Knockout Kings 2003 Review (NGC)
When I received the latest iteration of Knockout Kings from EA, I really had no idea what to expect. I liked Knockout Kings 2002 on the Playstation 2 well enough at first, but after a day or two, its flaws really began to jump out. When playing multiplayer, the person with the fastest jab almost always won. Your boxers would get out of position far too often, and the control scheme seemed delayed and unresponsive. Seeing what appeared to be the same game wrapped in a fancy new “2003” wrapper frightened me a bit. Could EA actually fix what was wrong with the first game, and deliver a solid boxing title on the Gamecube? Not really.
The graphics in the game are actually pretty good. I’ve never been a fan of the ‘cube graphically, but KOK was pretty good here. They had the same sweat effects, the same models, and generally don’t look like raw gorilla ass like I thought they would. Connecting with a good shot (more on that later) gets the sweat and/or blood flying, and you’ll see a lot of bruised eyes and swollen faces. The boxers themselves really look good. It’s the rest of the game that looks bland. The crowds seem flat and lifeless, and the arenas don’t really display anything that wasn’t shown last year on the PS2. The lighting effects are decent, but it was pretty obvious that EA spent the majority of their time making the fighter models look and move realistically (with good reason). With most of the visual emphasis focused on the fighters anyway, you don’t really notice what’s going on around you unless you make a conscious effort to look. The framerate stayed at a pretty steady clip throughout, and all in all, the game left a slightly above-average impression in my mind.
I don’t remember the commentary from Knockout Kings 2002, but the audio from this version is once again “slightly better than average”. Larry Michael and Max Kellerman do a pretty good job of calling the fight, although in all honesty, it’s another one of those “you have to be paying attention to hear it” things. Most of the time, when I’m trading punches with another boxer, the last thing I’m doing is listening to the commentator talk about what I’m doing. I already know what I’m doing, but I guess it’s better than having silence. They seem to repeat what they’re saying a lot, but there’s not a lot to a boxing game other than “OOOH look at that left hook!”, or “Connects with the right, wow!”. The punches sound realistic, and you’ll hear a good thud here and there when you really ring somebody’s bell (pardon the pun). There’s nothing new here, but nothing that doesn’t fit the genre, either.
I might be in the minority here, but the gameplay in KOK just doesn’t get it done for me. I feel it’s somewhat of a step up from 2002 on PS2, but in the end, it really left me wanting more. The biggest problem is that most bouts still resort to “he who jabs fastest, wins” matchups. You could try and implement strategy, sure. In the end, you’ll end up digging yourself out of a hole by quick jabs and such, not really due to knowledge of the sport and good technique. That hasn’t really changed in EA’s boxing efforts over the years, so it’s nothing new there. Multiplayer bouts tend to turn into a mashfest, as expected, and the single player experience leaves a lot to be desired. That’s not a good combination to have. On to the gameplay modes.
The first thing that people want to know about is slugfest mode. It’s the only “new” addition to the KOK franchise, and it will help lure some of the 12 year old Tekken crowd over to KOK. You have powerups, super punches, no timer, and no refs. In essence, anything that makes the sport of boxing actual boxing, they removed. I truly hate this mode. After the obligatory 30 or 35 matches, some against friends, I gave it up for good.
The career mode, however, is the lone bright spot in this title for me. It follows the same pattern as KOK2002, but you now have to rest between fights. If you really get pummeled during a bout, you could be out for up to 3 months. I haven’t seen a fighter get “too old to fight” yet, but it’s a nice concept. If you perform wonderfully, and barely take damage, you could be back in the ring in a matter of weeks. As you progress through the game, you can improve your fighter’s stats, making him a force to be reckoned with. Of course, the old “speed/power above all else” formula still works here. Max speed and stamina, and the rest fall by the wayside. You’ll win a lot of fights with 100 speed/stamina and 25 of everything else, which is a shame.
What the entire gameplay experienced boiled down to for me, however, was that it never felt like real boxing. I have never been a fan of the changed control scheme, using small stick movements for bob/weave, and larger ones for moving. I end up bobbing for a bit before I start to move, and usually get caught by a haymaker in the process. I finally started winning consistently, but that’s only after I resorted back to “jab jab jab jab haymaker” gameplay. It shouldn’t be like that. This game could have, and should have, been more.
Knockout Kings debuts on the Gamecube with the same basic gameplay we've seen on other consoles. There are a few new things here, but nothing that will make gamers feel the need to part with fifty bones for what essentially is Knockout Kings 2002 1/2. If you’ve played Knockout Kings 2002, you have no reason whatsoever to try this unless you want the Slugfest mode. If you have a Gamecube, but never tried Knockout Kings, you might enjoy it. I think I might be in the minority thinking this game is an absolute mountain of canine fecal matter, but that’s the great thing about reviewing a game. My opinion is my opinion only…and my opinion in this case is that Knockout Kings 2003 is just another quick hit to get a gamer’s $50 on a new console that doesn’t have any competition for it.