Not usually a fan of fighting games, I decided to try Rocky simply because I enjoy the movies, and the idea of a boxing game sounded like a nice change from what I had been working on lately. I had some fun, but the experiment ended up being a disappointment. While the game is certianly playable and can be nice for passing some time, it could've been a much better experience with some small changes.
Released before Rocky Balboa, the main gameplay mode of Rocky takes you through the fights from the first five films, but doesn't do it in exactly the way you'd expect. You'll control Rocky throughout and participate in matches against many fighters seen or mentioned during the movies, but the majority of the fights you'll play never actually happened. And some simply couldn't have happened, such as sanctioned matches after the events of Rocky IV. But that's okay... having extra fights makes the game longer, and the fights against those like Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, and Ivan Drago seem that much more important when you reach them.
There are some other examples of weirdness though, like the fact that you're supposed to beat Apollo in the first fight with him in order to continue the game, but after you do, the story then acts as if you've lost, like it does in the film. The main audience for this game is likely the big fans of the film series and they will find these occurances very puzzling.
After each fight, you have a chance to train Rocky and improve some of his stats (Strength, Speed, Stamina, etc.) by playing mini-games. You can either play the games yourself for a maximum of 10 stat points or let the computer do it instantly for a guaranteed 5 points. If you're really bad at the games, it's possible to score lower than 5 points, making the AI option seem okay at first. Except that all you have to do is reload your save file to try again and get things perfect. For whatever reason, the game doesn't penalize you for these repeated attempts, letting you get a powerful fighter with nothing to risk. In any case, the stat training does become important, and it makes the game much easier if you practice one or two of the games until you can get 10 stat points without much trouble. These mini-games themselves are pretty simplistic, usually involving timed button presses. The problem with these games is that they're mandatory if you want to make Rocky powerful. And with more than 20 matches during each playthrough, you'll be tired of training pretty quickly.
There are three difficulty settings, and this turns out to be the game's biggest flaw. All of them are far too easy. I'll readily admit that I've never been any good at fighting games, and I have trouble with the more challenging action titles. I usually have to stick with the easy and normal modes in these kinds of games. But with Rocky, I was able to clear all three modes, having trouble with only one or two fights on the hardest settings. There are simply too many ways to land punches, and then knockout a fighter while taking very little or no damage. You don't even have to worry about memorizing the complicated combos that the game tries to teach you. Simple tactics, not much more than well planned button mashing, can win almost every match if you elect to play that way.
The way the game is supposed to work is that you have a wide range of punches at your disposal, depending on which buttons you press, and how you use the trigger button. You can then string these punches together to make great, if tough to use, combos. But as I said, the game does nothing to encourage you to learn this system instead of button mashing.
I had only a couple of memorable fights. One that took about 8 rounds to finish, where the average with this game is about 2 or 3. And another match where the tactics mentioned above weren't so effective and I had to use some more planning and strategy to win.
There are other gameplay modes here for when you're finished with the main game. You can set up an exhibition match against any of the unlocked characters, making for some interesting fights. Another try with the Apollo Creed vs. Ivan Drago fight, or maybe Clubber Lang vs. Tommy Gunn. There's all sorts of possible combos, but because the gameplay itself is still easy and all the fighters are pretty much the same, you probably won't get much fun out of this beyond a few minutes of amusement with the matchups. Beating the main game on normal and hard will get you two bonus fighters to add some extra amusement... there should've been more to unlock, I think.
There's also a tournament mode, but playing that against the computer is no more fun than the exhibition matches, and there's no rewards for it. The graphics aren't outstanding, but I did find that the game looks better than most reviews gave it credit for. There are fights that take place in original locations and some that are well adapted from the movies. The boxers look like they're supposed to. You won't be saying to yourself, "Yeah, that sort of looks like Apollo Creed." Even the less important boxers are pretty well designed and look like real people. In longer fights, you'll start to see some damage to the fighters depending on where they were hit the most. Having two fighters at the end of a long match looking like they've been through hell... that adds a little more to the experience.
Before the big movie fights, you'll see FMV recreations of scenes from the films... it's like watching a 60 second version of a Rocky movie, giving you just barely enough info about why you're fighting. And they didn't look that good. I think it would've been much nicer to be able to see actual scenes from the movies inserted into the game instead. The developers were apparently proud of themselves though, letting you watch these clips again later as a bonus feature. Do yourself a favor and dig out one of your Rocky DVD's instead.
There's a little bit of voice acting here, but most if it was really bad. You either have a couple lines of people trying to imitate voices from the films, or you have trainers saying the same thing to you round after round, regardless of what's actually happening during the fight. I think a couple of the original actors may have had their voices used for the game, but I can't remember which ones without watching the movie clips again. And there's not much in terms of music here, either. Aside from a couple of the more popular themes being used in menus and before some fights, there's not much of interest to listen to.
If you enjoy the Rocky movies a great deal, this might be worth it for you if you rent it or don't pay too much. For those who just want a new fighting/boxing game and don't care about Rocky, this title really isn't worth it.