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Knockout Kings 2000 (PSX) Review

Publisher: EA Sports

Background Info

All the buzz and excitement over a boxing game this year has been about Midway's Ready 2 Rumble Boxing, one of the best-selling titles on the new Dreamcast system. Meanwhile, quietly in the background, EA Sports has been fine-tuning and revamping their second-year boxing title, Knockout Kings 2000. After a solid introduction to the series last year left many players entertained but disappointed at the game's lack of depth, Knockout Kings is back, looking to re-establish itself as the premiere boxing title. With another year of development and polish, is Knockout Kings 2000 "the Greatest" boxing title this year? Or is it just another "coulda-been" contender?

Presentation/Graphics : 95
Graphically, the game is improved in almost every respect from last year. Fighters, arenas, and rings look markedly better than the original version of the game.

The fighter models are much more detailed and complex. Down to body hair, the players are very detailed (check out Rocky Marciano for some scary chest hair). Their muscles are more defined. Their faces are more accurate and show more animation - expressions change, eyes blink, and swelling becomes noticeable during fights. Boxers enter the ring to music, and have different entrances, depending on their style and personality. You watch them strut down the tunnel to their own music, get close-ups showing the expression on the faces, and see them slip under the ropes and into the ring.

The fighting itself looks a lot better as well. Last year, it was hard to distinguish punches that connected from those that missed, but now, you can really see the difference. Overall, the fighters seem to move around more smoothly this year. True to the name of the game, the animations of knockdowns are great, with a lot of variety. Sometimes a knockdown punch will actually pop a mouthpiece out of a fighter's mouth. When down on the canvas, some fighters twitch and wiggle their legs, trying to regain their control. Part of the fun of this game is picking up on the little details in the animations and presentation, of which there are many.

The details are almost too numerous to list, but EA has done an excellent job making the fighters look, move, and act much more realistically. More than that, the graphics and animation reflect each fighters' attitude, mood, and condition. More than just a graphic makeover, EA's improved visual presentation has given the game a much-needed sense of personality.

The arenas have been improved a lot as well. They aren't dark, blurry smears like last year - various rows of fans are visible in a variety of different boxing arenas, ranging from the Great Western Forum to the Roman Coliseum. The backgrounds and lights are more detailed. Some arenas have moving spotlights. With more locations to chose from, you can see a real difference between brawling at "Meatpackers Union #4" versus fighting at Caesar's Palace.

Between rounds, the game delivers some great effects. While showing the scoring for the round just completed at the bottom of the screen, there are animations of fighters in their corners, breathing heavy, wincing, or looking exhausted, depending how the round went. You can see the damage on their face and a different expression on their face if they are winning or losing. After some rounds, the game shows instant-replay highlights from that round, so you can review that brilliant combo that knocked down your opponent or grimace as you re-live that thundering hook that nearly took your fighter's head off. And, in perhaps the best improvement in the visual presentation, the ring-card girls look great this year! Last year, the bikini-clan women looked like they were motion captured from some 200-pound female European weightlifter, but this year, the girls look like they are from Baywatch, not Bulgaria.

While the presentation is excellent this year, it is not without some problems. There are still some instances when you get clipping effects and fighters seem to overlap, although this is relatively rare. The other glaring area where the game is lacking is that Referee Mills Lane is invisible. You hear him talk to the fighters before and during the game, but you don't see him. One of the cool things about Ready 2 Rumble is watching that referee counting to ten when a fighter drops. EA missed an opportunity to do the same thing. With the colorful, entertaining Mills Lane already "in the game," it seems a shame that EA couldn't work him into the actual presentation more.

Presentation/Audio : 80
The music and sound in Knockout Kings 2000 is great. A more prominent use of music in the menus and game, featuring some original hip-hop, gives the game a much more polished, stylized feel than last year. The songs that play as fighters make their entrance add a lot to the pre-fight build-up. EA includes some nice touches here, especially with classic fighters. For example, with most modern fighters, you get contemporary-sounding rock and hip-hop music as they enter, but if you pick Marciano or Joe Louis, they enter to 1950s big-band sound, more appropriate to their era.

The crowds are more dynamic this year. You hear more active responses to individual punches or hits. The crowd cheers, groans, and gasps during the fight, inspired by the action in the ring.

The announcing duo of Sean O'Grady and Al Albert again do a solid job, but pretty much sound the same as last year. They follow the action well but don't really make an impression. Sometimes the commentary lags a little bit behind the action, but overall, they do a solid job.

