Black & Bruised is an over-the-top arcade-style boxing game for the GameCube and PlayStation 2 that features wild characters, decent control, and a surprising story-driven single-player mode. Casual gamers looking for a new Ready 2 Rumble-style boxing game will find Black & Bruised to be a charmingly fun, albeit overly simple game to play. Hard-core boxing aficionados chomping at the bit for a new boxing game should pass on this one, since its gameplay revolves around power-ups that often have more influence on the outcome of a bout than the player's boxing skills do.
The game features six different gameplay modes: single-player exhibition, two-player exhibition, survival, tournament, training, and boxer's life. While the first five modes listed here are self-explanatory, the game's main single-player mode, boxer's life, is fairly unique. The boxer's life mode is a career mode of sorts that imparts a good deal of its story through prerendered cinema sequences that play in between the matches. Every fighter has his own story line, and these stories are not only entertaining, but they also tie directly into the gameplay of the bouts. For instance, when you play as Mickey McFist, you'll eventually get into a car accident that leaves your ribs a little sore. This translates into not being able to take too many punches to your body in your next fight, since they'll do an increased amount of damage. The boxer's life mode also features scenarios in which you have to beat an opponent within a certain amount of time or keep your fighter's health above that of your opponent at all times, among other things.
While the point of any boxing game is to punch your opponent while trying to minimize the damage your fighter sustains, Black & Bruised also features a power-up gameplay element. At different points during each bout, an icon will appear in between the fighters' health bars that represents one of an assortment of power-ups, such as invincibility or super punch. When this icon appears, you and your opponent will literally fight to win it--if you put together a good combination before your opponent does, you'll get the power-up. Once you have it, you can use it right away or try to build its power by landing more punches. Every punch you land gives you a star that appears above your health meter. Once you've filled the line, the stars will change color and start building up from left to right again. You can do this three times, since each power-up has three levels of power, much like the supermoves seen in some fighting games. With each level you gain, the power-up you have becomes even more effective. This power-up mechanic is extremely effective, and it is very often the deciding factor in a match. The controls are fairly simple and offer the basic punches you'd expect, such as hooks, uppercuts, and overhand rights. The game does include a number of combinations for each fighter, but the game's default difficulty setting doesn't really require you delve into them very much. On the harder difficulty settings, though, you'd better know your stuff, since the AI doesn't let you get away with just landing one or two punches.
In the graphics department, Black & Bruised uses cel shading to create a cartoonlike look. This approach, coupled with the fact that the game's 19 fighters are all extremely unique in their design, definitely makes for a solid presentation. The lack of transitional animations and the blinding speed at which the fighters move from one position to the next do hamper the game's impressive presentation to a certain extent--the animations don't blend well from one to the next, which makes it look a bit like the fighters are just jumping from one punch to the next. When they are just moving around the ring, though, the fighters look great. Both versions of the game are similar in terms of visual quality, though the GameCube version is a bit smoother and more colorful than its PlayStation 2 counterpart.
The audio includes quite a bit of voice work, most of which is campy but well executed. The dialogue fits the game's overall over-the-top style and adds a great deal to the characters' personalities. The game's upbeat music and cartoonlike sound effects also help set the game's lighthearted tone.
Obviously, any serious boxing fan will want to look elsewhere for sim-styled boxing. But in the end, Black & Bruised is a fun arcade-style boxing game that casual gamers will find entertaining for awhile.