Do it for Mick: Rocky delivers for fans of film with superior playability, appeal

(Editor’s Note: This review is written in reference to the Nintendo GameCube version of Rocky.)

People used to say that Rocky Balboa’s whole life was a million-to-one shot. The merits of that argument aside, what is beyond contention is that the “Rocky” franchise had almost inexplicably fallen off the radar screen of videogame developers and publishers for nearly 15 years, with the last games based on the film series debuting on the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Master System.

Thankfully, that all changed last Nov. 19 as developer Rage Software brought the Italian Stallion, Apollo Creed, Ivan Drago and the rest of the gang back to the game-playing public. Released across all three major platforms, Rocky is not without its flaws; on the whole, however, the title offers an extremely enjoyable gaming experience that no fan of the series or, more generally, boxing games should miss.

Rocky is meticulously faithful to Sylvester Stallone’s boxing saga. Rage has included a whopping 30 different playable characters, each of whom was taken directly from one of the five movies in the series, be they the characters that we all remember (Clubber Lang, Creed, Drago, et al) or the ones that we only saw in newspaper clippings or in montages getting their asses kicked (Spider Rico, Mac Lee Green, Buddy Shaw, etc.).

Though the game’s main single player mode – movie mode – only allows you to play as Rocky himself, gamers will get the chance to knock fists with each of these 30 characters on their way through the game. Better yet, once the gamer has defeated each of these boxers, he or she will then have the opportunity to play as them in the game’s two player mode.

Trademark attention to detail is evident in each of the game’s arenas. Progressing through Rocky will lead gamers to duke it out at nearly every locale found in the series, including the Chapel – perfectly realized with beer bottles being thrown by those in attendance where we first saw Rocky fight in the original movie – to the stadium in Moscow where Rocky helped the United States win the Cold War by defeating the pride of the sinister Soviets, Ivan Drago, in Rocky IV.

Similarly to how the system worked with defeated characters, once players have defeated their opponents in each of these arenas they will be able to fight as them in the game’s two-player mode.

Movie mode is broken into five sections, and Rocky, who is modeled differently in each section to reflect Stallone’s somewhat changing looks from movie to movie – particularly apropos of his musculature – and is referred to as Rocky I, II, III, IV or V, must defeat an assortment of local challengers before facing off with that movie’s main opponent: namely, Apollo Creed I, Apollo Creed II, Clubber Lang, Ivan Drago and Tommy Gunn.

Between fights, Rocky trains with the assistance of Mickey, Apollo or Duke in a variety of familiar settings, be they Mickey’s gym or the meat locker.

These training sequences, though crucial to Rocky’s development as a fighter, are a mixed bag of sorts. Perhaps I didn’t try hard enough to get good at all of them, but the fact remains that it is extremely easy to boost your strength and speed and needlessly difficult to boost your determination, stamina and movement. (Editor’s note: But isn’t that the entire point of the movies?)

The single player mode is, this shortcoming aside, excellently presented. However, Rocky, like all fighting games, is at its best when you and a friend can take control of a boxer and go at it in the ring.

To this end, Rocky is a relatively easy game to become good at, but it should be noted that large differentials in skill do not diminish much from the sheer enjoyment of the two-player mode. This reviewer actually has a friend who absolutely cannot hold a candle to the magnificence that is Rocky III in my command; however, like sheep to the slaughter, this friend of mine never loses interest in playing and receives his merciless beatings without any appreciable decline in enthusiasm.

I have also found that people are far more willing to watch you play Rocky than they normally would be; so whereas normally you would be asked by non-playing friends to turn the game off immediately, with Rocky you can expect your friends to not object to watching a match or two, and may actually find that they cheer on your glorious or humiliating pugilistic efforts.

For all the good in the game, there are flaws. Though the attention to detail is astounding, there is room for improvement in the graphics department. That is not meant to say that Rocky is a bad looking game, but there are certain elements, particularly as regards the way characters move, that could be better. Indeed, the fighters in the game do not move as fluidly as might be expected – they’re not hard to control, they just move somewhat more stiffly than is necessary.

Furthermore, the game is only appreciably challenging at the Champ difficulty level, with novice and contender being veritable walks in the park. Another grievance of mine concerns the round-by-round scoring system, which only provides for scores of 10-10, 10-9 or 10-8, and is based strictly on how many, rather than how damaging, the punches you landed on your opponent were and whether you managed to knock him down, regardless of how many times you managed to do so. If you slaughter your opponent for three minutes and knock him down twice, there’s no reason that a score of 10-7 shouldn’t be possible; oddly, however, it’s not.

Particularly distressing is the obscene amount of load time that Rocky features. The game takes at least 25 seconds to load after the opening credits, and just before a fight begins you can expect 10-15 seconds of loading time as the game boots up the necessary data. In fairness, there is absolutely no load time once the fight itself begins, and if it was necessary for Rage Software to up the load times in other areas to ensure uninterrupted matches, then that sacrifice is certainly welcome.

In spite of these slight missteps, “Rocky” devotees take heart, Rocky is an excellent gaming experience. Obsessively faithful to the series (a good thing) and instantly enjoyable, Rocky shouldn’t be missed by fans of the movies or anyone who enjoys a good fighting game.

Kudos to myself for not making one “Yo, Adrian!” reference throughout this entire review. Self-defeating kudos, anyway.

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