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Rocky (Sega Master System) artwork

Rocky (Sega Master System) review

"Down and Out"

Rocky Balboa is a down-on-his-luck boxer with a heart of gold... who everyone treats like a bum. But by fate, he's been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a title match with the heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed. What follows is a series of hardships as Rocky struggles in and out of the ring, as he tries to get by on life, make difficult decisions, train fiercely, and show everyone that he's able to go the distance. That's pretty much how it goes for the movies, which is used as the basis for the 1987 Master System take on this underdog story.

Sega attempts to stay true to certain reoccurring aspects and themes from the films, which becomes apparent when you boot the game. The first thing you'll see is the classic slow scroll of Rocky's giant name across the screen, though for some reason the background is red and different music is playing in place of the original theme. Maybe they couldn't get the rights to Bill Conti's material? It would explain why all the music in the game sounds new. From there, the title screen greets you with the iconic Rocky IV picture of Balboa wearing the United States flag. And despite the implication that this is based on the fourth film, in actuality the Master System title chronicles the Italian Stallion's major fights against Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, and Ivan Drago.

However, just like the movies, you must guide Rocky through a training session prior to each fight. Regrettably, you're not treated to a bevy of exercises as seen in all the training montages, but instead you have to endure one exercise before a fight. In-game, the purpose of these segments is to give Rocky additional power if you succeed at qualifying within a time limit; for instance, hitting the sandbag 60 times or consistently smacking the punching ball five times per second. While you can still participate in a fight if you fail to qualify, it's going to take longer to win against your opponents, at least with Apollo and Clubber, due to not being as stronger and faster.

Once the training session concludes and the fight begins, it's, well, it's going to feel weird. Taking place in a side-view perspective, the match immediately commences with your opponent marching towards you. On your first go, you will likely get knocked in the head a few times... because you are getting thrown off by the fact that Rocky is fighting from the right side of the ring. For some reason, he's being treated as the second player in his own game. Once you get over that oddity, you start swinging away. Boxing in this game is probably best described as a beat 'em up on a single plane with a strict hit detection; you can mash for a combo attack to the head or gut, and even perform an uppercut, but if you step too close, Rocky will just "bounce" off the opponent. There's a lot of awkward timing involved.

But despite the fact that Sega treats this like a legitimate boxing title, with a stamina bar and being able to fight for 15 rounds, you can easily win Apollo and Clubber's matches in three rounds or less. Continuing with the beat 'em up mentality, you can combo mash Apollo's face and Lang's gut until you drain their stamina enough to knock them out three times in a single round; it's straightforward once you get the cumbersome rhythm down, and even if they sneak in a few jabs, you can still power through. That just leaves Drago being the only real opponent, and he's a nightmare because his punches can ground you within seconds. You actually have to put in the effort keeping your distance, blocking or ducking, and continually draining his stamina until you can consistently knock him down.

So really... you're playing Rocky for one major fight. The most annoying thing about this is the fact that you only get one continue, meaning if you fail that attempt, you have to redo the entire game. So that just begs the question: why not add more content? Considering other licensed products on the console like Rambo III, Ghostbusters, Hokuto no Ken, and Alf offering several stages and variation, Rocky feels shockingly minimalist for a licensed product of its era. Visually, the game has smooth punching and falling animations, and is solid depicting each fighter in great detail; though it is hilarious seeing Mickey support Rocky during the Drago fight. But graphics can only carry a game so far, and in this case, Rocky needed a lot more than brand recognition and pretty visuals to carry its lackluster gameplay.

dementedhut's avatar
Community review by dementedhut (February 20, 2023)

There's a lot of weird Double Dragon games in existence, but Game Gear Double Dragon is easily top three weird.

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