Rocky makes all the difference. With a generic title like Boxing King, Rocky Balboa would be a title to play once and forget. With the excellent use of the movie tie-in, there’s an additional layer that makes this far easier to get into. It’s still clunky at is core, but you can’t possibly turn down Rocky.
There’s no connection here between this PSP exclusive and the two excellent Rocky efforts on the PS2 and Xbox. It’s a different engine, developer, and publisher. This is a new one from the ground up, lacking in many standard features and the tight engine that powered those overlooked Rocky games on the home consoles.
Immediately apparent is that there’s not much here to do. Training is available in Mick’s Corner, Historical Fights offer all the battles from the film, and the flimsy Fast Lane offers fights that need to be completed in a certain way and in a tight time constraint. There’s no leveling up or training, and little sense of progression from any of the modes. Online play is absent, though Ad Hoc multi-player is available.
Historical is where you’ll likely play most of this title. It’s 10 fights long as you follow Rocky’s career, and also take over as Apollo Creed from Rocky IV when needed. An additional 10 fights are unlocked when you beat the initial set, reversing the roles as players take on the role of Spider Rico to Mason Dixon. It’s a cheap way to extend the game.
Each fight brings a video prelude using clips from the proper films up until the bell rings and the player takes over. “Gonna Fly Now” runs as you navigate the menu, a perfect way to spend a few minutes while browsing. It captures the movies beautifully.
Once that bell does ring, you’re stuck with this boxing engine. The nicest thing to say about it is the stamina meter, which contains the player’s punches to limit them to a realistic level. Throwing too many will lower stamina, and over-punching will begin to take away sections of the stamina meter.
Controls are overly complex, though this does allow for a wide range of punches. Most players will find a simple array of jabs and crosses to be enough. AI only picks up the fight on the highest difficulty, and at that point, it’s close to massacre. Collision is sloppy, and if a few small pixels of sweat didn’t leave the victim’s face, you’d have a hard time knowing the punch even connected.
Heavier hits do come with a convincing head snapping animation, though it never looks as if the players fist comes anywhere near the head or body. The single camera view is over the shoulder and is fine, though some extra options would have been welcome. The entire game seems to follow this limited option plan.
Keeping in tone of the movies, when a boxer gets into trouble or takes a flurry of quick hits, there’s the option to enter into a rage type mode. This allows for brief boost to power and speed, generally leading to a knockdown. Defending this attack can be nearly impossible, and system as it’s set up is far too generous. There’s no limit to how many times you can let loose with this extra power during a match, and at times, when time runs down, you can start over immediately for a second push.
Regaining control after a knockdown is also an issue. You’ll use the analog nub to center a bar on a meter in the lower right corner (think grinding a rail in the Tony Hawk series). Randomness seems to determine if the game registers the center marker you’re aiming for. Some fights finish with the player on the losing end far too early.
With a glaring lack of features, options, and sloppily constructed boxing, Rocky Balboa exists as the always irritating quick movie cash-in. Fans of the films (in this case, nearly every movie fan on Earth) and gaming will find the small touches like proper attire and music keeping them moving through the Historical mode. Afterwards, you’ll head back to EA’s fun Fight Night port on the PSP.
Video game rentals provided for review by NumbThumb.
Rocky Balboa is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Violence (duh?).Powered by Sidelines