Our second two-mega cartridge is also based on a Sylvester Stallone moves series, this time featuring everyone’s favorite underdog boxer. Now who doesn’t love the story of Rocky, a scrappy young fighter who gets a chance at the big time and makes the most of it, ultimately becoming the best and living the dream. The original film is still regarded as a cinema classic and spawned a series of sequels of varying quality that continued Rocky’s story, and even though this cart was released a couple of years after the fourth film, the series was still popular enough for Sega to have a familiar name join their ranks since the first 8-bit boxing games for the NES (Ring King and Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out) were coming out as well. Unfortunately those who enjoyed the films or boxing games in general, especially Punch-Out, won’t quite find the Eye of the Tiger here.
Anyway as I mentioned this cart centers around the four films that were around at the time of this cart’s release (the fifth film was still some years off so it’s not represented, thank goodness). You play as the Italian Stallion himself as he steps in the ring against his three main movie opponents: the reigning champion Apollo Creed, street tough Clubber Lang (Mr. T) and nasty Russian Ivan Drago, all looking to stop Rock’s road to the title. However before each match you have to go through one of three short training mini-games that depict Rocky working on improving his condition. The scenes include the sandbag, the punching bag and the mitts, but each one is basically you hitting the buttons as fast as you can for 60 seconds, trying to meet the qualifying score. Should you meet the requirements you get a slight boost to your power and speed before going into battle.
When you do finally get to the actual match you’re treated side-view of the action that most 1980s boxing titles used, with Rocky on one side and your opponent on the other. Through 15 3-minute rounds of standard boxing action you obviously try to knock your foe out by depleting his stamina bar before he does the same to you and you have three types of punches at your disposal, as well as the ability to duck and block the return fire. If you do get knocked down yourself you can get back to your feet before the 10 count by mashing the buttons, but you can only do this a certain amount of times. At the end of each round your boxers takes a breather to slightly regain their stamina while the judges’ scorecard is displayed. You win matches by either knocking your opponent out for a 10 count, knocking them down three times in one round for a TKO, or you can earn a judges’ decision if the fight goes the distance. Two players can also lace up the gloves and duke it out mano-a-mano, even though it’s limited to just Rocky vs. his foes, you can’t match the other guys against each other.
One of the big positives of this cart is the excellent graphics, and you can see it right off the bat with the well-done title screen. The sprites during the fight scenes have some great details and resemble their movie counterparts closely while sporting some decent animation, and the intermission screens between rounds and the cutscene after someone gets knocked down are also nicely done with everyone looking somewhat like they should. Even the training scenes look great with smooth animation. As far as the audio goes the fights feature some nice up-beat background music that doesn’t get in the way, though the sound effects are nothing special. It’s a shame they didn’t include a rendition of the “Gonna Fly Now” main theme from the series.
Sadly, while the presentation is nice, a few glaring issues with the gameplay itself cause Rocky to fall well short of being a boxing champion. The controls work fine for the most part, though they feel a little awkward at times, but ultimately the matches always seem to come down to mostly button mashing with very little strategy involved. The training sessions themselves are a bit of a bother just to get to each match and there’s no way to skip them. As far as the challenge level goes, Apollo isn’t too much to handle but the difficulty spikes before you face the other two fighters who are near impossible to defeat, especially if you don’t pass the training sessions and get the power boosts. If you lose your fight you do get one rematch with the same opponent. Not to mention there’s only three opponents which doesn’t give it much replay value; you beat the terrible trio and that’s it, no more challengers. Sega could have added some made-up boxers you had to beat before you face the big three. Heck, they didn’t even feature the boxer vs. wrestler fight with Hulk Hogan from the third film.
So while Rocky isn’t a terrible game, and it can be slightly enjoyable at times for boxing gamers, you’re just left with the feeling it truly could have been a contendor in the video boxing ranks with a few tweaks, especially if it had a better difficulty curve and much more substance to it. Rocky may be a champion but the cart that bares his name fails to contend for the 8-bit boxing crown.