Developer: Digital Fiction
Release Date: January 29, 2003
Black & Bruised is the kind of game that you buy as part of a booze run. It's an unapologetic party title, meant as a vehicle for head-to-head human competition. It can be played solo, but that's a recipe for frustration at best. It really comes into its own—and I tested this, because I care about you—when you've had at least two scotch and sodas, the room's got way too many people in it, everyone's laughing, and you're flailing at the buttons in a desperate attempt to clock a good friend before he clocks you.
In other words: party game.
Black & Bruised is a cartoonish, overblown, colorful boxing game. I didn't want to start talking about Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!, but it's almost unavoidable. The same sort of cartoonish parody characters predominate the roster, from the brogue-slinging, battered Irish boxer Mickey McFist, to Tiny, a Canadian lumberjack and the tallest guy in the game. The character design may be the best part of Black & Bruised, which is both unfortunate and admirable simultaneously.
The admirable part is that said character design gives the playable boxers insane amounts of personality, particularly with the inclusion of the "Boxer's Life" option, which in other fighting games might be called Story Mode. They're all caricatures, of course, but they're all likeable caricatures. (I do find myself wondering if Holly Vixen's outfit is supposed to look like a cartoon version of BloodRayne, though.)
The unfortunate bit kicks in when you start playing the game. It's fast and furious boxing action, and that is, oddly, the problem.
You see, each boxer has roughly the same moves, albeit some are faster or stronger than others, and the animation is just about flawless. There aren't any patterns or cues to watch for, especially when you're fighting the computer. Instead, you wind up throwing punches back and forth until one of you drops, unless you're very good at mixing up your offense. Sure, you can block and slip punches, but with as fast as those punches come in, it's almost a waste of effort.
In just about every match of this game I played, whether it was against the computer or another player, things inevitably degenerated into button-mashing. It's fast-paced, colorful button-mashing, with a sense of humor, but it's still button-mashing.
That's a shame, too, because Black & Bruised gets just about everything right except the gameplay. There are plenty of secrets to unlock, there's a moderately cool powerup ability that can even the odds in a match (for every ten hits you land, you earn a randomly-bestowed powerup which you can activate with the Z button), and there are a lot of different modes to play through. "Boxer's Life" may be the most fun for a one-player game; it has the most in common with, say, Guilty Gear XX's Story and Mission Modes. As your chosen boxer, you'll progress through six chapters of their story, each one punctuated by a series of fights. Usually, these fights will have a special provision, like not being able to block, multiple opponents in an endurance match, or having to use only your right arm. The movies that punctuate Boxer's Life mode are pretty funny in and of themselves; they aren't exactly worth the price of admission, especially with as frustrating as matches vs. the computer can get, but they're a laugh now and again.
Black & Bruised, despite its flaws, works best as a head-to-head brawler. If you're playing it against a roomful of other people, possibly with some intoxicants present (hint: the safest ones are illegal), it can be a lot of fun. Sure, it's essentially Rock-'Em-Sock-'Em Robots, except it's bright and shiny and needs electricity and is played on a hunk of plastic from Japan, but Rock-'Em-Sock-'Em Robots is cool.
As long as you don't make the mistake of expecting a serious, deep, strategic boxing sim from Black & Bruised, it's possible to wring fun from it. It suffers from some pretty serious design flaws that keeps me from wanting to score it higher than, say, a seven on the scale, but it's still got some definite possibilities. Check it out if you and your friends are looking for a way to kill some time on a Friday night, but don't bring it home for the one-player experience.
Score : 7.0/10