In the past few months, EA Sports’ reputation has taken a few shots. Recent titles such as “March Madness 2002,” “NBA Live 2002” and “Triple Play 2002” have made some wonder if EA’s slogan should be, “If it’s in the game, it’s not in the EA game.” But despite recent flops, EA is still the biggest software company in the world, and it will not give up that title without a fight. In its latest boxing simulation, “Knockout Kings 2002,” EA Sports proves it can still deliver a knockout blow to the competition.

Paul Wong
Courtesy of Electronic Arts
Hey, nice man boobs.

In its fourth incarnation, the “Knockout Kings” game engine has been completely revamped. Delayed punches and poor collision detection have been replaced with fluid animation that makes you feel like you are in the ring. The enhanced gameplay can be attributed to the power of the Xbox system (“Kings” plays slightly better on Xbox than Playstation 2), as the game provides breathtaking visuals running at a consistent frame rate.

On a down note, however, the game is almost completely lacking in the defense department. For blocking, the left trigger button is used, but it is ultimately useless. Because the left trigger button has a great deal of resistance, it becomes awkward to press it repeatedly. For this reason, it is nearly impossible to block constant attacks from an opponent. While this is a letdown for simulation fans, the gameplay is still fun because of the fast and furious action, which is not only better than every boxing game on the market, but also rivals great fighting games like “Virtua Fighter 4” and “Dead or Alive 3.”

In addition to improved gameplay, the game’s default settings offer refreshing changes that make fights more interesting. Unless the settings are modified, the game does not show power meters, time remaining in the round or any thing else that would distract from the action. As a result, gamers will focus only on what counts — beating the crap out of their opponent.

Another nice feature is the default setting regarding knockdowns. With the automatic recovery setting, gamers no longer have to worry about mashing buttons and spinning control sticks to get up, as the boxer will get up on his own (so long as he is not in la la land following a tenacious uppercut from Lennox Lewis). With automatic recovery, gamers can get a much-needed rest from the action instead of killing their fingers pressing the hard candy-like buttons of the Xbox.

“Knockout Kings 2002” provides a great selection of fighters and gameplay modes. For fighters, the game offers some all-time greats including Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard and Evander Holyfield. And for those not finding their favorite boxer, the game features a decent create-a-fighter mode, where gamers can create their own Mike Tyson or simply create a boxing freak.

Using either an existing boxer or a created boxer, gamers can fight in exhibition, career or tournament mode. And while each mode offers a slight change of pace, playing against a human opponent ultimately is more fun.

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