Black & Bruised updated impressions

We check out Majesco and Digital Fiction's upcoming GameCube and PlayStation 2 brawler.

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The last time we saw Black & Bruised on the GameCube and PlayStation 2, the game was still being pulled together by developer Digital Fiction. The release date for Black & Bruised was pushed back to this year in order to give the developer time to tighten things up. Majesco and Digital Fiction recently hit town and let us have a look at how the games have come together on both platforms.

You'll find six modes to choose from in the game: one-player fight, two-player fight, tournament, boxer's life, survival, and training. One-player fight is a single-player arcade-style series of matches against CPU opponents. Two-player fight lets you fight against a friend. Tournament is a single-player mode that challenges you to take on all comers and earn the world title. Boxer's life is a story mode in which you'll face a series of fights that require specific conditions to be met in order to achieve victory. The various fights are tied together by cinematic sequences, each of which tells a unique story for the individual boxers in the game. Survival mode tests your boxing prowess against an endless stream of opponents. Finally, the training mode teaches you how to play the game by having a coach talk you through sparring with a training robot. Both the GameCube and PlayStation 2 versions of the game will feature the same gameplay modes.

The game mechanics in Black & Bruised offer a slightly different twist on the standard arcade boxer. Aside from the expected assortment of blocks, punches, and body blows, Black & Bruised features a power-up system that adds a strategic element to the boxing matches. Over the course of a match, random power-ups will appear above the onscreen timer. In order to get a power-up, you'll have to earn stars by successfully landing punches on your opponent. Once you have the power-up, you'll have the option to use it immediately or hold on to it and increase its potency. When you first collect the power-up, it will be at level one, but it can be upgraded up two times over the course of a match--needless to say, a level-three power-up packs considerably more punch than a level-one power-up. You'll find six base power-ups: heavy punch, auto slip, poison, regenerate, S punch, and auto combo. The power-up system adds a layer of strategy to the game, as you can use them to cancel each other out. For example, using the auto slip power-up, which automatically dodges incoming blows, is an effective counter when your opponent is using the heavy punch power-up, which significantly increases punch damage.

The graphics in Black & Bruised complement the game's zany cast of characters, who are cut from the same cloth as those found in Nintendo's Punch-Out and Midway's Ready 2 Rumble games. The eccentric roster of 19 fighters is a colorful collection of archetypes from around the globe rendered using a stylized cel-shaded technique that gives them a solid dose of personality. The bulk of the game's polygon budget has been poured into the fighters, and it shows. Character faces animate smoothly and are very malleable. Every fighter will react to blows and deform over the course of a fight in his own unique way. The character animation is complemented by little touches such as the stars that appear when a fighter has been stunned or the various special effects used for the power-ups. The rings and fighting locations haven't received quite as much attention, as the crowds and backgrounds are a bit flat, but they do fit the spirit of the game. As far as the game's performance on the different platforms goes, Black & Bruised looks and plays almost the same on both systems. The GameCube version looked and played a hair better in our opinion, but there didn't seem to be that dramatic a difference between the two versions.

The audio in the game contributes to the game's presentation by painting a suitably loopy picture in sounds. You'll hear some ambient noise in each level that captures the disparate environments you'll find yourself fighting in. Each fighter features his own voice and a bevy of unique insults to hurl during the course of a fight, as well as his own theme song.

Judging from what we've seen, Black & Bruised is coming together pretty well. The extra time has allowed Digital Fiction to refine the game since we last saw it, which is a good thing, but we'll need a bit more time with the game to see if the gameplay has panned out. At the moment, the power-up system seems like a good idea and definitely keeps things interesting. Hopefully the game's balance is solid and engaging. Look for our review of Black & Bruised later this month when the game ships for the GameCube and PlayStation 2.

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