experience will generally win out and some of the combinations you can learn are devastating. If you are ever knocked down the thumbs are punished even more as you have to repeatedly press A to get up, and as you grow more and more tired this becomes harder and harder to do.
Overall this is a great title and with the lack of decent games available on Xbox so far I would recommend you give it a try. The title acheives what it sets out to do, it captures the feeling and spirit of the movies and it is accessable and fun to play. If you are a fan of the movies then you must buy this, you won't be disappointed. If not I would still recommend renting to see what you think.