Publisher: Ubi Soft
Release Date: 11/14/2002
The series of Rocky films has always been well received and known. For those of you that haven’t seen the movies, Rocky is a sage about a professional boxer named Rocky Balboa that overcomes many tough obstacles both in and out of the boxing ring. To many, the series of Rocky films had a large amount of symbolism in them, ranging from one man’s struggle against adversity to the representation of Russia and the USA during the Cold War. Rage’s combination of all five Rocky films into a single game and even licensing pictures, music, and the likenesses of the actors is admirable but the gameplay was KOed before it even left the ring.
The premise of the game is simple enough, follow the path of Rocky’s career from the first fights in Rocky to the last great match in Rocky 5, taking on opponents just as Rocky took them on. Trained by Mickey, Rocky’s trainer, you increase your skills in various ways before every fight to improve your stats. Sometimes before fights you will view cutscenes with clips of pictures taken from the movie to set up the basic plot of the Rocky series. After that, it’s time to put on your gloves and take to the ring.
Boxing games are just as difficult to create and any other sports title, and nearly any other game for that matter. You have to have intuitive controls, good gameplay, at least decent graphics and sound, and something to tie it all together in the form of a plot or goal. Without the creative and quality use of the movie license the GBA incarnation of Rocky would have probably botched all five of those necessary traits. From a control standpoint alone Rocky is rather unresponsive. The A and B buttons control your left and right arms, and the R button serves as a modifier to allow you to use different punches. The L button allows you to block. If the problem with the controls was just the unresponsiveness alone the game would probably stand up to the competition, but there’s another problem that compounds the issue.
Every punch, jab, uppercut, block, and hook is made up of about 2-3 frames of animation, meaning that when you punch not only is it a bit unresponsive you’re not going to see your fist moving in at all. Having such a low number of frames of animation for almost every move in the game makes them just that much harder to use, as it’s easier to judge a moves range and speed when you have more than two frames to judge it on. Blocking in the game is a double-edged sword, since there’s so little frames you can barely ever tell when a punch is coming, let alone have the time to block it. Also, there is only one way to block which blocks all punches. The computer uses that to its advantage and the player’s frustration about 80% of any match. One of the biggest problems with the gameplay though is the stamina meter, which gets depleted every time your throw a punch. Since blocked punches do no damage and you can never tell when the enemy is unblocking chances are about 75% of the punches you throw are doing absolutely nothing but draining your stamina meter. To top it off, the boxers gain close to a quarter of their health back at the end of every round, effectively nullifying any progress you made taking down the other guy’s health.
From a graphical standpoint, Rocky fares better but not by much. Rocky does make creative use of the GBA’s color palette, in both the cutscenes and the backgrounds and rings where the matches take place. The boxers themselves do look quite a bit like their movie counterparts but also seem very bland, almost like a watercolor painting was put in the washer for a couple seconds. A little less time spent on the backgrounds and more time spent on the boxers themselves would have been time well spent.
Sounds in the game have their ups and downs, with a generally decent overall performance. The crowd noises sound pretty much like a roaring crowd, if not a little lower quality than their real life counterparts. The crowd will yell “Rocky!” every match before the bell rings which also sounds pretty good. Rage even got the license to include the song “Gonna Fly Now”, which anyone who’s ever seen a Rocky movie will be immediately familiar with. When you land punches in the game they sound nice and solid, and give off a fairly authentic feel.
Rocky does stick to where it got it’s material from very well and that is a big upside to the game. However, with the issues it has it seems that the money spent to get the license would have been better off going to the developers to tweak the game and fine tune it. As it stands, even the most hardcore Rocky fans are likely to be disappointed by the GBA versions shoddy gameplay and sluggish controls. For those who are looking to become Rocky or just want to pick up a good, immersive boxing game, your time and money would be better used elsewhere.