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Knockout Kings 2001 (PSX) Review

Publisher: EA Sports

Background Info

PSX Screens(9)
It's a wonder a boxing title can actually sell in this day and age. The Golden Age of boxing has long since passed and we're left with scandal-ridden bouts that leave pay-per-viewing fans wondering what the next circus show will be. On the digital front, EA Sports delivers Knockout Kings 2001, a game that is guaranteed not to go down the same sleazy path as the real sport. You won't find pieces of ears on the canvas, thrown fights, or judges on the take. Nope. Instead you'll find the sweet science still in its purest form.

This year's version of Knockout Kings cleans up the graphics to give a more realistic presentation. In addition, a stable of top boxers from the heavyweight, middleweight, and lightweight classes is included. The names range from the legendary Ali and Marciano to current favorites Sugar Shane Mosley and Lennox Lewis.

Presentation/Graphics : 95
The last version of Knockout Kings I played was KO Kings 2000 for the Nintendo 64. When the boxers entered the ring for the first time, I was struck by how clean the graphics were. The aging PSX was putting out graphics near the quality of the N64. At the beginning of a bout, the boxers enter the arena prancing about. During the intro sequences the boxers look fantastic, with detailed faces, muscle tone, and great boxing gear.

Thinking this was too good to be true, I expected the graphics to take a serious drop once the fighters touched gloves. I was wrong. The graphics stay crisp, and the boxers have realistic appearances. If you are a boxing fan, there will be no mistaking which boxers are in the ring. The boxer models are that detailed. The boxers retain the detailed muscle tone and satin-like shorts. This is the first year women make it to the game, and the big names of women's boxing look just as good as the men.

Once the fighting starts, landing multiple head shots causes visible damage to faces. Bruises and swollen areas develop. The best part is the blood. As you open up an opponent, he'll begin to bleed. His face turns red in spots. By hitting a bloodied opponent hard enough, you'll see a volume of blood fly from his face like a scene out of Raging Bull.

Unfortunately, the ring doesn't keep the same high standard as the boxers. The ropes don't move and the ring itself is bland. However, the rest of the venue is top-notch. Arena lights show a detailed crowd in the stands. Those in attendance can be seen wearing suits and even tuxedos. The crowd in the game is second to none. Viewing the action occurs with several camera views. The default camera does an excellent job at following the action. The camera never gets tangled up or prevents the boxers from being seen.

The boxer animations add to the realism in the game. Besides perfectly modeled punches, defensive motions are adequately preserved. You can lock your opponent up as a defensive move (or stall tactic). The arms interlock and you can sneak a few punches to the body with one glove or to the back of the head with the other. Against the ropes a deflated boxer hunches over trying to regain some energy while protecting himself. The motion captures really show themselves in this part of the game.

Presentation/Audio : 90
The sound in Knockout Kings 2001 gives you the full television experience. Al Bernstein, Max Kellerman, and Teddy Atlas call the action, though Max seems to be MIA most of the time. The pre-fight introductions are made by Jimmy Lennon Jr., and the referees, which include Mills Lane and Richard Steel, brief the contestants on the match rules. Between rounds you'll hear the chatter of the television crew. While I experienced a few misplaced calls, for the most part the team did an outstanding job.

As the boxers enter the ring, a song from the diverse sound track is played. The showboating boxers dance to the music prior to entering the ring. Once standing toe-to-toe, you can expect the sounds of gloves hitting. In the background the crowd cheers on the action.

Interface/Options : 75
About the only complaint I have with the interface in KO Kings 2001 is the speed. Switching between classes, boxers, or attributes takes place at a snail's pace. When creating a boxer, you can customize everything from hair color to shoes. Yet each time you check out a new color or style, it takes a couple of seconds to change. Likewise, selecting boxers in one of the modes can be a painful process. It is simply too slow.

The game has a decent number of modes. An arcade-style Slugfest mode is recommended for fast action. When realism is the name of the game, the Exhibition, Fantasy Match-Ups, or Career modes will get the nod. Each mode has customizable options ranging from round length to knockdown rules. The manual does a good job at introducing the game, but I soon found it to be somewhat inadequate. As you progress through the game, you get the feeling many of the offensive and defensive moves were conspicuously absent.

