Just another bum from the neighborhood.
Developing a game upon a canvas as famous as Rocky's is dangerous. You've got to weigh the action-packed spirit of the movies' fights against any fan's desire to methodically take apart Clubber Lang one jab at a time, a task easily as difficult as coming to terms with what the years have done to Sly's terrifying ex-wife, Brigitte Neilson. I liked her more when she was fake Russian.
Ubisoft tried to solve this whole dilemma with an action-wins-all version of Rocky that went the distance in 2002. Taking a lack of drama, authenticity, and depth straight to the chin, the first attempt hit the mat with a resounding thud. Two years worth of swirling stars and smelling salts later, this second round has what any Rocky should have " heart.
Each of the four main Rocky fighters has his own Career track, with a quick origin new to the House that Sly built. Rocky slums it fighting outside of Mickey's Gym before doing real good against Spider Rico. An afro'ed Apollo fights Tony Duke before asking him to be his trainer. Clubber Lang takes on a damn fool in a prison boxing ring, and Drago does some human target practice while serving in the Russian military.
Also new to Rocky: Legends is that any of the four you pick start ranked at the bottom of a 25-man tree, with each fight bringing you closer to that character's final bout. Another plus to the replay value is that each fight earns you cash to unlock arenas, boxers, original movie trailers, and even a chicken-chasing mini game. The seemingly mandatory K.O. Tourney, Practice Mode, and an unlockable Survival Mode return to round out the gameplay options.
Rocky: Legends directly inherits a tightened up version of the arcadey gameplay engine from the original, but does give it some added snarl. The A.I. has been significantly improved over the original, so instead of fighting opponents that put up lamer fights than overly ripe slabs of meat, you'll take on guys who duck, weave, and circle around the ring to intelligently gain position on you. Though they still are a bit punchy, boxers will adapt to your patterns after a round or two, so you'll have to learn a couple more tricks than the four mash combos you'll recall from the first game.
Apparently, too many blows to the skull prevented new information from sticking, since the combos have not changed one iota over the past two years. Aside from the basic thrill of playing as Apollo, Clubber Lang or Drago, combos and tactics between all of the boxers are identical. Creed having Balboa's sweet left leaves one to wonder if old Mickey Goldmill was really stacking the chips.
As before, mini-game training sessions precede any match and allow you to develop speed, power, stamina, determination, and movement. Each of the four has a unique training game, which helps a bit to differentiate their gameplay experiences.
The graphics are still on the cartoony side but are at least proportional; gone are the goofy fat heads and giant boxing gloves of doom. As a result, the collision detection between the fighters is very accurate. Career mode cinemas use this vastly improved graphics engine and look leagues better than the Troll doll convention of 2002. In-game facial battle damage accumulates much more realistically as well. Menu backdrops fade in and out of memorable movie cut scenes effectively and give Rocky: Legends an authentic, nostalgic, and even tributary feel. There is really no palpable difference between the PS2 and Xbox versions.
Sadly, neither version is playable online, meaning the multiplayer is still just you and a buddy on the couch punching each other bloody. Friends don't let friends button-mash alone, but after a few bouts, you'll be back playing solo.
Rocky is as well known for its music as Mike Tyson is for pain, and we all owe Bill Conti at least ten pounds of muscle for putting together those original emotion-bending compositions. Legends feels true to the license by including more in-game tracks inspired by the movies, though they are either segmented loops or less-than-CD quality, and the character voiceovers are just laughable. One nice touch to the fights is the dramatic music that fades in when either fighter is getting closer to hitting the mat. If you're on the receiving end, you'll lean forward in your seat and grow a Tiger's Eye (which is the closest you'll get to the great theme song from Rocky III, as it's not in Rocky: Legends at all).
Astonishingly, this series is showing progress. If you owned the first Rocky, there is not much new here beyond playing as other characters, though newcomers will undoubtedly appreciate the way the game pays homage to the films. Perhaps the third time will be the charm Rocky Balboa deserves. I ain't heard no bell.