'Knockout Kings' a solid contender


Remember the days when Mike Tyson would climb into the ring and knock out some scrub in the first round? Well, you'll wish you had Tyson's power when you go up against the pugilistic superstars in EA Sports' Knockout Kings 2002 ($50).

This console boxing game for the Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation 2 is fast and furious enough to be a solid simulation of sport's most violent contest (Pro wrestling's not a sport, folks.) Yet, it suffers from a few minor flaws that keep it from being the greatest.

Some fantastic boxers put on the gloves, including Muhammad Ali, Ruben "Hurricane" Carter, Oscar De La Hoya and Sugar Ray Robinson. A few scrubs show up as well, but some notable boxers are no-shows, including Tyson, George Foreman, and "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler.

As a fighter, you can set the difficulty at four different levels, fight in real time or with the clock running at double speed in exhibition, tournament and career modes.

One downside is that you can't fight as long as you want in career mode, no matter how good you are. You can only win five times after getting the championship belt, then you retire. If you want to play for months, you'll need to switch weight classes.

Just like the action in the movie Rocky (which fight enthusiasts deride), every punch in Knockout Kings is clean, clear and telegraphed from a mile away. Fighters don't clinch; they either get hit or they get out of the way.

The graphics are adequate, with some boxers' bodies showing a few rough edges. The faces, however, do resemble their famous models. And when pummeled, those faces show realistic-looking bruises and swelling.

The graphics fall down in other areas, though. Slow motion playback of the knockouts shows the graphical mismatch between gloved fists and opponents' chins. And the corner men and referees aren't rendered as well as the boxers.

Inane banter from the ring-side commentators becomes annoying as they offer one lame one-liner after another, among them, "Mr. Head, meet Mr. Fist."

Play suffers from an awkward controller setup. The left joystick, which allows you to duck, move, and weave, could have split its duties with the right joystick for better play.

Nevertheless, you get a solid selection of punches, including one specialty punch that's unique to your fighter. One strategy seemed to work consistently when I employed it against the computer's artificial intelligence: I won a bunch of fights by jabbing repeatedly once I mastered blocking and weaving. That "jab happy" style, however, failed against my human opponents, who figured out how to stay out of the way. That means you'll want to play Knockout Kings with friends for the most fun.

A warning to console game enthusiasts: You really need finger stamina to win. My old hands, for example, were fast enough for about three fights in a row, then they seemed to slow down like Ali in his twilight. You'll punch your fingers silly.

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