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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
Digital Fiction
GENRE: Sports
PLAYERS:   1-2
January 28, 2003
Black & Bruised

 Written by Jeff Milligan  on February 17, 2003

Full Review: It's got Joe Flamingo and King Hippo imitations, but does it have the greatness of Punchout?

If you've been around in the gaming world for a decent amount of time and can recall playing the NES, then you might remember a little title called Mike Tyson's Punchout. Punchout combined wacky characters, solid action, and strategy into what is still one of the most fun boxing games on any console. Black and Bruised for Nintendo's GameCube utilizes some of these same factors in it's gameplay system, yet instead of being the amazingly entertaining game Punchout was, Black and Bruised comes out to be, well, amazingly boring. You can't really blame developer Digital Fiction for trying though. If there's one boxing game that you would want to try to imitate, Punchout should definitely be it. So it would seem that Black and Bruised should be an instant classic right? Well, in theory.

Black and Bruised does a nice job of implementing some of the key features that made Punchout the excellent game that it is, including its presentation, humorous characters, and action-packed style. However, there is one ingredient that's missing from the concoction. That ingredient is none other than the boxing engine behind the gameplay system itself.

Any gamer sitting down to play B&B will become comfortable with the control scheme right away. The A and B buttons will throw left and right jabs, and the X and Y buttons left and right hooks. Holding down the R button while punching will make your jabs go to the mid-section, and will turn your hooks into uppercuts. Of course you also need some defense, which is handled by holding down the L button. One of the main features behind the battles in Black and Bruised is the combo system. Instead of just mashing on the punch buttons, players who want to master the system will have to learn certain button successions. The most common of the combos is the ol' 1-2 punch, which is nothing more than a left jab followed by a right jab, which is executed by pressing A followed quickly by B. Combos can also get complicated, for example a double left hook, left jab, and right uppercut chain combo, which of course has a much more complicated string of buttons to it.

In addition to doing healthy amounts of damage, landing such furious blows does grant the player some bonuses. The addition of power-ups may have saved this title from being traded in after 1 round of boxing. For every punch that is successfully landed, the player receives a green star next to his life meter. After gaining ten green stars, that player is awarded with a power-up. These bonuses range from making your punches harder and faster, to giving your character higher defenses and special attacks. Once a random power-up has been awarded, the player can then utilize it whenever he needs it most by pressing the Z button.

Using your power-up right away may not always be the best decision. If you decide to hang on to your power-up, your meter will begin to rise again, this time gaining yellow stars. Once you reach the plateau of 10 yellow stars the power-up you held onto will be even stronger. Likewise, you can hold onto it for a third go and continue to build up red stars. After you have built up your red star limit, your power-up will be as strong as it can be. The power-ups that can be attained at the third plateau include instant K-O's, fire damage, and the hardest hitting special attack for each character.

Even with all of these fun power-ups and combo attacks there's still no real depth to the entire gameplay experience, which is the biggest downfall of Black and Bruised. Power-ups often fall to the player who can hit the punch buttons the fastest, which results in dropping the combo system entirely, and focusing more on button mashing. It's a sad thing, but the winner is often the player who can press the buttons the fastest.

Besides just having your every day 1 and 2 player fights, Black and Bruised features a tournament mode, boxer's life mode, and a survival mode. The tournament mode is similar to what you would find in Punchout. After choosing your character, you progress through numerous challengers until you've defeated all foes in front of you. Survival mode is very similar, but involves facing enemies, one right after another, with no break in the action to revive your health. Boxer's Life mode is where you can log the most time. Each selectable character has a tale about how they came into boxing and each has 6 fights which must be completed in order to complete the boxer's life story. Each fight will put you in a handicap situation, depending on how the story goes. For example, Tiny is a lumberjack and as you could imagine, you get a lot of splinters handling wood all day. So for his first fight, Tiny's power is decreased because of the splinters. Shallow, I know, but it's humorous none the less.

Technically speaking, Black and Bruised is a great example of how cel-shaded graphics can be used properly. The characters have been designed with rich colors and lots of detail. Background environments could have been spruced up a bit more, but for a boxing game you really don't need much more. Each character also has their own theme music and funny clich?'s which are played before and after each match. As for the sound effects, it's hard to decipher if you just hit someone in the face or if you just slammed your dresser drawer shut. You're better off hitting the mute button and slamming your head against a wall every time a punch is thrown, it'll sound better that way.

Bottom Line
If you're looking for an excuse to beat up a cel-shaded Irishmen, then Black and Bruised may be for you. However, due to its poor use of combos and its shallow gameplay, a rental should be more than enough to see what Black and Bruised brings to the table. If you're considering a buy, you might end up black and bruised yourself after realizing the money you've spent on such a boring gameplay system.

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