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Knockout Kings (PSX) Review

Publisher: EA Sports

Background Info

Virtually any sport you can think of is represented on the Playstation. From the obvious (football, baseball, basketball and hockey) to the more obscure (bowling, snow boarding and boat racing), sports gamers have a wonderful selection and variety of games to choose from. Boxing has been one of the exceptions. Despite its popularity, it has been ignored by Playstation game developers. Until now: with Knockout Kings, EA Sports hopes to fill in the Playstation boxing void. With an intriguing mix of legendary fighters of the past and today's boxing heroes, Knockout Kings shows a lot of promise. Does it deliver? Let's take a closer look and find out.

Presentation/Graphics : 86
Knockout Kings uses polygons to create some pretty impressive looking boxers. Thirty-eight famous fighters are included, and each has his own unique appearance. Some, such as Marvin Hagler and Muhammad Ali, are pretty easily identified, while others may be a bit more difficult to distinguish. Fighters are very well animated. The punches look fine, the bobbing and weaving looks great and the fighters falter realistically when staggered. One problem is that visually it is difficult to tell the difference between a punch that connects from a punch that is blocked. Only by watching the boxer's stamina meter can you tell for sure that the punch landed. Sometimes you will see the head snap back, but more often than not it appears the same as when the blow was blocked.

The rings are modeled after real-life venues, and the appropriate markings appear on the canvas. The crowd is not animated in the least and is placed awkwardly over the stands. The effect is not convincing, yet it really doesn't detract from the overall look of the game. While there is a referee present, he is not actually seen unless there is an infraction or a knockdown.

With excellent looking fighters and a decent replication of boxing arenas, Knockout Kings is pleasing to the eye and reflects the world of boxing fairly well.

Presentation/Audio : 83
The audio effects are adequate but nothing spectacular. Dull thuds represent punches landing and sound reasonably realistic. Occasional grunts will be heard as boxers clinch or shove one another across the ring. The sound of the crowd is also decent, with the pitch appropriately rising during moments of excitement. While serviceable, these audio effects are not up to usual EA Sports standards.

There are two announcers during the fight, along with a ring announcer. Al Albert and Sean O'Grady provide commentary during the fight, but it is nothing special in the least. They don't have a whole lot to say, yet despite that, they are still often repetitive. A typical comment is something like "Lightning shots upstairs!" and this phrase will be repeated if the fighters jab consistently at the head. The ring announcer, Jimmy Lennon, Jr. is decent if a bit unexciting, though I guess anyone is compared to Michael "Let's get ready to rumble!" Buffer. I'm sure they have their reasons for not signing Buffer, but it would have been a major coup for EA Sports and would have made the audio a bit more exciting. As it is it's merely adequate.

Interface/Options : 82
EA Sports has always been known for wonderfully designed interfaces and controls, and Knockout Kings continues that tradition. The interface itself is simple and easy to navigate. From the main screen you can select from four options, Exhibition Bout, Slugfest, Career and Options. There is virtually no load time between screens, a welcome variation from most EA Sports games. There is no Stats screen, though when in Career mode basic stats such as percentage of punches landed, overall record and knockouts are automatically presented when your boxer is loaded. Overall, the interface is far from flashy but is very intuitive.

Gameplay : 85
There are three modes of play in Knockout Kings. First off is the Exhibition bout. From here you can set up a fight between legendary boxers from the past and present. There are three weight classes (light, middle and heavyweight), and both fighters must belong to the same class. If you ever wondered how Joe Lewis would fare against Evander Holyfield, or Jake LaMotta versus Sugar Ray Leonard, this is your dream come true. Rounds can be set by the user, as can certain rules such as the "saved by the bell" rule which some states employ. The clock can also be set to normal or fast, so a ten round fight won't be as time consuming as in real life if you don't want it to be.

