|System: PSP||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Ubisoft||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Ubisoft||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: March 13, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Cole Smith
Rocky Balboa is exclusive to the PSP, but that's less impressive when you take into account that this game does not emulate the movie version. Instead, it's a best-of fighting game that recreates all of the matches from the entire Rocky series. While you may be thinking of classic matches such as the one against Apollo Creed, all of the matches from all of the movies have been included. But that's the extent of the gameplay content. This is just a fighting game with no career mode and a very shallow story mode. It's straightforward and simple in its presentation, but at the core is a very average fighter with an overly complex control system.
I expected a lot more from an exclusive, movie-licensed game on the PSP. The game title and the information on the box are somewhat misleading as it suggests that the content in this game is relevant to the latest movie of the same name. It only includes the fighting in this game and some footage from the latest film, but it does so from every Rocky movie. If the fighting system were more streamlined, the storyline could easily be overlooked as this isn't intended to be an interactive movie. I can't fault the game for trying to pack as much action in as possible but there are some issues with the control system that seem to confuse depth with complexity.
In the latest Rocky movie, Rocky is coaxed out of retirement after an unexpected resurgence of interest in his past glories. His life has changed drastically. His wife is dead and his kid has moved away, and generally he's out of touch and out of shape. Rocky has reverted to his original underdog status. It's hard not to want to root for the old bum. But in this game, we don't connect with his character. Little effort is made to delve into his personality and motives. The single motivation of the game is beating your opponent. While I'm not implying that Rocky movies display incredible depth, this game makes them look like they were directed by Scorsese. Some depth could have been included with a career mode where points could be acquired to increase skills and stats. Rocky is not the only character that you play as. All of the fights from the movie series are included, even the ones that don't include Rocky. There are a few different modes such as the tutorial and multiplayer modes but the Fast Lane and Exhibition are just variations of the main fighting theme.
To get yourself worked up into a violent frenzy, your first stop should be the tutorial mode. This control system will certainly get you in the mood for slamming your fist into a few faces. While I do appreciate the extra depth and nuances of moves, they are implemented in a very user-unfriendly way. There's no excuse for this since this game was developed exclusively for the PSP. It just doesn't feel good, and that's even after an entire day of play. It's the lack of an analogue stick that really makes things awkward. The nub is put to use, but it's not a great substitute. Consequently the punches are mapped to the face buttons. The square and the triangle access the left and right punches while the X and 0 access the left and right hooks. You can modify hooks by pressing the nub to the left for fast hooks or to the right for more powerful hooks. Pressing face buttons in tandem will yield different combos, and the D-pad is used for moves such as lunges where you throw your entire body at your opponent. Eventually you will get used to these controls, and you're going to have to if you want to get to the end since button mashing won't get you very far at all.
Successful fighting is not unlike driving a car in that you have to be in the driver's seat and keep an eye on the indicators. In this case you have indicators that will display your health, stamina, breath, and mood. You'll only be concerned about the health bar when it gets close to empty since this is when you're the most vulnerable to attack. Your stamina and breath meter will show you when you're getting low on power. Take the appropriate actions and take a break to regain some strength. Moods range from beaten down to aggressive. Each fighter has a specific starting mood but it will change with the situations in the ring. For example, if you string a lot of hits together you will build up the power mood. This gives you incredible strength for a short duration but it can often be enough to win the match if you're opponent's health bar is low.
When you're on the receiving end of a power mood assault, things can sour pretty quickly. When you're down for the count, you have to regain your composure to get back up. That requires focusing your eyesight and giving your virtual head a shake. It's not always easy to get back up but somehow your AI opponents don't seem to have much trouble, even with seriously depleted health. There are some blocking moves that you can employ to protect yourself, if you can remember how to pull them off fast enough. There are a lot of moves to memorize, as well as some seemingly ambiguous reference to keep your fighter "balanced."
As far as the fighters go, this isn't a bad looking game. The character models look similar to their movie counterparts but they tend to look a little too "rendered." By that I mean that they look more like good 3D computer images than human beings. They have a sheen to them that is more akin to a shiny, Formula One racer. The animation is smooth and I didn't notice any slowdown, but there are some long load times. There are some slow motion scenes which are activated during a power mood, which look spectacular. The sweat and spit flies, and bruises and swelling appear on the unlucky fighters' faces. The punches are loud and clear. You can see, hear and feel the brute force. There's music from the series that is sure to have fans humming along. The commentary is delivered well but it's not always accurate as to what's taking place on screen.
There's not much cohesion to Rocky Balboa. It's a form-less game that lacks direction. If you can tackle the control system and come to terms with it, you'll be somewhat rewarded, but the average gamer is unlikely to invest so much time for so little compensation.
CCC Senior Writer