Listen. Can you hear that repetitive boom of people shouting, the raw power of bloodthirsty human emotion, that dull roar of raving fans cheering, begging for a hero? And if you listen close enough, you can just barely make out what exactly the people are screaming for. And as the crowd chants wildly, a hero named Rocky Balboa takes a stand for the underdogs of the world and fights against almost impossible odds. But Rocky is not a detached soldier of fortune, nor is he the ultimate savior of his people. This young and brave soul is but a humble boxer that was raised on the streets of Philadelphia, with only his two fists to rely on for survival. He has nothing else but his desire to fight.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? Even if you were only born within the last fifteen years or so, the name Rocky Balboa should jump out at you like a newspaper headline. For years, the Rocky series has graced movie collections everywhere. Sylvester Stallone’s incredible portrayal of the eternal underdog achieved critical acclaim in the early to mid 1980’s. And although the Eye of the Tiger saw Rocky through countless matches, the popularity of the boxer’s trials and tribulations fizzled out in the early 1990’s. Of course, we can blame this on the slew of horrid sequels that accompanied Rocky’s first epic tale. It seemed that the great boxer would fall into cinematic obscurity…Until now. Rocky has been revived on this generation of gaming consoles, with a game that chronicles all five of Rocky’s classic battles. It’s time for the Italian Stallion to rise up and step back into the ring, one last time.
So you’re playing as the legend himself now. But that doesn’t mean that you can just lie around and automatically become the champ again! You’ve got to go back in the ring and face all of the classic foes from their respective movies. You’ve got Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, and plenty of other contenders just waiting to beat you to a pulp. Staying true to the continuum of the movie plot, you’ll face all of the boxers who showed up in the original Rocky, then move on to all the foes from Rocky II, then so on through Rocky V. Once you’ve gone through everyone, you will become the undisputed champion yet again!
But before you jump into the fray, take a look at what else this game has to offer. If you don’t want to try the movie storyline just yet, give the Exhibition Mode a shot. Also, you have the basic Sparring Mode available to you, giving you the opportunity to practice your fighting technique and get a good sense of what it takes to become the champ. However, both of these modes have a severely limited number of default fighters. You need to unlock more contenders by playing through the various Movie Mode bouts. Also, you can unlock the Tournament Mode, which allows you and up to 15 of your best boxing buddies to play a boxing tournament of remarkable proportions. Plus, there’s also the Gallery, which lets you view small animation clips that you’ve unlocked from Movie Mode. And while there is so much stuff lying here, you must remember that you have to unlock just about every feature in the game besides the Movie and the basic Exhibition and Sparring Modes. While this may seem like a daunting task, the rewards are certainly worth the trouble.
Of course, you still need to become a great boxer if you have any hope of progressing through the game. You have all of the standard boxing maneuvers at your fingertips, including basic jabs, uppercuts, crosses, and hooks. However, none of Rocky’s foes have ever been known to throw a fight. You have to come up with some sort of your own fighting technique with the limited moves you’re given. When you combine this necessity with some very impressive AI, the need for strategy becomes apparent. Unlike a few boxing games out there, this game really emphasizes strategy and fighting technique as the key to your success. Can you afford to risk sacrificing defense for a few hooks? Can you launch a powerful combo to keep your opponent on their toes? Can you even afford to get hit without collapsing? All of these questions are answered with split-second decisions as you play the game.
Also, you can’t go into a fight without being properly conditioned. Staying true to the Rocky storyline, you must endure the harsh physical training to improve Rocky’s overall stats and abilities. Does Rocky need to improve his stamina stats? Have him jump some rope. Is he slow on his feet? Have him practice movement and combos with the punching bag. All of these training sessions come in the form of timed mini games that usually involve specific button input commands or button mashing. However, don’t take these training sessions for granted. These mini games are not only fun, but also they make a huge difference when the actual fights start.
But what makes this game so appealing doesn’t just end with the game setup. Rocky’s return is presented with decent quality and detail. Granted, the fighters look a little blocky and out of proportion, but everything else will send wave after wave of nostalgia for all the Rocky fans out there. All of the arenas have been rendered with a fair amount of detail and style, creating a wonderfully realistic atmosphere. You can see all of the facial features of the fighters, from the blood to the bruises, from Apollo Creed’s classic American Flag shorts to Clubber Lang’s signature Mohawk hairstyle. Also, you’ve got tough old Mickey in your corner, spewing out all sorts of advice for you to win the fight. He even has that distinct accent that made him so lovable in the movies. All of the characters have their voices taken directly from the movies and molded into the game. Rocky even shouts his well-known “Adrian!” a few times. And when that famous trumpet theme starts up, you know that Rocky is about to enter another fight for his life. It’s just like the movies.
But in the end, what is it that makes Rocky so awesome? Maybe it’s the attitude, the gritty urban fight scene. Or maybe it’s because the movie was the portrayal of a real hero, a person who was not a godsend for his people, but a simple man who overcame incredible odds. Rocky came from a time when heroes didn’t need to have fancy weaponry or godlike abilities to take down their adversaries. All that was needed was enough determination and heart to see you through. But in this new age, I don’t know what will become of this old hero. All of those movies have somewhat slipped under the radar. I think that this game is probably the first we’ve heard of the Italian Stallion in quite a few years. But despite an old story, this legend is still holding his own on this new front of gaming consoles. And so Rocky continues on through time, with only the Eye of the Tiger guiding the way.
Eight out of ten