|I am confident that everyone who owns a Dreamcast has played, or
at least seen, the original Ready to Rumble. As it has been released on each and every
console in the last year, and reviewed several times on this site alone, you might think
that I would have a hard time saying anything new about it. Well, luckily I am dealing
with a sequel here, and playing it on the hottest, brand-spankin-newest game console
around, the PS2.
For the unfamiliar, heres the gist of it: the Ready to Rumble series is not only the best boxing game to hit the industry since Punch Out on the NES (which makes it pretty much the only good boxing game to come out in over a decade), and it is also one of the most charming, funny, and innovative arcade style games around. While it still isnt the deepest game on the market, I would recommend it to anyone who likes to lighten up and go a few rounds with style.
I am going to front-load this review with the good stuff. Like its predecessor, Ready to Rumble Round 2 exceeds in personality. The game presentation is fast and fresh and delivers all of the excitement that Michael Buffers famous "Lets get ready to rumble!" battle cry promises. But what truly makes this game exceptional is its sense of humor. The boxers are all characaturesstereotypes with exaggerated bodies and fighting styles. All of the old favorites are back, like Afro Thunder (imagine a bad Chris Rock impersonator with a huge afro and bell bottom leggings) and "Big" Willy Johnson (the classic British gentleman boxer, complete with tank top and handlebar mustache). And the new characters go even further with a beatnik, a cowboy, a robot, and celebrities that include the likes of Shaquille ONeal and Michael Jackson. Yes, I am talking about the NBA MVP and the contractually designated "King of Pop." There are even rumors that certain White House political personalities show up in the ring, with a little coercing.
The graphics are astoundingeven better than the Dreamcast release, though it might be unfair at this point to say that this is due to the system, it may just be that this is a sequel and therefore the graphics should be expected to have improved. The characters are modeled with "skins" which not only hide any hinge-like joints and other foibles, but also give them incredible definition. Flesh is given texture and imperfections. Veins, pores, wrinkles, stretch marks, cellulite, nipplesits all there. The game suffers from the occasional glitcha characters hair showing through or a shadow extending off of his or her bodybut it is forgivable. There is more eye candy this time as well, most noticeably in the variety of venues. Instead of the same drab arenas, we have roof top rings, elegant opera houses, redneck bars and more.
Round 2 uses the same basic fighting system as the original. Opponents duke it out with high and low right and left punches. They defend with high and low blocks. They jab, hook, juke and move and taunt. Each character has his or her own physical pros and cons, abilities, special moves and combos. And once again, there are no weight divisions here, so a flyweight like Lulu Valentine (52", 108 lbs.) will be fighting monsters like Joey T. (64", 287 lbs.). And, of course, there is the Rumble Feature, where the boxers earn letters by taunting and landing high-damage punches. Spelling the word "Rumble" enables them to go into a fury, which is often a match-ender. This time, however, "Rumble" can be spelled three times over, with the first two being successively stronger, and the third culminating complete, and hilarious, devastation. I wouldnt dream of describing it here because the surprise of it is the killer, but the first time we saw it, my friend and I literally laughed so hard that we couldnt even pick up our controllers to pause the game for several minutes.
The game includes an Arcade Mode, a Championship Mode, a Tournament Mode, Team Battle, and Versus. Arcade Mode allows you to just jump in and fight your way to the title. Championship Mode gives you the opportunity to train your character over a period of time either through a series of mini-games (jumping rope, speed bag, aerobics) or by auto-train in which the computer handles all of the rigors on its own. You can also decide when to fight in prizefights to earn money or title fights to earn rank. In Tournament Mode you set up your own tournament with up to eight characters. Team Battle and Versus are what you would expect. Those who complained that the first game was too shallow for repeat play will have issues with this one as well. In truth, this is the only thing preventing me from giving this game a five star rating. True, the AI has improved slightly, and with only 12 fights to the championship and 11 characters to unlock (23 total) in Arcade Mode there is more incentive for replay. But in the end I couldnt care less about buying vitamins and pounding buttons to make my fighter jump rope. Once everything is unlocked, the multi-player is the only reason to come back. And come back you will.
You may be wondering how in the hell the programmers of Ready To Rumble Round 2 got Michael Jackson to be in this game. I mean Shaq is one thing, he doesnt seem to take himself too seriously, but for Michael Jackson to put himself into a position of such obvious self-parody is another. Well, to be honest, I dont think the programmers know how they did it either. The final credits of the game include "a very special thanks to Michael Jackson" with an audio clip of a group "Thanks Michael!" But what a great addition to an already hilarious game. Oh, and in response to Jeff Luthers comment in his review of the PSX version of Ready To Rumble (on this site) that Michael Buffer should step into the ring and make good on his trademark phrase, well