Game Description: Pulse-pounding excitement in the first great boxing game for PlayStation. And only the experts at EA Sports could bring it to you! Knockout Kings features 38 of history's greatest fighters including Sugar Ray Leonard Evander Holyfield even the Greatest Muhammed Ali! How would Ali fare against Evander? Find out! With refereeing by Mills Lane there'll be no ear-biting either! It's just like a real boxing match—except no pay-per-view charges!
In the high-risk industry of interactive entertainment, releasing a game across multiple platforms is a cost-effective method of maximizing profits using minimal resources. To state it plainly, companies get to hock the same lousy game over more platforms in hopes of catching more guppies in a larger pond. This practice usually leads hardcore gamers, who would naturally own more than one platform, into a quandary having to figure out which subtly different version would fancy their particular taste the most. For game reviewers like myself, part of my job is to inform such gamers of the slight, yet significant differences between these platform jumpers and to do so, we have to laboriously play through the same title two to three times over (depending on how many versions are available). Surprisingly, such was not the case with Knockout Kings 2000 (KK2000) because the differences between the two versions released were anything but subtle. While the Nintendo 64 version sported arcade qualities like power-up punches and outrageous flips, the PlayStation one delivered a more well-rounded product containing realistic simulation coupled with an arcade slugfest. This review here will focus on the PlayStation version.
Both Dale and I had serious reservations about the N64 version because the prospect of legendary fighters like Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, and Sugar Ray Leonard participating in silly and over-the-top romps didn't seem quite right to us. A game with such significant figures, we thought, would be more appropriate if it were a serious representation with a focus on authenticity. Moving on now to the PSX version, which has an even more impressive lineup (sans Iron Mike, Prince Nasim, and George Foreman), it's worth noting that right off the bat, it does a better job of honoring legendary and contemporary boxers alike not just in its visuals, but in its gameplay as well.
In terms of modes offered, the most engaging is the 'Career' mode where players can create their own personalized fighter, slowly develop his boxing skills, and then go for the championship in his respective weight class. Then there's the 'classic' mode that allows players to simulate legendary matches like the Thrilla in Manilla (Ali vs. Frazier), or Leonard vs. Durant or Leonard vs. Hagler. Mini-biographies for the huge cast of boxers are even included. Finally, of course, there is the obligatory antithesis, Slugfest mode, which allows for less serious boxing fans to pit hefty boxers like Butterbean against lighter peers like De La Hoya, complete with power-up punches and other arcade touches. Though contrary to the strengths of the game, the Slugfest mode isn't a blemish mainly because it's here as an addition rather than as an integral part of the overall package.
KK2000 plays like a no-nonsense, yet full-featured interpretation of boxing. If you've ever seen it in the ring, you can probably do it in the game (with the exception of having some idiot parachuting into the ring and, thankfully, the patented Tyson-ear chomp). Lunging hooks, combination flurries, and clinches are all here, as well as the less sportsmanlike low blows, elbows, and, my personal favorite, kidney punches. Every button on the PlayStation controller is utilized (for better or worse) with the most basic punches relegated to the four main buttons while blocking is handled with the L1 (high) and L2 (low) shoulder buttons. Things start to get hairy, however, when the player is called upon to press two or more buttons in conjunction (to initiate certain moves) right in the middle of a flurry.
For instance, along with low blocking, depressing the L2 button is required for lower body shots. But holding down the R1 button will then convert the four main buttons into flurry punches. Throw in holding down the R2 and those punches turn into powerful lunging ones. Now holding down R1 and R2 at the same time will convert the four main buttons into dirty attacks like low blows. Still with me? Holding down L1 and R1 will put two combatants in a clinch and then the four main buttons will execute rabbit punches, but hold down the R1 during a clinch and you'll get kidney blows. On top of that, signature attacks require pressing two of the four main buttons together and don't even get me started on the combinations outside of the flurries that require Tekken-like combo patterns. Sound confusing? You bet it is. It took me quite a while to come to grips with the control scheme and you better believe your casual gamer is going to give up long before that. Thankfully, training sessions incurred during the 'career' mode will actually try to 'school' players on how to properly execute the extensive techniques, but don't expect the training to be as comprehensive as it should have been considering the complexity of the controls.