If you feel like mixing things up a bit, you can select Slugfest mode, where any fighter from any weight class can challenge any other fighter of his choice. Heavyweights can mix it up with lightweights and so on. This mode can really test your mettle, as you can select from any of thirty-eight real life fighters or some generic ones supplied by the computer. In slugfest mode there are no penalties; you can throw low blows and kidney punches as long as you like. Slugfests only last up to 3 rounds, but rarely make it that far; a knockout is the most common ending.

By far the deepest and most satisfying mode in Knockout Kings is the career mode. Here you build a fighter from the ground up; you name him, determine his appearance and then try to take him up through the ranks. You can choose to be either a boxer or a brawler and you decide before each fight whether to train on the speed bag (to build up hand speed and endurance) or the heavy bag (to build up power and endurance). Each opponent you fight is more difficult than the last, and after a few fights you will have to reply upon boxing savvy and strategy to come out on top.

The only bad aspects about the career mode are that the training is very limited (only the two options of heavy bag or speed bag) and that the opponents are all generic. They even have stupid, wacky names like Breakin' Bones Jones. If you are gonna use generic fighters, that is fine, but can we at least have realistic names? It is kind of hard to stay immersed in the world of boxing when you are fighting guys with names like Krazy Kinny. Some folks may also have a problem with the generic fighters, period. I mean, how fun would it be to have to fight your way up through the ranks of real fighters? Just beat Roberto Duran to move up in the rankings? Congratulations; meet Oscar De La Hoya. If ranking the fighters would have created a problem for EA (i.e. if egos of the real-life boxers would have been bruised), why not have them be randomly seeded each time you start a career? This was definitely possible and its omission is a shame. Perhaps after you win the title this becomes a possibility and real fighters are unlocked in career mode. I must confess, I have not gotten that far yet. But that is more than likely just wishful thinking on my part.

The controls are fairly well laid out and not too hard to get the hang of or remember once you have played a few times. Using the D-pad, you can move away from or towards your opponent, as well as circle left or right. The different buttons are set up intuitively. The triangle will throw an uppercut, the X will throw a body shot and the Square and Circle buttons represent the left and right hands, respectively. The shoulder buttons can be used alone or in various combinations to give you more options, such as blocking, bobbing, and weaving and clinching. Sometimes the control feels a bit sluggish. Ideally it would be more responsive, but this may be attributable to your fighters fatigue.

Difficulty : 87
At first glance, Knockout Kings has some difficulty issues. For one, there is no difficulty setting; what you see is what you get. There is no way to set the game to "easy" for beginners. Also, especially in Slugfest mode and early in Career Mode, a button-masher will have as much success as someone who is knowledgeable in the finer points of boxing. Often you will find that you have thrown three times as many punches as your computer opponent, though most of them did not connect. While you can get away with this early, once you start facing tougher opponents you will see that flailing about will quickly get you into trouble. For one thing, when you are throwing punches you are obviously not defending. This leaves you wide open for counter punches, which the CPU is very effective with. Also, you only have so much energy behind your punches, and throwing them wildly drains this energy. While you can still punch, it is with little or no power and does hardly any damage to your opponent. Conserving this punching energy is a must in the later, tougher fights of your career. Lastly, the computer opponent can be a very savvy and deadly foe. In one fight in particular I was doing very well, winning each round and with a good bit of stamina left when suddenly the computer nailed me with a cross and laid me out flat. There was no count; I was out cold and the ref called the fight. While Knockout Kings does not offer variable levels of difficulty, it does offer a pretty fair challenge that increases gradually. And for those that want to get down and dirty, there is always Slugfest mode.

Overall : 86
While Knockout Kings could use some touching up here and there, it pretty much accomplishes what it sets out to do, and that is to create a reasonable facsimile of the sport of boxing. Serious fans of the "Sweet Science" may have a few problems with realism, as simply throwing punch after punch is a bit too effective, especially early in career mode. If this were less of a problem (and really it is controllable if the player can restrain himself a bit) and if the control was a bit tighter and more responsive, EA Sports would have a spectacular first-effort boxing title on their hands. Even with those shortcomings, they have created a very solid, high quality game.

By: Jim S. 11/25/98

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