Developer: Venom Games
Release Date: September 28, 2004
Rocky Balboa makes his return to the digital ring in Rocky: Legends, the follow-up to 2002’s Rocky. Two years ago, the only serious contender to Ubisoft’s original Rocky was EA Sports' Knockout Kings. Since then, however, EA has raised the stakes with the highly acclaimed, “Total Punch Control”-sporting Fight Night 2004. Even though Rocky: Legends approaches the boxing genre from a more arcade-ish angle and lacks the depth of the more realistic Fight Night, Legends is still worth a look, especially for fans of the Rocky movies.
Legends employs fairly traditional gameplay mechanics. The face buttons throw straights and jabs. Pressing up or down in conjunction with the face buttons throws hooks, and holding R1 with the face buttons throws uppercuts. Tapping the R1 button followed by a face-button tap lets loose a “super punch,” which, if you connect, causes massive damage. You can also perform blocks, dodges, and counters by using L1 with the direction and face buttons. Holding both the L1 and R1 buttons allows you to move freely around the ring, just in case you want to completely avoid further encounters with your opponent’s fists. A helpful addition is the ability to push advancing opponents away by simultaneously pressing L1 and the select button. It’s kind of an awkward reach on the controller, but can be helpful when Clubber Lang is tenderizing your face.
There are a few meters you should keep an eye on during a fight. First, there is a new audience bar that reflects your boxer’s level of crowd support. To get the audience on your side, you need to perform successful combos, dodges, and counters. Once this meter is full, you’ll be granted the ability to throw a “triple super punch” (not to be confused with the relatively ho-hum “super punch”). Connecting a triple super punch combo is truly devastating to your opponent, usually sending him straight to the mat.
Your life bar displays both potential health and actual health. If you’re taking a beating, your health meter will obviously decrease. However, your actual health increases as you avoid getting the snot beaten out of you. Between rounds, you regain health up to what your potential allows. If your health is below 30% and you’ve already been knocked down twice in a round, press the select button to activate Fury Mode. This increases the speed and damage of your punches, but also takes away the ability to block.
Finally, there is a Punch Power meter that indicates the strength of your blows. Your punches and combos are most damaging when it is full. Every punch you throw decreases this meter, and every moment you don’t throw punches allows it to increase. If you really want to send Apollo to the Moon, you should unleash your most devastating combos when the Punch Power meter is full. This meter adds an interesting aspect to the game, as it encourages players to go on the defensive in order to gain offensive power. Balance is always a good thing.
The combo system in Legends isn’t exactly flexible. There are many different combos that you can perform, ranging from quick one-twos to more complicated six-hit combos. However, you can’t chain them together to any extent, which leads to typical “punch-punch-block, punch-punch-dodge” gameplay. I’m not saying that you should be able to string together 100-hit Capcom-style combos, but the boxing in Legends is so reliant on this closed-end system that the gameplay feels quite stiff. It’s not all bad, though. This system doesn’t allow newbies to button mash and win against more experienced players, because if you don’t know a decent amount of combos, you’re not going to get very far. This is especially true when fighting against the AI because computer opponents quickly pick up on your favorite combos, eventually rendering them ineffective. Using a variety of attacks is essential in order to get far in the single player game.
A significant gripe I have with the button setup is the use of the R1 button to perform uppercuts. Venom Games didn’t grant the diagonal directions any real purpose, so I don’t understand why they opted to use the shoulder button to perform uppercuts. Using the diagonal directions in conjunction with the face buttons would have helped combo inputs flow better. Pressing the shoulder button and a face button is especially awkward when throwing a mid-combo uppercut.
The main attraction of the single player game in Legends is the career mode. Here, you can play as Rocky Balboa, Apollo Creed, Ivan Drago, or Clubber Lang. There are a few cut scenes for each boxer that illustrate events prior to the movies. Legends also offers alternate endings, which show what it would have been like, had Rocky lost against his rivals.
At the start of career mode, you are ranked 25th. You work your way up to champion by challenging higher ranked boxers and participating in different forms of training mini-games. You can challenge only a few ranks above your own, and when you get higher up on the ladder, you can only challenge the next highest boxer.
You may be tempted to challenge the highest-ranked boxer allowed, but this isn’t always beneficial. Between matches, you are given one to three months of training time. If you skip a fight, you also skip the opportunity to train, which means that you’ll be less prepared for bouts against increasingly skillful opponents. Each month represents one training session, which are exercises in button mashing and timing in the vein of Sega’s Decathlete. You can build up specific abilities by performing sit-ups, hitting the speed bag, or skipping rope, for example.
When you successfully beat down an opponent, you take their place in the rankings and receive a cash reward. You can use your earnings to buy new arenas, fighters, game modes, and videos.
Other modes include the standard exhibition match, a bracket-based tournament mode, a survival mode, a practice mode, and a training mode, where you can selectively play the training mini-games.
The AI is decent, as it picks up on your fighting style and favorite combos. However, as with all boxing and fighting games, the multiplayer provides the real fun. Players can fight against each other in the exhibition mode in standard head-to-head style, or compete in one of the training exercises. Unfortunately, your rival has to be sitting next to you, because Venom Games failed to include any online options.
Visually, the PS2 version of Legends is only average. Aliasing rears its ugly, jaggy head in a very noticeable way, and animations are stiff and unnatural. The faces of the boxers look decent, and the facial damage is represented with nice red and purple bruises and swollen eyes. Although the injuries look believable, the facial motions and expressions are not. The fighters’ faces all have a zombie-like quality, and characters’ and announcers’ mouths move in a ridiculous-looking ventriloquist dummy manner. Sure, Stallone isn’t the best actor, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t a puppet.
In a movie-licensed game such as Legends, presentation is very important. Players can fight through the careers of the movies’ most famous characters, with cut scenes to help move the plot along. It’s interesting to see how Ivan, Apollo, and Clubber begin their rise to fame, and it’s also somewhat interesting to see what it would be like if one of them beat the crap out of Rocky at the end of their movies. The storylines don’t go too deep, but Legends will almost certainly tempt even moderate fans of the movies to revisit the classic series. I guess one of the points of licensed games is to get people to buy other forms of the product, and, being the sheep that I am, will be buying the boxed set shortly.
Only two things mar the sound in Legends: the laughable, repetitive voice acting, and the lack of Survivor’s song “Eye of the Tiger.” First, the voice acting is outsourced to impersonators who come off as stiff as the game’s animations. I’m sure Mr. T’s schedule was too packed to squeeze in studio time, so all is forgiven.
What is unforgivable is the omission of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.” Instead, we get some generic song that makes an obvious attempt at ripping off the classic, as if we hardcore Survivor fans wouldn’t notice. What’s going on, Survivor? You think you’re too good for us video gamers? I’m retracting my Survivor Fan Club membership, effective immediately. Thankfully, the famous Rocky theme, “Gonna Fly Now,” is played throughout the game.
Aside from mediocre graphics, an inflexible combo system, and the omission of one of the best hair band songs ever written, Rocky: Legends is a satisfying experience. The career mode is a nice mix of plot, action, and some very fun mini-games. If you’re able to find a decent human competitor, Legends can be quite addictive, especially when you throw those two-player training drills into the mix. If you’re a hardcore fan of the Rocky movies and arcade boxing games, you’ll love Legends. If you don’t give a rat’s hindquarters about Rocky and enjoy more realistic boxing games, steer yourself towards EA Sports' Fight Night. All in all, Legends goes the distance, but only in the realm of shallow, arcade-ish boxing games.