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Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2
Review By:  J. Michael Neal
Developer:   Midway
Publisher:   Midway
# of Players:   1-2
Genre:   Boxing
ESRB:   Teen
Online:   No
Accessories:   Memory Card
Date Posted:   3-26-02

Here from Midway is Ready 2 Rumble Boxing Round 2, a second helping of the wacky, over-the-top slugfest that helped launch the Dreamcast in style back in `99. When first released, R2R offered fun, face-paced pick-up-and-playability not seen in the boxing genre since the days of Punch-Out. True to form, however, Midway has set out to beat an original idea into the ground, updating the game on the surface but doing little to combat the shallow, repetitive nature of arcade-style games. While the inclusion of mini-games in the Championship mode does offer a nice diversion for a few hours, they do a poor job of stifling the boredom and lack of originality in the long run. Once again Midway created yet another uninspired sequel in the companyís long history of uninspired sequels.

If you played the first game, youíve played this one: pick one of 23 culturally insensitive pugilists to face off in the boxing ring. During combat each fighter has a strength meter and a health meter. The health bar drains with every blow, moving the player closer to a knock out, while the strength meter not only determines the amount of damage delivered by each punch but also drains every time a punch is thrown or taken. Every time you land a heavy hit you fill up the "Rumble Meter" that allows you to unleash a barrage of punches once the word "R-U-M-B-L-E" is completely spelled. Each fight lasts until a boxer is knocked down a set number of times or is knocked out the ring with the new level three "Rumble Flurry".

The Rumble Meter now has three levels instead of one. Once the meter has been fully charged the player can unleash a move so powerful it sends their opponent flying clear out the ring. While this may sound like a cool idea in theory all it does is dumb down an already simplistic fighting system. With a little practice the player can land this move before the end of the first round, breezing through the game in no time. The move does take a while to wind up, which leaves the player wide open for reprise in the mean time, but even this sad attempt at balance does little help. Personally I feel this move would have been better left out the game all together.

Youíd think with an outrageous game like this, high-hitting combos would be the norm, right? Youíd think that this would feel like an exaggerated form of boxing the same way NBA Street felt like an exaggerated form of basketball or Crazy Taxi felt like an exaggerated form of driving, right? Well, it doesnít. If anything it feels like a slowed down version of the real thing. Standard punches can only be thrown one or two in a row before you have to pause and refill your strength bar. "Special moves" consist of slow, short combos that are less practical to use than just mashing one of the jab buttons.

Certainly "the sweet science" Ready 2 Rumble ainít. Winning depends more on luck and the character you chose over anything else. Each match comes down to who has the longest reach, and who can take advantage of that the most. If you can keep your opponent at arms length with a large boxer like Butcher Brown or Johnny "Bad" Blood you can easily best the most skilled player who chooses a stubby boxer like Afro Thunder or Lulu Valentine. What all this amounts to is a whole lot of frustrating, shallow, restrictive, and dull game play because of poor character balance.

Visually the game is nice. Everything is colorful and stylish, including the characters. Character designs are lively, and even the menus have personality. Arenas are distinctive and varied, ranging between everything from a small theater, to a large stadium, to a wild-west themed barn. High polygon character models are large and well-detailed, and real-time facial expressions and damage effects add much needed depth to the characters, not to mention makes working over a particular side of an opponentís face for eight rounds straight pretty rewarding. For the most part animations are well done, although movements are a bit jerky on some of the characters, with animations that donít blend well together. The biggest technical gripe is over the horrible shading. "Shadows" are simply random, flickering polygons that fall unnaturally on characters. This is most visible during the post fight taunt, in which shadows dance and sputter around even on motionless characters as if they are standing in front of a broken strobe light. While this doesnít impair game play it does show that this first generation Playstation 2 title is merely a port from the less powerful Dreamcast.