Gameplay : 85
In the ring, the game basically plays the same in all of the modes. The obvious object of the game is to win by knockout or decision. In all but the Slugfest mode, there are two parameters which affect your performance in the ring (aside from boxer attributes). A health meter displays your current status. As you absorb punches the meter diminishes. Likewise, a punch meter controls the power of your punches. If you go on a flurry your punch strength quickly reduces. Over time it replenishes, but in the meantime you have to play a defensive game. In the Slugfest mode, the punch meter is replaced with a power punch meter. As you land clean hits, the meter fills. Once full, you can throw a power punch which inflicts much more damage.

In the Exhibition and Slugfest modes, you select any of the available boxers from the three weight classes and duke it out. The fighting can be either with the men or the women in the game, including the most famous female boxer Christy Martin. In the Fantasy Match-Ups mode, you can live out "what if" situations. For example, you can put Ali up against Marciano.

Users will most likely spend most of their time in Career mode, which offers the most gameplay. In Career mode, you create a boxer that starts out at the bottom of the chart and ranked 20th. Prior to a fight, you can train your boxer. By performing well in the training exercise, you earn points which can be spread across your boxer's attributes. You can affect the power, speed, stamina, heart, resistance to cuts, and the ability to take a punch. The training ranges from Simon-says type moves to sparring sessions. The training is mixed to keep the game fresh. Once you've completed the training, you hit the ring. You can select higher ranked boxers, although you are limited to boxers near your ranking. Eventually you'll make it to the top and can take part in the championship.

Initially, I felt the AI opponents were way too aggressive; they came out slugging. Eventually, I realized that if I were to box realistically, their aggressive nature would be minimized. If you fight an inside game the CPU will quickly clobber you, but if you fight from the outside, you can sneak punches in here and there. The AI does an effective job at mixing up the punches. While head shots capture the lion's share of punches thrown, the AI opponent does throw body shots. The number of punches thrown is slightly on the high side. I was surprised to see my opponent run away late in fights. When he was clearly ahead he'd go into an evasive tactic to avoid losing the fight.

Compared to the last KO Kings I played (year 2000 version on the N64), the AI seems much improved. You can't just throw a few punches and expect to win. You need to mix up your punches with head and body shots as well as have a definitive defensive strategy. Taking this approach, many of my fights lasted several rounds (more than five) and some went the distance and ended in a decision.

Countering the AI opponent's attacks are made difficult with the controller. The standard PlayStation controller is not my favorite controller out there, but KO Kings 2001 depends heavily on all the buttons. Standard head punches are thrown with the O, X, square, and triangle buttons. Body shots are made by using the same buttons in combination with the L2 button. A lunge punch or haymaker to the head is performed with the 4 buttons and the R2 button, whereas lunge punches and haymakers to the body are performed with the 4 buttons and the L2 and R2 buttons. Defensively, other multiple button combos create different moves. The more complex combinations are difficult to pull off in the ring. To EA's credit, they did what they could with what was given to them by Sony. However, they can be faulted for controls that are somewhat unresponsive at times. To push an opponent away, you must press the L1 button and move the digital pad to the right. More times than not, my boxer would just stand there absorbing hits. Likewise, clinches, which requires the L1 and R1 buttons to be pressed, were difficult to initiate.

Replay Value : 80
Compared to previous editions of Knockout Kings, this one is the best yet. It offers more realistic boxing. Making it to the top in the career mode is difficult and adds replay value. The clean graphics, animations, and sound form a complete presentation package that brings you back. The improved gameplay just seals the fate of this game. It's fun and more involved than a pure arcade boxing game like Ready 2 Rumble.

Even after you complete the career mode, you can go back and try the game over and over. By creating boxers in this mode, you have 3 weight classes and nearly infinite combinations of boxers. I've been finding the career mode to be more difficult than in the previous version, which means I'll be playing it longer.

Overall : 85
I certainly like what I see. In fact, I like it so much I'm now anxious to see how it plays on Sony's new PlayStation 2. While the graphics look great in the PlayStation version of the game, I am giddy as I look forward to the PS2 version. The gameplay and AI is solid, albeit a little aggressive. For some reason I've never been much of a fighting game fan. However, I've always loved boxing titles, dating back to the Activision Boxing on the Atari 2600. Knockout Kings 2001 clearly has that one beat, and right now it is the best boxing title on the PlayStation.

By: James Smith 11/3/00

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