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Knockout Kings 2002
Review By:  J. Michael Neal
Developer:  EA Sports
Publisher:  EA Sports
# of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Sports
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  6-25-02

Never let it be said that EA Sports shied away from taking chances on radical improvements to already successful franchises. While the Knockout Kings series has always managed to be relatively successful, its slow pace and dismal gameplay kept it from gaining mass acceptance. All that is about to change, how ever, thanks to the improvements in Knockout Kings 2002. With 2002 the franchise is in top form and ready to step back into the ring, sporting a brand new fighting system, streamlined controls, and an enhanced graphics engine. While the game is still far from perfect, it provides boxing fans with a ray of hope until EA finally gets this franchise right.

When the franchise debuted back in 1998 it was held back by a cumbersome control scheme and frustrating combo system that followed the series all the way to the PS2. Thankfully this yearís edition was redesigned from the ground up. The result is a game thatís easy to pick up, fast paced, and nearly as strategic as the actual sport. This was accomplished by using a cutting-edge technology known as "animation blending". In the past, KOK had to relay on pre-programmed combos that gave the fighting a very stiff and stilted feel. However, since animation blending allows a second animation to begin before the first has completely finished, the player can now seamlessly blend jabs, hooks, and uppercuts, rights and lefts in whatever order he or she deems fit, creating custom combos on the fly with the new streamlined control scheme. Not only does this give the game a very frantic and fast pace but also gives the player the same breadth of choices he or she would have in a real ring.

Since the beginning Knockout Kingís strongest card has always been its lineup. This year features the usual host of legends like Sugar Ray Leonard, Joe Frazier, Oscar de la Hoya, and of course Muhammad Ali along side a few requested additions like Felix Trinidad. Although the game doesnít have everyone you could hope for, it still has more than enough to please even the most casual fan of the sport. It would be nice, however, to see EA throw in a few of the more formative female boxers, or the ability to at least create a female boxer, for next yearís release.

In terms of visuals, the game is an improvement over the already impressive graphics of Knockout Kings 2001. Boxers look identical to their real-life counterparts and there has been a great attention to detail. For example, mats sport blood and sweat stains, and playerís faces accrue damage throughout the course of a match. You can even watch cheeks poof and eyes bug as heads snap back from particularly jarring punches, especially during those slow-motion instant replays. And finally, thanks to motion blending animations are smooth and very natural.

There are a few grips to be had in the visual department, however. The first is over the incredibly limited knockdown animations. You would think that with all the high quality movement in the game the developers would have taken the time to add more than three or four different ways for fighters to hit the mat. Seeing boxers fall the same way every time detracts from the satisfaction of dropping an opponent to the floor. The second complaint is over the toned-down facial damage. While boxers do get bruised throughout the course of the mat, the most youíll ever see is a little blackening around the eyes and cheeks, no matter how much of a beating is delivered. In the future it would be nice to see some major damage, like visible cuts or bloody noses.

Knockout King 2002ís audio is nowhere near the same level as the visuals. When it comes to sound effects this game has the bare minimum required for a boxing game and could very well be recycling the same sounds from year to year. Itís also a shame to see all these great boxing licenses go to waste, as none of the fighters ever speak a word. I mean, whatís the point of even having Ali in a boxing game if you canít hear some of his legendary trash talking? As for music the only track you ever hear in the game is itís annoying theme song, although the manual claims to have five different tracks including one from LL Cool J himself. The only thing that keeps matches from being played in total silence is a few sparse, and often irrelevant, remarks from the commentators. This area of the game could definitely use some work. Maybe by including some of the same bone-crunching sounds found in other full-contact sport games like Madden or UFC, a much more present soundtrack, or a wider range of comments Knockout Kings can move out of the pathetic category for sound design.

By far KOK 2002ís weakest aspect, however, is its gameplay modes and options. The game offers nothing more than an exhibition, tournament, and career mode, and while the career mode does allow you to create a boxer and build up their stats as you work your way to the championship, the lack of initial creation options and speed in which you can complete the mode limits it to about a weekendís worth of fun. It should be stated that after completing the career mode with your created boxer you can only use him in an exhibition match. He cannot be loaded into tournaments or fight any further in the career mode, limiting the replay factor of the game significantly for both single and multiplayer experiences. On top of that most boxers end up being about the same anyway, making the effort of even creating a boxer a bit pointless and giving the mode a very tacked-on feel. Who would even take the time to create some punk kid when you can put yourself in the boots of Muhammad Ali anyway?

HIGHS:

  • Innovative animation system allows from some fast and fluid gameplay, capturing the essence of the sport in a way that no other game has.
  • Still has the greatest lineup of boxers ever.
  • Simplified control scheme is an answer to my prayers.

LOWS:

  • No real music, no real sound effects, no real voices, and no real commentary. Whatever the sound of one hand clapping is, it probably has more going on than this game.
  • Very weak create-a-player mode.
  • The only mode that has any long-term appeal is exhibition, and thatís just sad.
  • Crippled replay value.

FINAL VERDICT:

In the end, Knockout Kings 2002 is a large step in the right direction, just not large enough. The game does break new ground in terms of truly capturing the feel and spirit of boxing with a fast and brutal gameplay experience, but things like poor sound and limited modes of play hurt this title severely. If EA Sports can just build off of the foundation of this yearís mechanics while taking time to flesh out its career and multiplayer modes, it could have a true champion on its hands. As it stands, however, it merely has a contender who came close, but fell painfully short of its goal. Definitely a good rental, otherwise wait until next yearís offering unless you are a die-hard boxing fan with $50 bucks to burn.

Overall Score: 6.9

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