Back in 2007 Ubisoft released Rocky Balboa for Sony’s first portable handheld console the PSP, capitalizing on the newly refreshed interest in the Rocky franchise after the successful release of Stallone’s final installment with Rocky Balboa.
So, how is it? Is it worth a punt? Or is it another licensed game punching above its weight? Read on for the full Rocky Balboa review.
The game pits players against Rocky’s most formidable opponents from the film’s with the aim of bashing their faces in to achieve victory. Sounds simple, right?
Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that, mainly due to the clunky and confusing controls. Instead of making a simple pick-up-and-play brawler, Ubisoft opted to make a downright frustrating game that doesn’t make the most of its source material.
Initially it starts out promising with the first fight against Spider-Rico, Rocky’s first opponent in the movies. He’s easy enough to knockout just by mashing the face buttons continuously, but all fights thereafter are a royal pain in the arse.
The controls require subtle movements on the analogue nub, so if you want to smack Clubber Lang with a heavy right hook you need to push the nub to the right then tap the circle button. Sounds easy enough when said, but when you try and follow it up with another blow, preferably one from the other fist it all goes belly up.
The dodgy controls just don’t work as intended with the PSP’s poor analogue nub resulting in a lot of frustration and missed swings, something you can see at the end of each round when the stats are shown. In my few hours with the game I never managed to achieve a hit-rate of over 40%. Mickey would be turning in his grave if he knew…
It’s not a complete disaster but it does take a lot of patience, something you probably don’t have if you’re opting to play on-the-go.
There are some tutorials but they really only brush over what needs to be known before throwing you into the ring with your gloves effectively tied together.
I’m a big fan of the Rocky films so I persevered and managed to defeat Spider-Rico, take the championship from Apollo Creed in the first fight before getting knocked out five times in a row in the second bout from Rocky II.
When you get knocked down to the canvas you’re presented with a mini-game of sorts where you must keep your balance, think the grinding in the Tony Hawk games and that’s basically it. However, simple as it may sound it’s actually the hardest thing about the game as it require pin-point precision. If you don’t get the pin in smack bang in the center you’re out for the count and have to start the fight again. It often seems unfair as it’s just not easy to control with the PSP’s poor analogue stick.
The PSP may look dated these days now that the PS Vita is out on the market, but back in 2007 Rocky Balboa was actually considered a visually pleasing game.
Even today it’s still a fairly impressive game when you consider the hardware it was running on.
Character models are well detailed with each fighter showing their own animations and mannerisms lifted straight from the films. It’s actually quite impressive to see Apollo Creed quick-step in front of you whilst baring his gum-guard, so in that respect Ubisoft did a fairly decent job.
Even Rocky looks decent, quite an achievement given the source material: Stallone’s not so handsome face.
There’s even a few variations with the fighters, albeit many or just minor things like a change of outfit, though Rocky gets the majority of the attention when it comes to authenticity. As you progress through the fights Rocky’s appearance changes subtly to reflect his appearance in the corresponding film. So whilst he’s a little meager and average in the first couple of fights, there’s a visible change in his dodgy haircut, weight and muscle definition as time goes by.
There’s a total of 18 arenas to kiss fists in with many of them actually looking pretty close to their movie-counterpart, though chances are you’ll be more focussed on the face of Ivan Drago than the background animations.
In short, Rocky Balboa impresses on a visual level, though the lack of blood is a personal niggle for me.
You don’t really get to hear much from the fighters themselves other than the occasional groan when a punch lands, the majority of the dialogue comes from the extremely annoying and repetitive commentators. The lack of variety in their commentary would be enough to sack them in real life, but the technical limitations of the PSP mean that some things have to be given less resources, so it’s understandable.
The sound effects are actually not bad, smacking an opponent in the face deals a satisfying crack whilst body blows result in equally satisfying thuds, when they actually hit.
It’s a shame that there’s not more input from the fighters themselves, a bit of smack talk between rounds or the odd insult-here and there would’ve been nice.
If you find some fun in Rocky Balboa then you’ll probably be able to squeeze a fair few hours out of it. There’s the ‘Historical Fights’ mode which serves as the main single-player mode where you’ll fight each of Rocky’s opponents and then when you’ve conquered the boxing world you can do it all again. Personally this wasn’t something I wanted to do twice.
Then there’s the ‘Exhibition’ mode where you can choose who you fight and alter the appearances, it’s not especially deep and engaging but it’s nice to have the option there.
If you can find a mate with a PSP then there’s the ad-hoc multiplayer, though I’ve not been able to test this so I can’t really judge it.
Rocky Balboa is a mixed bag of sorts; it’s visually impressive and starts out promising, but the frustrating controls hold back what could have been an excellent little homage to the Italian Stallion.
If you’re a mega boxing fan you’ll probably find some enjoyment, but if you only have a passing interest then go in with caution and maybe stick to the tutorials until you’ve mastered the controls.