There is nothing like pitting two intensely trained fighters in a 4-sided ring and watching them kick the crap out of each other. Knockout Kings 2002, developed by EA's sports simulation team, gives the boxing genre a much needed adrenaline boost. With all the crap-infested Mike Tyson Boxing titles out there, KOK2K2 is a breath of fresh air. EA has included a large assortment of well-known boxers for this title with Ali being the game's ambiguous mascot. This version is essentially identical to its highly acclaimed PS2 counterpart with a few visual enhancements, sadly though this version shares the PS2's excruciatingly long load times. If you are new to the KO Kings series, you will be glad to know that this game is not hard to jump right into. A quick and easy tutorial is available, and outlines the majority of offensive and defensive tactics in a very understandable way.
If you enjoyed games like Punch Out! or Buster Douglas Boxing for the Sega Genesis you will certainly enjoy this game as it brings the simple dynamics of these boxing games and integrates them into an aesthetically impressive presentation. While this version does offer updated visuals and enhanced gameplay over its 2001 monikered predecessor, it still has a few glaring issues that keep it from attaining greatness. The camera can sometimes get in the way and there are some very obvious clipping problems, not to mention the included modes of play leave a lot to be desired. These issues are worth mentioning but it should also be noted that the game is incredibly fun to play and arguably the best boxing game presently on the market.
Visually KO Kings 2002 is impressive -- boasting real time lighting reflection effects on the sweat of the fighters and lots of little nuances like mouthpieces that can be sent flying through the air if a particularly devastating attack is executed. Bloodstains will sometimes be left on the floor of the ring after an especially excruciating fight and it is not uncommon to see a fair amount of sweat and even blood coming off the boxers amidst a flurry of blows. Animation is nicely done thanks to its painstaking human movement emulation methods that EA employed to simulate each boxer’s unique style. A huge amount of attention was paid to the look and feel of the various boxers and even the rings in which they fight are near perfect recreations of their real-life counterparts. The 2D crowd looks somewhat out of place in contrast to the games detailed and realistic action. To EA's credit though, the crowd actually does look somewhat believable thanks to the photo-realistic skins that they used.
The visual appeal of the game is due in part to target-specific damage; pummeling your opponent enough will result in a bruised and battered mess of a face, it is painful just to look at. Every boxer looks nearly identical to their real-life counterparts complete with custom special moves that attempt to capture the essence of each popular fighter. The most disappointing aspect of the game's visual presentation however, is the fact that regardless of which fighter you choose their victory scene always results in the winner jumping up onto the corner-pole and proclaiming his uhh winner-ness, that or he will simply fall to his knees and triumphantly raise his hands into the air. Too many rehashed animations.
Music consists of hip-hop songs about boxing that does admittedly jell nicely with the game's look and feel, although it would have been nice if they had included more than a couple songs. The music is only found within the menu screens so this may not be an issue with most people. When you’re in the ring you'll hear the roar of the crowd changing depending on the on-screen action; throw an illegal low blow and you'll summon tons of boo's and disgruntled reactions. The sound effects from connected punches sound blunt and realistic. As in a lot of sports simulation games the commentators will often repeat themselves and after a few matches serve little purpose outside of getting on your nerves. A little more variety in commentator dynamics would have boosted the enjoyment of this game.
The gameplay is where KO Kings really shines; you will not find yourself playing a game of hand-twister to perform the various offensive maneuvers. Jabs, which are used to set up other punches, are performed by tapping the X button, to throw a right cross just hit the Y button, and you can throw hooks by banging on the B and A buttons. That is the basics. To throw uppercuts hold the R trigger and hit one of the four main buttons. You can even throw low-blows to the opponent’s nether-regions by pushing the white button or dish out a hard elbow by pushing in the right analog stick. Be warned though, enough cheap shots will result in a forfeit. That is basically all there is to KO King's offensive control scheme. Defense is even easier; to block -- hold the L trigger. The simple control layout makes this game button-masher-friendly, but do not be deceived by the games simple gameplay, if you don't harness a sense of strategy in your fighting style you'll be thrown to the curb in a hurst on the latter challenges.
EA included three modes of play in the game; Exhibition, for a quick fight. Tournament, where you will compete in a king of the hill type competition. And Career mode, which gives you the ability to create your own custom boxer from head to toe. This is the games main mode of play, you'll have a manager who will give you 'helpful' advice on the road to victory. Each boxer you defeat will earn you some creation points that will allow you to boost your custom fighter's various attributes. If you would rather play Career mode with an existing boxer then you'll have to forget about the interesting customization offerings. Here is a quick rundown of some of the more interesting fighters (there are 45 in all) that are included in KO Kings: Ali, Lennox Lewis, Felix Trinidad, Butter Bean, Oscar De La Hoya, and Suger Ray. There is also a healthy assortment of original unlockable boxers.
The game offers enough lasting appeal to warrant a few rentals but the game's career mode simply doesn't have the depth to warrant a purchase. The AI is adequate enough to provide hours of entertainment but there is no supplement to playing against a human opponent, and this is where you will find the source of KO King's longevity. Nevertheless, even without all the bonus bells and whistles that could have extended this game’s replayability it is still far above the competition.
EA knows how toe-to-toe combat should be done, Knockout Kings 2002 sets the standard that all future boxing games will compared against. Thanks to the minor enhancements that the Xbox version of KO Kings 2002 sports this is definitely the version to buy if you have the choice. Despite this games’ impressive visuals, it hardly taxes the hardware of the 'Box; developers would be well advised to include graphical effects that the Xbox is capable of in future ports of games. The Direct X 8.1 API is easy to work with and only requires minimal tweaking to include enhanced visuals like 4-Pass Bump Mapping and dazzling use of pixel shaders. But be that as it may, this game still rocks. Even if boxing ain't your thing, there is a good chance that you will thoroughly enjoy this flawlessly executed game.