Interface/Options : 85
This year's interface is simple, logical, and easy to navigate. It looks great and leads you to a variety of improved and expanded features.

As with last year, you can fight in the exhibition mode (realistic, simulation boxing), slugfest mode (wild, arcade-style punchouts), or career mode (create a fighter and bring him up through the ranks). Perhaps the most basic but important feature added this year is a difficulty level setting, which should really improve the game's replay value.

The career mode has been expanded to include a more elaborate create-a-boxer feature, training mode, and career ladder system. Player attributes are more complex this year. In last year's game, there were only three attributes for boxers: speed, power, and stamina. This year, boxers also have attributes for "chin," "heart," and "cuts." You can set everything from their appearance, to their body type, to their demeanor as they enter the ring, to how they taunt their opponents during a fight. Before each bout, you determine the type of training for your boxer - whether he should focus on increasing stamina, build up his power, or develop his speed. In the career mode, your fights affect not only your ranking, but also your attributes. For example, after a big loss, the game may tell you that your fighter "lost some confidence," and as a result, your fighter may lose 3 points from his "heart" attribute and a point from his "chin."

Created boxers can now play in all modes of play, whereas last year, they could only brawl in the Slugfest mode. This is a great addition, because now you can create fighters that aren't in the in the game and play them in simulations. Foreman and Tyson aren't in the game, but now you can add them yourself and play them in exhibition bouts. Hell, bring on Mr. T and Ivan Drago!

Some other nice new features are a "Classics Fights" mode (want to replay the "Thrilla in Manila"? How about Sugar Ray Leonard's classic 1980 bout with Roberto Duran?) and a cool "Boxer Bio" section where you can view the attributes of all the fighters in the game and read about their careers. My one problem with the player attributes is that too many classic boxers seem the same. For example, Ali has attributes of 100 in every area except power, which is fine, but heavyweight Michael Grant (who?) has almost very similar attributes. In general, way too many fighters have 100's and 99's as attributes. Leon Spinks shouldn't have a 100 in anything, but he does. Circus-act Butterbean, who has, to my knowledge, never even faced a top-notch heavyweight in his career, is listed with a "heart" of 100. It seems that many of the featured fighters in the game are simply overrated. I think the truly great boxers should stand out more from the crowd.

Gameplay : 85
The game controls feel faster and tighter. Last year, at times, the game seemed a bit disconnected from your controller, with your punches fighting through laggy response. But in action, this game is much more responsive.

The game controls are expanded this year, with more punches to choose from, and some special punches that only some fighters have, or that you only acquire over time during a career. The taunts and illegal punches are back as well, with an expanded range of unsportsmanlike moves available to use without shame. (You can now execute a head-butt, elbow, kidney punch, low-blow combo...)

As a boxing sim, Knockout Kings 2000 is very solid. To do well against a good fighter or in the career mode, you will eventually have to rely on more than throwing one haymaker after another. As with real boxing, the use of combinations and careful timing is crucial to doing well. Most fighters will tire quickly if you throw 300 punches a round and miss most of them. Unless you want to wind up punched-out and on your back like Foreman in Zaire, you need to choose your punches wisely and learn when NOT to throw them at all.

As an arcade game (slugfest mode) Knockout Kings 2000 is really fun. The announcers are more energetic and excitable, and wild punches, blood, and knockdowns are plentiful. I don't think the slugfest mode completely matches the pure arcade entertainment value of Ready 2 Rumble, but it does allow for wild, dirty, and fast-paced fights that can provide late nights of entertainment.

Knockout Kings 2000 delivers both as an arcade title and a sim. The gameplay should satisfy both types of audiences, although gamers looking for purely cartoonish arcade action may still prefer Ready 2 Rumble or Tekken 3.

Replay Value : 90
With an expanded and more satisfying career mode, adjustable difficulty level settings, equally entertaining simulation and arcade modes, additional fighters (nearly 60 in this edition), improved presentation, and a great create-a-player engine, Knockout Kings 2000 offers great replay value. The various improvements in the game all lead to this. The extras make the game worth keeping in your system longer.

Overall : 90
This game is a great update to last year's solid title. With improvements to features, presentation, and gameplay, it's easily the best boxing game on the market right now.

If you're looking solely for wild arcade action, Ready 2 Rumble may still be a better choice. But for anyone who wants an entertaining boxing game, but also wants to fight with real boxers, simulate the "sweet science," or create a fighter and take him up with the ranks, this game is deeper and more satisfying. Whether you like fast, arcade action or realistic boxing, Knockout Kings 2000 won't disappoint.

By: Matt P. 10/26/99

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