Knockout Kings 2002 Review (Xbox)
KNOCKOUT KINGS 2002: PREPARE TO GET POUNDED
When Knockout Kings first came out for the PSX it was a unique title that prided itself on realism. EA was really the first developer to go out and license as many real life boxers as they did. The game itself was also strong on the simulation side with things like clinching, combinations, and facial damage. As with most simulation based games, it was embraced by hardcore boxing fans, but the for the average gamer it may have seemed a bit stale. As with a lot of sports games, developers are always looking for that perfect balance of simulation coupled with that easy to pick up feel. EA may have achieved just that with this newest addition to the series. The question is have they gone too far on the arcade side of things?
This game almost can be classified somewhere between a boxing game and a beat ‘em up fighting game. The action in the ring is fast and furious. Some of your upper tier boxers (Ali, Frazier, Lewis, etc.) can throw a multitude of punches in a hurry. While I found this to be quite fun, it may offend boxing sim fans simply because it defies realism. No way are you going to be able to throw three hook punches in succession with the speed these guys execute. Depending on how you approach a fight, the amount of punches that occur can be inflated, with totals in the hundreds for each boxer. Still you can come up with some incredible offensive combinations and execute them at lightning speed. The controller is ultra responsive as far as punching goes, and bobs and weaves are now activated by slight movement with the left analog stick. Personally, I preferred the controller mapping of last year’s game, but you can adjust the sensitivity of the analog stick and you get used to it after a few bouts. Upper cuts can be a devastating tool and are executed in conjunction with holding down the right trigger and hitting various buttons. One thing that is missing in action is clinching. Perhaps it is a boring part of boxing, but it is still a fundamental part of the sport. I would have liked to see EA keep this element in the game.
On the defensive side of things, EA made control extremely simple. All that is needed to perform a block is to hit the left trigger for each punch thrown. The problem is it takes a great deal of practice for this technique to be effective. It is supposed to be utilized based on timing, but the problem is that blocking jabs can be extremely difficult as they occur so quickly. For that matter, most punches themselves occur in rapid-fire fashion and you end up getting pummeled more often than not. Of course, movement is another important strategy to keep from getting your clock cleaned, but be honest it’s far easier to mount an over-powering offensive than a stifling defense. In this case the saying “a great defense is a better offense” is applicable for the most part. That’s not saying you can blindly throw a zillion punches and be successful. Fatigue does set in rapidly and more experienced fighters will sit back and let you wear yourself out. You will have to incorporate some moving, blocking, and then you can unleash that offensive firepower on your opponent. Even though it is unbalanced I can honestly say it felt great to put a good whooping on an opponent. Is it realistic? Probably not, but it was very enjoyable nonetheless.
Stunning!!! That’s how I would describe the graphics in this game. The boxers and environments look nothing short of incredible. The boxer’s body and facial models are spot on in gorgeous definition. The ring girls may cause some drooling, and the rings and backgrounds are fantastic. It’s apparent that EA pumped out the polygons in mass quantity for this game. The replays are also breathtaking. Nothing will make your jaw drop like watching Evander Holyfield’s head and arms fall through the ropes after he gets leveled with a haymaker. Or watching Ali take a two-step lunge punch to destroy some poor sap. You’ll also see boxers grimace as they get tagged with different blows. EA uses several dramatic camera replays in wide screen type of effect for it’s replays. I can’t stress how awesome the replays look in this game. Even if you hate boxing games, you might want to rent this game just to see the replays. They truly look that good.
The animations are also well done in Knockout Kings 2002. Stances, punching styles, and movements are varied especially with the higher profile boxers. Collision detection is well done as boxers will twist, contort, and fall back according to how their bodies absorb punches. The fall animations include the drunken stumble from last year, and some nice twisting and backwards collapses. Again all are available in high resolution. Facial damage is decent as cuts, bruises, and swelling will haunt those boxers taking a significant pounding. One nice little addition this year, is seeing the mouthpiece fly out during a fight. Overall Knockout King rivals any sports game this year in the looks department.
PRESENTATION AND FEATURES
The presentation this year is a bit on the simplistic side. You might even say it’s a bit on the skimpy side. Commentary is ok but nothing new and actually there are no post fight comments this year. The commentators will offer criticism if you are fighting in a slugfest manner and getting pummeled by not blocking. Other than a few critiques here and there it is fairly generic. There are few ring introductions except for some championship bouts. However, that might not be a bad thing as the aisle walks were far too long last year. There are a few humorous cut scenes that take place in Career mode. You hire a manager and he either offers praise or criticism in between bouts.
There are only three gameplay modes this year: Exhibition, Tournament, and Career. Obviously Exhibition and Tournament are multi-player affairs, and Career is a single player mode. In Career mode you can either chose an established boxer or create your own. The real challenge is to bring up your own created boxer and trying to make him a champion. It’s not necessarily easy as you have a pyramid of boxers, and you start off pretty low in the area of attributes. As you complete fights you gain attributes to improve your fighter, but watch out. Lose three fights during your career, and it’s retirement city for your boxer. You also have the ability to bump up the difficulty, as there are four levels from which to use. There is a Tutorial, but it’s not hands on like last year’s version. It is basically a movie that explains how the controller is mapped for offensive/defensive execution. I preferred the training mode in Knockout Kings 2001 as you could actually practice those combos and moves. It’s obvious that EA pulled out all the stops in graphics and fast gameplay, but came up a bit short in the area of overall depth. There is a lot of room for growth in KO Kings gameplay modes, and that may hurt this game in replay value.
I don’t know what was more fun. Smashing someone into submission or watching the stunning replays after the fact. Yes Knockout Kings 2002 might be more considered a button masher/arcade game than a strategic sim, but bottom line, it’s one enjoyable game. If you’re a hardcore simulation fan, it may not be for you, but others who are looking for some fast-paced beat ‘em down boxing should give it a try.