Black and Bruised
Black & Bruised invites us to step into the ring and beat the ever living crap out of goofily themed boxers in a funny cartoon world. It's a clever concept, but sadly the execution is lacking. Superb character design carries the game--for about an hour. After that, the shallow gameplay wears out its welcome faster than you can say "Muhammad Ali." Sure, the game looks great. Smooth animation and amusing voice acting complement the bruisers' copacetic cartoon rendering. Mickey McFist drunkenly slurs his brogue-blessed speech, Knuckles Nadine is a boxing Daisy Duke, and Royal Pain brings English-aristocracy snobbery into the ring. All 18 characters have similarly vibrant personalities. But let's not pull punches--this game is no fun. The boxing itself allows little subtlety or creativity. The fighters share the same eight punches, which hardly vary in terms of accuracy, speed, or damage. A skilled brawler might save a power-up for a strategic moment, but even this tactic is blunted by the unstable nature of the power-ups, which disappear if your boxer starts taking a beating. The simple truth is Black & Bruised is a button-masher. Mash buttons to slug your opponent, mash buttons to haul your palooka off the mat when you get laid out, and mash buttons to skip the repetitive cinematics that bookend every round. Aside from its well-rendered characters, there is neither sweetness nor science to be found here.
Black & Bruised has an identity crisis. Its impressive visuals and comical story say "easy-to-play, arcade-style boxing game." But the controls and gameplay aren't shake-n-bake simple, and that's where Bruised stumbles. The controls (with eight different types of punches...eight!) belong in a serious sim, not in a seemingly fun punchfest. The most frustrating thing about Bruised is that, to be successful, you've either got to memorize a lot of combos or just mash and hope for the best. And because the game's so fast and the camera's so tight on the action, blocking takes more luck than skill. The graphics and style are a KO, but the gameplay doesn't have the same punch.
I was as excited to play Black & Bruised as I was to punch myself in the face, which is to say, not very. But I played it. And it surprised me. And I liked it. Quite a bit. The game pulls off funny the same way the under-appreciated snowboarding game Dark Summit did: with kitsch. The Boxer's Life Story mode will keep you entertained with the 18 characters' wacky story lines. Think of a regular boxing Story mode, delete anything serious, and add in whatever comes to mind. And I mean whatever. While dimwits like Paul and CJ might not be able to follow the complex plots, I quite like non sequitur narratives. It's that recipe that makes the game fresh and worthwhile.
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Majesco December 2002 -- We haven't had a crack at this brawler yet, but if it plays like the classic Punch-Out, we'll be pleased. The game's cartoon look and Saturday-morning humor seem just right for the younger 'Cube crowd, but Majesco claims the gameplay is deep enough for grown-ups as well. That's good, because we can't wait to put that flabby, Bald-Bull impersonator (right) in his place.
Cel-shading has been gaining popularity over the past couple of years and more developers are trying to cash in. When executed correctly, games can achieve a fluidity that is fun to watch as well as play. One problem that tends to arise however is too much attention being given to the graphics while other parts of the game suffer. Black and Bruised is afflicted with this type of issue as the graphics do look great but certain gameplay issues are lacking.
If you're not familiar with Black and Bruised, it's a 'Punch Out'?-style boxing game that's loaded with personality. There are fourteen outlandish boxers to choose from, each carrying their own unique attributes and story. Those stories can be followed using the 'Boxer's Life'? mode as six matches are set up for each boxer with cut scenes following after a completed match. This is probably the most entertaining part of the game as the story lines are well developed and impact the boxer in the ring. For instance, if your boxer was in a car wreck during the cut scene, he may take more damage when he receives punches to the head.
Other modes including Survival, 1P Fight, and Tournament are also included but probably won't increase the replay value significantly. This is where the gameplay issues come into effect as 'Black and Bruised'? may also describe what your thumbs will look like after playing. Basically, Black and Bruised is a button smashing marathon where strategy is limited to throwing as many punches as possible. There are times when strategy is useful but generally moving toward your opponent and swinging wildly will have better success then anything else. Although entertaining enough initially, it becomes repetitive rather quickly and once the story lines are finished, the bulk of the game's appeal will be too.
The graphics are done well and might extend the game's shelf life by itself. All the boxers look fantastic and have enough animation to keep from becoming stale. They'll even show signs of the beating they'e receiving with bruises and swelling faces as the match continues. The audio on the other hand is extremely bland. The voice-overs work well but the sound effects in the ring leave much to be desired.
Black and Bruised may not be the game of the year, but it's worth being checked out. Although the gameplay issues slow it up some and reduce its replay value, it does make it easy to pick up, as beginners can start playing almost immediately. It's great as a novelty and will allow for competitive matches when friends come over, but if you expect more then that, renting may be a better option.
I've often wondered why we don't see more fighting games of the pugilistic variety, and I'm sad to say that after playing Black & Bruised, I know why. At first, I took it to be among the more pedestrian titles I've looked at, but after extensive play, I can say that it's a very creative game. With more than its fine fare share of fighters, no alliteration intended, Black & Bruised passes the first test, and gives you plenty to play with. As is traditional, fighters have their strengths and weaknesses, but it isn't this feature that makes this title stand out. It's the quick, and somewhat shaky gameplay.
Using a combination of buttons to make each move possible, you'll have to learn a fairly complex control setup in order to really excel at this title. Given the amount of time it took me to get used to this setup, I'd say this was more of a hindrance than a benefit. You'll need to be able to use the four face buttons, as well as the shoulder buttons with great alacrity. While it's conceptually much different, I'd liken this to the skills you'd need to learn in order to play Frequency, and that title only needs three buttons.
Once you get used to this, and find the fighter you favor the most, the gameplay itself is somewhat of a letdown. While your fighter loses energy much like every other fighting game, in this one you get a chance to build some energy up as you struggle to your feet, prolonging your agony. Focusing heavily on blocking and counterattacks, you can build up powerups that'll give your attacks a little extra oomph.
Unfortunately, while this normally would work for a boxing game, there doesn't seem to be much give and take, as each match ultimately becomes about who can mash the buttons the hardest and get lucky most often. Even more annoying, I found that reach was of such great importance that a single misstep could easily end the match for you. These elements all combine to create a steep learning curve, and provide a computer opponent that's much more than challenging. All in all, with nothing beyond the gameplay to support it, and weak gameplay at that, I can't recommend Black & Bruised.
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