Aside from the dense controls, I also had minor issues with KK2000 being billed as a realistic simulator. For the most part, KK2000 delivers what it promises, but strangely enough, I was able to pummel through the ranks largely utilizing only body blow combos. I wasn't intentionally trying to find buggy holes in the system; I simply couldn't find any other successful technique. Computer opponents tended to protect their faces more while exposing their bodies excessively. Being that holding down the L2 button is used for blocking and lower attacks, it also made more sense to attack low because I could quickly revert to a defensive position, though I don't think that's what the developers had in mind. One other thing to note was that in one match I had against Floyd Patterson, I threw over 1,600 punches and landed more than half! I don't know about you, but it sounds a bit extreme to me for a simulator.
The developers clearly have their hearts in the right place here. Yet, the final execution isn't what I would describe as stellar, but serviceable. There's a good attempt at giving KK2000 some personality and hip-hop flav by gracing the soundtrack and general background music with multiple full-fledge rap songs (by nobodies, but complete with an MTV-style music video). But beyond the tunes, everything else feels mediocre. Boxers are modeled accurately, but the aging PlayStation has a hard-time breathing life into them. There's heavy banding in the bland colors and after dozens of matches, the animations, while smooth, start to feel monotonous and canned. The repetitious animation really hurts the game because aside from their bodily appearances, none of the fighters have any trademark swaggering entrances to the ring or any distinct pre- or postfight verbal trash-talking or physical posturing that gives boxing its edgy bite (and I'm not talking about Tyson again). Ali stung opponents with his mouth as well as his fists.
KK2000 suffers a bit by being overly ambitious with its comprehensive roster, but in a good way. I lobbied many complaints and admit to being overly critical of the game, but that's only because I see a tremendous potential for the franchise to entrench itself as the genre-defining standard. With the flaws that I mentioned, I can't see KK2000 proclaiming that just yet. Still, with the reality of today's market, there's but a few scant choices for true boxing fans and KK2000 is still a very attractive package and the only simulator-like game in town. So while I was hampered by the complex controls and turned off by the lack of unique animation, I still enjoyed playing the game and it held my interest long enough for me work my way up to the heavyweight championship and defend it several times. So KK2000 misses the moon, but at least ends up in the stars.
I agree with Chi here, in fact there isn't much I can find to disagree with. The legendary boxers are represented here much more faithfully than in the N64 version and the extras on the disc (boxer bios and 'classic fights') are pretty slick and are welcome additions. As Chi mentioned, this version is much more of a simulation and those of you who read my N64 review will know that the lack of this feature was mostly responsible for my low overall rating. My Frazier-Ali fight played and looked much more like the real thing thanks to the toned-down off-the-wall gameplay mechanics. And as far as the controls go, I found them to be pretty good. Sure a novice may have some problems at first, but it's pretty easy to get into it after a few bouts. What got me was the training mode. Whereas the N64 version had a cheesy mock-bout to learn offense and defense, the PSX version comes with the option to use the heavy bag and a weight bench among other things. They aren't as interactive as the training modes in Ready 2 Rumble, but they are here and this certainly adds to the game.
However, the problem with this game isn't the direction the developers took with the genre, but the overall package. As Chi mentioned, the graphics are not stellar. Character models are nice but they look better and much cleaner in the N64 version and animations are way too repetitive to truly distinguish boxers from each other. A more minor issue for me was the ring babes (sorry ladies, I don't know what else to call them), who are rendered in real-time but wind up with an angular and somewhat freakish look about them. I would much rather have had the developer film REAL models (I probably wouldn't complain about load times or anything if I got to see that!). Overall, KK2000 (PSX) is a pretty good game. It's the best option on the market for simulation fans that want more than an arcade slugfest.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Animated Violence
For those who like their boxing experiences way over-the-top, go with Ready 2 Rumble (preferably the Dreamcast version) and stay away from the N64 version of Knockout Kings 2000. Those looking for a more authentic interpretation of the sport, Knockout Kings 2000, despite its flaws, is attractive for its many impressive features. Its impressive lineup of boxers (which includes the WB's Marlon Wayans and NBA's Tim Duncan!?!) is simply unsurpassed and there's a level of dignity and respect for the sport. But be weary of the complex controls that will reward those who bone-up, but frustrate those looking for a quick fix.