While the game play is shallow, Midway has tried, rather unsuccessfully, to make up for this in the options department. The single player Arcade mode is used to unlock the myriad of hidden characters, including alternate customs for some characters that are enabled on certain holidays thanks to the PS2ís internal clock. The game features several multiplayer modes including Tournament and Team Battles, as well as a rather interesting, yet ultimately repetitive Championship mode. The Championship mode follows the basic formula set by all career modes in the past few years - choose a character and raise them from the streets to the big times while building their skills along the way. Stat increasing mini-games and prizefights make up the bulk of this experience, with title matches littered about to increase your fighterís rank. The main depth in this mode comes from the mini-games that range from Dance, Dance Revolution style, rhythm-based challenges to the Wack-a-Mole inspired "Rumble Pads". Each training session can range from easy (level one) to extreme (level ten) and are actually rather fun, well, at least for a while. After a few hours training your boxer seems more a chore than anything else and youíll soon find yourself skipping the mini-games all together, eliminating whatever variety they added to the game.

The character designs are brash and eye-catching, but too often for the wrong reasons. While entirely light-hearted in nature, each character in the game mockingly portrays a particular ethnic group or nationality with such painful inaccuracy that it often detracts from the game. While such precedence was set during the 8-bit era a certain level of leeway was provided the developers due to the fact that the majority of console games originated from Japan, and such errors were due more to inexperience than malice. In this day an age, however, what might have been intended as harmless fun turns into wincingly insensitive characterizations like the over-weight Hawaiian, the hirsute Italian mobster, and the dim-witted Texan. Whenever a character like Angel "Raging" Rivera, the flashy Mexican boxer, or J.C. Thunder, the flamboyant African-American hustler-wannabe, opens their mouth itís down right embarrassing. While a game with character names like "Big" Willy Johnson and Afro Thunder canít possibly be taken seriously enough to get insulted (not to mention hidden fighters like Bill Clinton, Michael Jackson, and Shaq) it is worth noting that it might put some off a bit.

Sound, like so much else in the game, is pretty unremarkable. Dialogue is pretty off the mark and with the exception of the painfully catchy "Ready 2 Rumble theme song" music seems absent in the game all together. The voices, while clear and distinctive, sound as cheesy as a badly dubbed Kung-Fu flick, with lip-syncing to match. Some can grate on ones nerves like cold knives down your spin (Afro Thunderís high-pitched exclamations come to mind) while others just fall totally off the mark (Michael Jacksonís voice sounds like it was recorded by Isaac Hayes). One of the few shining points for the game is some truly funny dialogue from the managers, who berate and taunt the players all throughout the match in an imitation of the classic coach from Rocky.

You would think with an arcade style game that the action would be fast paced and shallow since these are the typical traits of arcade games. But R2R2 manages to be stilted and shallow, practically killing any ounce of replay value it might have had. The few encouragements for come back, like the Championship mode and host of hidden characters, doesnít provide enough reason for gamers to put up with its stifled pace and "more-of-the-same" game play. For anyone who hasnít played the game before and are curious, it might be worth a rental. For anyone who really loved the game and is dieing to see the series reach the PS2 maybe picking up a used copy wouldnít be a bad idea, but about a week is all anyone can stomach before they are ready for a more rewarding gaming experience.

HIGHS:

  • Nice, high polygon character models.
  • Manager's inside encouragement can be pretty funny.
  • Some surprising, date-based secrets to uncover on holidays.
  • Good number of multiplayer modes.

LOWS:

  • Shallow, repetitive gameplay.
  • Broad ethnic characterizations and dialogue can be taken as offensive by some.
  • Unbalanced characters.
  • Bizarre shadows on characters.
  • Totally unremarkable soundtrack.

FINAL VERDICT:

Midway once again confuses more of the same with a quality sequel and further dilutes and already shallow game idea by turning it into an unworthy franchise. If you really need a boxing game, give it a weekend rental; by Monday the novelty should already have worn off. Otherwise, wait for something better to come along.

Overall Score: 4.7

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