So who doesn't hear "Eye of the Tiger" and immediately think of that slurry-voiced boxer from the low end of the city rising up to meet the challenge and become something? With the latest (and last, supposedly) Rocky offering on the big screen, a PSP game has been released that, despite its name, focuses on the fictional boxing legend from all six movies, not just the most recent one. What's offered though isn't quite as legendary as the name might imply.
What I noticed immediately was the lack of a career-type mode, something where you could take Rocky from a no-name boxer, train him, improve him, and make him the best boxer around. Nothing like that at all. The nearest thing that Rocky Balboa provides is something called "Historical Fights", a mode that allows you to relive each of the fights from the Rocky movies, as Rocky himself. There's nothing much to this mode, unless you want to go through the movies yourself.
The next mode of note is the Fast Lane. In it, you'll take on opponents and complete challenges in a certain amount of time. Often, you'll be required to knock down your opponent, but sometime it'll involve just staying on your feet long enough to pass the challenge. After this mode, there's just the standard Exhibition Mode, in which you can pit any two boxers from the Rocky series against each other and duke it out with them.
And that's it, really, unless you start some multiplayer matches or go through the simple training mode. The lack of a career mode really stands out in this case, because it represents such a potentially large amount of gameplay. Now, that's not to say there's not a lot to the fighting. In fact, one might say that there's too much to the fighting itself. You see, there are a wide variety of punches that you can execute, but there's only four buttons to make them with. The PSP's four buttons don't lend themselves well to a boxing game, especially when there is so much variety involved.
The square and triangle buttons control left punches, while the X and circle buttons control Rocky's right swings. It sounds pretty simple at first, but there's a lot more to it than that. You see, the direction you're pressing the nub in also affects what punch you throw, so there's a heap of variety right there. Additionally, it matters if you're leaning in a particular direction. And then there's the fact that you can press two buttons at once to throw yet more variety into your punches.
Make no mistake though: despite the lack of variety in the modes of play, there is a lot of depth in the fighting system, complete with weaves, dodges, a multitude of ways to attack, but with all this it feels like a little too much. Remembering which swing maps to which combination of buttons becomes a chore when you've got too much to remember, and without an easily accessible list of moves (the only place you learn is in the training mode), it's all to easy to find yourself pressing buttons randomly, hoping for some sort of positive result. It's a shame, because without adopting the flow and manoeuvres that the game requires, you won't find yourself winning too many matches.
The graphics and sound of the game are a mixed bag. The music is taken straight from the movies and fits the mood, but the sound effects during the fight and the commentator get old very quickly. Likewise in the graphics department: the fighter models are fairly well detailed (though adopt a plastic look with the sweat on them) and the little cutscenes from the movies also bring you easily into the mood of the game, but there's nothing else. The boxing rings look mediocre at best, and the audience is pretty much non-existent.
The problem with Rocky Balboa is that it just doesn't have enough depth to satisfy any real boxing urges. If you want to go beat someone up as the legend, or one of his rivals, then that's okay, but the game doesn't have much incentive to play. The glaring lack of a career mode only serves to highlight this lack of content. The fighting system is also frustrating to learn (and remember), and it's apparent that the four buttons of the PSP are just not adequate for the amount of moves that they are used for. In short, what could've been a good boxing game is just cut down to little more than something that fans of the movie will be interested in.