Fans of past installments in the Knockout Kings series will be surprised by several changes to the 2002 version. Previously, you had to fight your way up a list of 20 challengers and fine-tune your skills by training between bouts before getting your shot at the champ. But Knockout Kings 2002 scraps all this in favor of a four-tiered pyramid system in which you need to beat just 11 out of 14 challengers before fighting for the title. While it doesn't feel as hard-earned, it's still satisfying to advance your boxer out of dingy gyms and into major venues such as Caesar's Palace. Career mode still offers the opportunity to create your own boxer or choose from the 45 available (21 past and present, 24 fictional). Inexplicably absent, however, are such greats as Rocky Marciano, Jake LaMotta, Larry Holmes, and Marvin Hagler, all of whom appeared on past versions of the game.
Also surprisingly absent this time around is the ability to throw body punches. While some boxers have this punch in their repertoires as a body combination, the best you can do with others is slug away at your opponent's head with a multitude of hooks, jabs, straight punches, low blows, or illegal backhands. And slug away you must if you expect to hold your own against stiffer competition, as finesse options are limited.
Where Knockout Kings 2002 truly shines is in its graphics, thanks to the combination of boxers' well-sculpted physiques and EA Sports's face-mapping technology. The eye-catching detail of the various arenas and rings further enhances the realism, right down to the excitable fans in the seats and the blood flying from fighters' mouths. Satisfying smacks of gloves to the face and thuds of bodies hitting the deck can also be heard in abundance. --Larry White
- Best graphics yet in the series
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