In the late 80s, gamers were buzzing about high-tech terms like pixels and sprites. This was due largely to Nintendo's propaganda machine trying to hype the custom MMC chips integrated into their cartridges. In order to justify the higher costs and leverage itself over competitors, Nintendo sought to educate its users about how the chips enabled bigger sprites and more colorful pixels. Today, talk of sprites and pixels has evolved to polygons and textures. But regardless of the lingo, the goal of videogames has always been to present a believable world that transcended technology in the mind of the user. It doesn't happen too often these days, but Ready 2 Rumble is an arcade-style boxing game that manages to achieve that state.
Through wildly imaginative characterizations that has more personality than Don King hyping his latest promotion, Rumble makes it easy to forget all the technology in favor of a vivid boxing microcosm. Rumble is a world that comes complete with heated ring rivalries, larger than life egos, and trash-talking bravado worthy of Mike Tyson after one of his 'patented' first round knockout (remember those?). It's on rare occasion nowadays that I would play a game and not think about polygon counts, frames per second, or texture mapping, but such was the case with Rumble. I was so enthralled by each boxer's unique physical and verbal posturing that I saw them more as cartoonish caricatures rather than optimized triangles (my favorite was Lulu Valentine saying, after a victory, "Didn't your daddy teach you not to play with dolls?"). The characters draw heavily from ethnic stereotyping and with signature moves dubbed 'Ghetto Blaster' for the Hispanic Angel 'Raging' Rivera and 'Cruise Missile' for the Middle Eastern 'Furious' Faz Motar, Rumble gets dangerously close to being insensitive. Thankfully, things improve with the nicknames, which were more clever than insulting, like Jet 'Iron' Chin. Furthermore, there's an overall lighthearted tone and a level of dignity and affection for each character, which makes it seem more like satire than ethnic slurring.
Yet, all of the above-mentioned characterizations would mean little if there wasn't any solid gameplay at the foundation and I'm happy to report that, as far as controls go, Rumble passes with flying colors. Not only do the boxers handle with amazing responsiveness, but there's a surprising amount of depth incorporated into the 4-button attack scheme, representing left/right and upper/lower punches (L/R shoulder buttons are used for upper/lower blocking). This setup not only feels intuitive, but also allows for extremely creative Tekken-esque combo attacks that look painfully devastating when they connect. There are plenty of unique combos and arsenals of attacks to master as well, which makes for good diversity since there are also plenty of boxers to choose from, each with their own distinct style.
In the way of play options, Rumble offers up a straightforward arcade mode and a more in-depth championship mode, which involves setting up a gym and molding multiple wannabes into championship contenders. The quest for the gold involves building up each boxer's attributes through training (represented in clever mini-games) and climbing class ranks by pummeling one opponent after the next in 'Title' fights. Of course, cash is needed to purchase equipment and entry fees necessary for 'Title' bouts and that's where 'Prize' fights come in as on-the-side matches are played out for you to gamble on and earn revenue. All this sounds great on paper, but in execution, it's actually just smoke and mirrors used to mask what builds up to, more or less, the same arcade-mode experience. There isn't really a sense of personalization or intimacy with developing one particular character over another because once one is elevated to a champion, it's off to repeat the whole process again with another guy or gal. There's no create-a-player feature and the whole procedure gets old rather quick. The only real incentive in repeatedly upping classes is to unlock the secret characters.
My only other major complaint is about the low level of difficulty in Rumble. That's not to say that the game is easy instantaneously (the computer roughed me up pretty good when I was learning the ropes). But once you develop a few effective techniques and learn a few killer combos, the game becomes a breeze, especially in championship mode. Fortunately, having a competitive buddy for some two-player versus-mode action can make up for the lack of challenge. The two-player experience can get wild with the grossly exaggerated moves, but it's still very enjoyable and can played with tact and strategy.
So despite the unconvincing championship mode and the progressive ease of play, Rumbleis still a great package overall. As a boxing game, it's totally wild with only some semblance to the actual sport. Yet, sim or no sim, Rumble is without equal in this barren genre. It's more like a three-dimensional Punch-Out complete with the over-the-top antics. However, those antics shouldn't be underestimated because they serve as the heart and soul of the game. And where most games barely have a pulse, Rumble is brimming with personality and life. So much so that I let go of all the high-tech terminology I've picked over the course of my gaming life and simply boxed my brains out.