Some of the greatest events in sports history have been boxing matches. I've seen just about all of them on highlight films and they've always been touted as "The Battle of the Century" and, to be honest, a few of them actually lived up to the hype. The ones that come to mind are the old school battles between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier; which were nothing short of epic. Ever since I first saw those fights, I've been dying to get into the ring and try my hands at recreating some of those matches in a video game. Unfortunately, videogame publishers have not been too cooperative. They have insisted on releasing games that were flashy and cartoony spin-offs of Punchout, which hit the arcades in the 1980's. So you can understand my excitement when I first heard about Knockout Kings (KK). It was supposed to be the first true boxing simulation, allowing me to play as the best fighters to ever grace the boxing ring. Instead, it wound up being an updated version of Buster Douglas (remember him?) Boxing. EA Sports picked itself up off the mat and came back with a sequel (imaginatively enough) entitled Knockout Kings 2000 (KK2000). Well I've played it and by the end of the review, you'll know whether EA Sports is a comeback kid or whether they should just throw in the towel.
It's apparent right from the beginning that KK2000 wants to be a sim. EA went out and secured the license for all the great boxers (sans Iron Mike) and put them in the game. They used a new face wrapping technology that allows for realistic-looking facial textures to be used for each boxer and Black Ops copied each boxer's signature moves for even more authenticity. Add a point system (to tally your performance during a bout) and a training mode, and you have the makings of a great boxing game. I'm sure that Black Ops thought this too when they finished their design document, but from the conception phase to the production phase, they seemed to have gotten off-track in a big way. As the game intro winds down we see in-game footage of Ali pulverizing an unidentified boxer. It's obviously supposed to showcase the game (and Ali), but with the slow overall look of the action and the horrible collision detection, it actually becomes an omen for what is to come.
But originally, I paid that no mind and went on through to the boxer selection screen. To its credit, Black Ops has created some excellent-looking 3D representations of boxing's greats but I wasted little time in choosing Muhammad Ali with Joe Frazier as my opponent and Caesar's Palace as the battleground. Anticipation was high and, I must admit, so were my expectations. And if all those press releases from EA were even half-true, then KK2000 could pull it off. Once I got past the introductions and got the blessing of Mills Lane (who looks and sounds like the real thing), the fight began. I anxiously rushed Frazier and proceeded with a flurry of rights and lefts that were sure, I thought, to do damage and leave him stunned. But what actually happened was that after a vicious right hook, Frazier came back immediately with a right hook of his own. It went on like this for a few seconds before I realized that we were just trading punches. I didn't think much of it then so I just backed off and decided to try out the signature moves mapped onto the four C-buttons. I was pleasantly surprised to see Ali pull off his trademark showboating and punches, but what bothered me about those moves was how little they actually helped. They were oftentimes blocked or Frazier would simply move out of the way and I was left to wait for the motion-captured animation to end and get pummeled, because I was left totally open for an attack.
When I finally was able to block, I absorbed Frazier's assault and proceeded to launch an assault of my own. I used every punch available and lit into Frazier with a vengeance. And again, the result was not what I expected because half my punches (as lethal as they were) completely missed their target, even at point blank range. When I tried it again, we wound up exchanging punches again to the point where I thought I watching a digital version of Rock'em Sock'em Robots. It was here that I was not paying attention and Frazier caught me with a vicious roundhouse punch (a punch that is performed by hitting the punch button while holding down the R button). It looked like something out of Soul Calibur (complete with a colored inertia trail) and had me scratching my head as to why it would be in a boxing sim. But I wanted to win this fight so I tried it myself and it landed with similar results; I tried it again and it landed again. Before I knew it, my punch meter was full and I knew that I could do some kind of "super punch." I was dying to see some kind of vicious flurry of blows or something characteristic of Ali, instead what I saw was a ridiculous, Mortal Kombat-style uppercut. And while watching Muhammad Ali, the greatest boxer in history, pulling off a move like this is one thing, seeing Frazier do a back flip after the punch is another and I decided I had enough. It was at this point that the bell rang and I was declared the winner. However, I had already given up on the match of the century and decided to go through the rest of the game.
After choosing other boxers, I found nothing new that I didn't experience with my first fight. All the boxers, yes all 25 of them, fought with all the pepper of a loaf of bread and had almost identical animations. I could only tell them apart by their signature moves and that got old quickly. You can't imagine how disheartening it was to see Sugar Ray Leonard move and fight almost exactly like Eric "Butterbean" Esch. KK2000 becomes an example of disregarding the player for the sake of landing a license; I would wager that the KK engine had long existed before the licenses were secured and was ported over from some generic boxing game. What managed to save the game though was its create-a-player feature and the career mode. While it may come off as below-average as compared to other gamers, it worked into the career mode wonderfully. I could create a boxer, train him, and build him up into a championship contender. That was probably the most fun I had playing this game, but it was short-lived because of all the flaws I mentioned above and the fact that all create-a-player features get old.
My Ali-Frazier fight didn't turn out as I had hoped. I won the fight, but it was a hollow victory. KK2000 lacked damn near every-thing I saw in those legendary fights with the exception of the fighters themselves. The feel of vicious punches was missing, the characters moved too slowly, and none of the fighters distinguished themselves. Whatever was in the game to add realism was negated by the over-the-top arcade elements. The only true representative from the boxing world was Mills Lane (how sad is that?). KK2000 is an improvement over the original KK, which says more about the sheer mediocrity of KK than about any greatness of its sequel. KK2000 could have been a very good game, but everything starting from the graphics engine to the game mechanics is so bungled that it leaves KK2000 down for the count.
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