Much like the iconic Rocky Balboa himself, the glory days of the arcade boxing genre are well behind it. Hell, when Midway’s respectable Ready 2 Rumble Boxing first laced up its gloves the President of Russia was Boris Yeltsin, Justin Timberlake was merely the tallest guy in NSYNC, and putting on a Marvel movie just meant watching Wesley Snipes kill a bunch of vampires.
Modern iterations just don’t have the same magic, and while Big Rumble Boxing: Creed Champions is an earnest enough, budget-priced trip back to 1999, developer Survios’ attempt to breathe a little life into unpretentious arcade pugilism that’s two decades past its prime is honestly pretty disappointing.
This is actually developer Survios’ second licensed boxing game based on the Rocky and Creed film saga; its first was 2018’s well-regarded VR game Creed: Rise to Glory. Unlike Creed: Rise to Glory, however, Creed Champions is an entirely non-VR experience and the two games have little in common beyond the same modest array of uninspiring and clichéd fantasy boxers that Survios has recycled from Creed: Rise to Glory.
The Bleakest Victory
Creed Champions’ take on the sweet science is simple enough to understand, with a straightforward two-button approach to strikes, a single button for special punches, and a button to block, which doubles as the button to slip punches and land counters if you time it right. Boxers fit into a handful of different styles, and there’s definitely a noticeable difference between the swarmers and the sluggers.
Button mashing will certainly suffice on the lowest difficulty setting in most instances (and, if it doesn’t, loading up on powerful hooks or uppercuts from afar tends to get the job done). That changes on the higher settings, however, where opponents are cannier and quicker to pulverise you with combinations and slip counters. Here you must play more strategically by dodging, answering your opponent’s attempted counterpunches with instant counterpunches of your own, and making doubly sure they’re committed to throwing a punch at you before activating your special attack (which will prevent them from being able to block it).
There’s nothing necessarily terrible about Creed Champions’ casual, pick-up-and-play approach, although it’s pretty weird how your boxers can’t make small movements without looking like they’re in slow motion. I also find it incredibly annoying that the AI is able to somehow interrupt my special punches with their own special punches, even though I could never do the same. The brief wind-up vignette would play for my character, only to immediately segue into the wind-up vignette for my opponent, and then my character would be the one getting his face caved in. It’s also pretty irritating that the AI is almost always able to get up milliseconds before the 10-count after three knockdowns, while getting up after a third knockdown for me was rare as it requires woodpecker-like reflexes that threatened to turn my thumb to dust.
Blunder in Your Heart
Creed Champions is not especially stunning to look at, and its arenas in particular seem quite plain and plagued by repetition. For instance, sure, the pictures on the wall at Delphi Gym seem authentic, but the same pictures are on every wall. That’s a simple thing but it gives you an idea of the level of attention to detail you’ll find throughout.
The bigger problem, however, is really the startling lack of things to do. Arcade mode features individual arcade towers for each character, although as a Rocky fan the only ones I found mildly interesting were for the official movie characters like Rocky and Apollo, and I’ve absolutely no desire to ever play them again. Rocky’s story doesn’t even cover the films up until Rocky Balboa and his bout with Mason Dixon; it just stops at Rocky IV. Even Ubisoft’s Rocky Legends in 2004 included Rocky V’s brawl with Tommy Gunn.
The story segments play out in text boxes accompanied by simple grunts and exclamations, alongside a stock pose from the boxers in one of a limited set of emotions. These are the times where Creed Champions more resembles a stereotypical mobile game, and it looks cheap and lacks personality. The closest thing it has to a cutscene looks like two pieces of clip art fighting in a Monty Python interstitial. The approach is also regularly clumsy, with dialogue flipping between being attributed to the main character of the story and a “narrator”, which is actually just the same person. The matches are broken up with training montages that are ultimately pointless, as boxers have no skills or stats to improve and the score you get seems meaningless.
The presentation also clashes with established Rocky fiction. I’ll concede that switching Rocky and other characters from southpaw to orthodox (or vice versa) depending on what side of the screen they’re on is just a side-effect of Creed Champions’ arcade approach. However, little things like letting us play out the legendary third, secret fight between Rocky and Apollo in front of… dozens of people did make me cringe a little as a huge fan of the film series.
Outside of Arcade mode, all Creed Champions has is a Versus mode where you can fight individual bouts against the AI or a friend, and a training mode. With no online functionality, however, all training mode can do is help you be better at Creed Champions than the people who either already live at your house, or are willing to visit. You can eat as much lightning as you want, but if you’re just gonna crap thunder all over you mates I doubt they’ll want to play Creed Champions with you for long.
There’s a smattering of objectively incredible music lifted from the movies, but the little other music that’s been included pales in comparison to the likes of Bill Conti and Survivor and gets repetitive almost instantly.