Black & Bruised Review

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Publisher: Majesco
Developer: Digital Fiction

Platform: PlayStation 2, GameCube
Reviewed on GameCube

Black & Bruised, the latest game from developer Digital Fiction (keep an eye on them) and publisher Majesco, is the newest contender in the boxing game arena. Stylistically unique, with cel-shaded graphics and over-the-top animated characters, B&B offers a fast paced, arcade boxing experience.

Carrie Gouskos

First Round: In the Fuchsia Trunks...

Black & Bruised is not going to steal the authenticity crown from Knockout Kings, HBO, or Rocky, as it is one of very few boxing games in history to come out with no license. Instead, Digital Fiction chose a different kind of selling point: cell-shading. Quite notably the new "it" thing in gaming, cel-shading has proliferated in every genre. Regardless of your stance on cel-shading (and there seems to be a very political division between people for and against it), B&B fares well with the look. The most effective aspect of the cel-shading is that all of the characters' appearances and expressions are exaggerated to highlight their distinctive personalities. This helps the characters look diverse and comic without being grossly stereotypical. The graphical style is ultimately Black & Bruised's strongest point. Everything from the characters' fluid movement around the ring, to their flopping onto the floor has the right balance of realism and exaggeration. The color palette is vivid and eye catching, and each character's distinct personality is presented in detail.

Not since Mike Tyson's Punch Out! has a boxing game delivered so much in the personality department. And while Bronto Sore is no Soda Popinski, you'll find yourself remembering the days of old without longing for them. Characters include Holly Vixen, the scowling sex goddess, Major Flak, the militant military man, and El Luchador, the pint sized Mexican import who fancies himself as a superhero. There are fourteen characters to choose from at the start, with five more to unlock, leaving more than ample diversity. Digital Fiction thought carefully about the character selection, since, particularly with boxing games, people tend to prefer to play only the bigger, stronger characters or the leaner, quicker ones. The range of characters yields enough variety to appease anyone.

Second Round: Let's Get Ready to Rumbbbbllllleeeee!

Black & Bruised offers six different modes of gameplay where you can get your box on: One Player Fight, Two Player Fight, Tournament, Survival, Training, and Boxer's Life. The basic controls include hooks, jabs, body shots, and uppercuts with the both the left and right hand. The player has choices of blocks, dodges, or strafes in their defensive movement. It's a simple system that involves complicated combos, but they don't add up to create extravagant moves – they merely make the chance of landing a punch more likely. The combo system suffers in this regard: a lot of luck seems to be involved, and there is little to no precision required when planning out and timing moves. May the fastest thumbs win! This creates shallow but fun gameplay that is enjoyable for the first few hours but is a little too repetitive after excessive play.

It was also slightly disappointing not to see Black & Bruised stretch the limits of realism with crazy combo specials and wacky moves. Since this game has so much personality, one would expect to see that carried through to its logical conclusion. Digital Fiction can't be faulted too much for not going somewhere no boxing game has gone before, but they do show that a revolutionary art style does not revolutionize an entire game.

Third Round: One-Two Punch

Despite how quickly the single player boxing mechanics get repetitive, the developer saves the game with two unique and fun additions to the gameplay. The first is the Boxer's Life mode which offers clever storylines with different challenges based on each character.

Starting the first bout with Knuckles Nadine in Boxer's Life we learn that she likes to sing, but seems to have no talent for it. The first fight is set up after Jumping Janet throws a horseshoe at Nadine that hits her in the face. The key to this rumble is paying extra attention to Nadine's left cheek (where the horseshoe impacted) since hits there will do more damage. This kind of detail creates a varied and engaging experience. In El Luchador's storyline, he saves his impoverished town from having their water supply tainted with green dye at the expense of taking it in the face. The entire following match, your vision is impaired by a green film over the screen. Each Boxer's Life offers completely different storylines and obstacles to overcome, which may include fighting with one hand only, protecting various parts of your body more than others, completing a KO within a specific time limit, or having to fight on uneven fields such as when you're extremely tired, or against fighters that take more knock downs than most.

The second addition that helps to diversify the game is the power up system. Throughout the boxing match, randomized pickups appear in the center of the screen. With each impact, green stars are added to a line above the health bar. After you've acquired ten stars, you have two choices, either to select and use the available pick up, or to hold onto it. Should you select the pick-up, you may choose to hit your opponent harder, force your opponent to slip up, regenerate your own energy, tap life, or throw automatic combos. If you hold onto your pickup, you can build it up with additional punches, which are represented by different colored stars (yellow for level two and red for level three) to either a second or third level of intensity. However, I do not recommended that you build up power-ups, since it is always more important in B&B to get ahead in the damage count quickly. The second or third levels of most power ups don't do enough additional damage to warrant waiting for them.

While the power up system is essential to give some momentum to the basic combat, it also becomes the turning point for any bout. Like many other games with power ups, despite the variety it gives to the gameplay, it becomes the key to winning as well. The power ups put too much emphasis on luck to make one feel that matches are always fairly won or lost, which can be frustrating to the experienced and diligent boxing fanatic.

Fourth Round: I Could Have Been a Contender!

Black & Bruised is a simple and well put together game, but it suffers in too many fundamental ways to make it worth buying at full price. It's enjoyable for a few nights with a large gathering of friends (or whoever else comes over to your house – my cable guy loves Black & Bruised) but you probably won't be getting late night B&B cravings either. Make sure you check out all the characters (particularly the hidden ones) and spend most of your time in The Boxer's Life and it won't be wasted. People looking for a true boxing simulation should look elsewhere, but those interested in some silly button mashing action, will enjoy themselves thoroughly – for a little while.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on March 29, 2003 6:55 PM.

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