Ready 2 Rumble, the game that everyone has called the Blitz version of boxing, is the real deal. This over-the-top boxing game is good in much the same way that Mike Tyson's Punch-Out was good - both games have a quick, arcade style of play and both feature wild boxers with very distinct styles. But the similarities end there - Ready 2 Rumble's beautiful 3D graphics and incredible gameplay are like nothing anyone has ever seen in a boxing game.
The game has two modes of play. Arcade mode is a simple one- or two-player mode in which you simply pick a fighter and fight. Championship mode is a single-player mode that lets you take a boxer from the bottom of the ranks to the top in pursuit of the championship belt. To accomplish this goal, you must improve your fighter's abilities by putting him through five different forms of training: lifting weights, using the sway bag, taking aerobics, and hitting the heavy bag and speed bag. Each of these exercises is represented in a minigame that simulates in a fun way the method of training used by real boxers. For instance, aerobics is represented by a Parappa the Rapper-styled push-the-correct-button-at-just-the-precise-moment type of game. Most of the minigames are fun and challenging, and since your attributes rise the better you do, it's in your best interest to do well. However, after you take a few of the fighters all the way through the championship mode, you'll begin to grow tired of the time it takes to play the minigames. Instead, you can use the auto-train feature, which is faster, though it doesn't give your fighter as much of an ability boost as is possible.
Each minigame costs money, which you earn by betting on yourself in a prizefight. The prizefights are separate from the bouts that you take to climb the ranks in pursuit of the belt, in that they're strictly about the cash. Your opponent will fight harder the more money you wager, but even when you bet the maximum amount possible, the computer opponent is fairly easy to beat.
The computer AI in any single-player mode on any difficulty setting is really easy to beat after spending some time with it. The AI is Ready 2 Rumble's only real weakness - all the computer opponents fail to stop you from sticking and moving. The computer opponent will let you come in, deliver a punch, and get back out again before he has a chance to land. Uppercuts thrown just within range by most fighters will almost always land as well. Each fighter is different, so of course some fighters will be harder to beat, but it takes little time to discover what it takes to beat each guy. Even though the AI is extremely weak, the game is still quite fun to play. Unlocking more boxers by completing the championship mode several times, along with the game's great two-player mode, will keep you playing the game for quite some time.The control of Ready 2 Rumble is elegantly simple. You use the analog stick to move your fighter freely around the ring. The trigger buttons block high and low, but when held and used with the analog stick, they also let you bob, weave, and evade. The four buttons on the face of the controller are left punch high, left punch low, right punch high, and right punch low. It's a very simple, straightforward setup that lets you instantly jump into the game and start landing halfway-realistic combos, like the old one-two. There are different punches - like hooks, uppercuts, and lunging jabs - that you can perform simply by pressing a direction on the analog stick along with the appropriate punch button. Each of the game's 20 fighters have different strengths and weaknesses. Some fighters, like Jet Chin, are fast and wiry, but they lack power and range; other fighters, like Tank Thrasher, have tons of power and range, but they are big and slow. Then you have fighters, like Butcher Brown, who have it all and who can usually destroy all comers. In any event, your control is drastically differently from one fighter to another, and there are unique combos to uncover. If you land a hard punch when your stamina is relatively full, your fighter will earn a letter. If you do this six times before the end of a round without getting knocked down, you spell out the word rumble. This lets you unleash a barrage of punches without losing any stamina for a brief period of time. Probably the single most impressive thing about the control is how well it matches up with the visuals. In games like this - where there is a lot of animation - lag is common; normally you would execute a punch and have to wait for the animation to complete before continuing. But not in Ready 2 Rumble - the game moves so fast and smooth that you have to play it to believe it.
Visually, Ready 2 Rumble is amazing. The animation of the fighters is incredible. Whether they're collapsing to the mat, delivering a blow to the face, or receiving one, all the fighters move so smoothly and realistically that you really have to see it to believe it. The pugilists themselves look fantastic - their polygonal frames are nearly absent of any straight edge, giving their bodies a naturally round and smooth look. All the boxers blink, and their mouths move when they speak, almost perfectly in synch with what they are saying. Each fighter has around 120 facial expressions ranging from an ecstatic "I just became heavyweight champion of the world" look, to a "I am so hurt I am about to lose consciousness" look. When fighters takes a punch, you can see the wince of pain on their faces, and after a while you can see bruises form and their skin change color. Even the audience surrounding the ring is animated, and they actually look like a crowd of people, as opposed to the water-colored blur we've seen in most sports games. The crowd stands up and sits down, raises arms and holds up signs. The game runs at a phenomenal 60 frames a second and really has to be seen to be appreciated. The only visual flaws that you'll see are a bit of slow down some clipping problems with some of the fighters' clothing. Other than that, the game is just beautiful.
Besides Ready 2 Rumble's obvious visual qualities, the game's infectious "Let's get ready to rumble" intro song and accompanying sound really fit the game well. All the fighters' speeches, in the form of taunts and catchy prefight one liners (minus accents) sound crystal clear. One of the best one-liners in the game is Afro Thunder's "It's time to dance! It's time to dance! (dramatic pause) Dance, sucker!" The sound effects for punches landing on the face and body vary, as do the groans and grunts of the pugilist on the receiving end. This, along with the comical comments from your corner about your performance, crowd cheers and boos, and of course Michael Buffer's trademark "Let's get ready to rumble" battle cry, all add up to a game that has outstanding audio.
In the end, Ready 2 Rumble is a fantastic game in almost every sense of the word. If the computer opponents could adapt to your style to stop one dimensional attacks, and force you to use your head to box, this game would be almost perfect. Still, with its incredible control and impressive overall presentation, it's the best boxing game ever. I know I'll be playing the two-player mode for a long time to come and will be looking forward to a sequel. Ready 2 Rumble is one of the must-have launch games on the Dreamcast.