On the day No Mercy for the Nintendo 64 was released, I had just picked up the game and was driving my buddy Matt to work – but he was too hyped to play the game, that he called in to work and quit his job in order to enter in the tournament we had planned for that evening – the winner getting to take home bragging rights and the replica belt we had bought from Toys R Us.
My group of friends had already been hooked on WCW vs. nWo: World Tour and it’s follow-up WCW/nWo Revenge, based on great gameplay, solid mechanics, excellent multiplayer, and riding the wave of wrestling’s popularity, that shot to new heights during the Monday Night Wars.
Writing this, I’m reminded of calling up whoever was the top contender that week, and leaving the nWo theme music in their messages, as I was champ many times as Hollywood Hulk Hogan. Or when my Sting teamed up with my rival’s Ric Flair, to form the Leg Workers Union – using the combined might of Flair’s figure four, and Sting’s scorpion deathlock to win tag team gold. Hell, the reason I started checking out video game sites to begin with, was to check out move lists for the N64 games and IGN used to do a roster countdown with entrances.
I could go on, as that series of games, which continued as WrestleMania 2000 on the N64 and continuing in spirit on the Nintendo GameCube with the Day of Reckoning games and Def Jam titles, produced so many great gaming memories – and out of the 7 or 8 or so players in our group, 3 ended up being game designers on titles such as Bully, Assassin’s Creed 2, and Sleeping Dogs, among others. In short, those games had major and lasting impact on us.
In fact, here I am all these years later still talking about those titles. I’ve mention these games in my Twitter profile, as my tagline when I was freelancing at IGN, and I just compared some of their features to WWE 2k14 in – No Mercy fan plays 30 Years of WrestleMania.
As I was finishing up that article, it was announced that developer Serious Parody would be showing off its newest game – 5 Star Wrestling, at the latest Game Developers Conference.
I remember getting excited back in 2013 when that game was announced, it was spring and the game was slated to be out that summer, and the reason I was looking so forward to it, was that these developers had stated they were big fans of the AKI style wrestling games from the N64, and were aiming to replicate that gameplay.
With the end of the GameCube and the Day of Reckoning titles, no wrestling game has brought the fun and strategy that those older titles had, instead I got to try duds like the buggy Raw game for Xbox and Rumble Roses for the 360.
When a wrestling title succeeded in some ways, like TNA Impact and WWE All Stars, they were missing key features that kept them from truly being great games. TNA Impact looked great, and I liked the way submissions, pins, and the grappling system worked, but they gave all the wrestlers the same moves – some of which were missing reversal animations, rendering them unblockable, and therefor game-breaking. And with WWE All Stars, the game looked amazing to me, in fact, I’d say the best looking of any wrestling game – but you couldn’t pin your opponent in that game, or have stamina recover, basically staples of wrestling were just not there.
So for about 10 years, I’ve missed those great wrestling titles and always hoped that someone would make an HD port of those games, or just use a similar system to what AKI used. If you read wrestling game reviews or comments, typically the most requested game is a remake of No Mercy.
So that left me looking forward to 5 Star Wrestling.
But summer of 2013 came and went, and 5 Star Wrestling wasn’t released. But I wasn’t worried, I had started a business before and know that there are unforeseen circumstances and all the rest that can get in the way, but I figured that these developers were trying to replicate a system that was introduced in 1997, and on hardware a few generations back, and would succeed.
Why would I keep faith in a company that missed its deadline by nearly two years?
Easy, I loved the old titles, and for years people had been modding the AKI N64 wrestling games, like this one below, so a dedicated developer with years of effort, and some cash, would probably be able to do a decent job with it. Especially considering that you couldn’t read anything about 5 Star Wrestling, without Serious Parody mentioning their love for No Mercy and those other AKI wrestling games.
So I was considerably excited last week when 5 Star Wrestling was released, and gladly paid the 25 dollars to download the game as soon as it became available on the PSN Store.
Let’s just get this right out of the way – 5 Star Wrestling is a wrestling game, and that is where the similarities end in regards to No Mercy and the like. In fact, 5 Star Wrestling feels much closer to WWE 2k14 than to the old AKI wrestlers.
What made No Mercy and the like, so good, was the core grappling mechanic, which allowed for depth and strategy, that was as much a mind game, as it was about timing and button pushes.
With the AKI style, controls revolved around a light and strong system of grapples and strikes, which also utilized a rock/paper/scissors strategy to successfully lock-up, and 3 styles of reversals, one each for grapples, strikes, and specials.
To pull of a grapple, you could perform a light grab by tapping the grapple button, which would turn into a headlock and if not reversed, would start a move animation, which, if timed right, could also be reversed, depending on a correct button push, timing, and how much momentum you and your opponent had. The same thing would occur with a strong grapple, which would take slightly longer to lock-up, providing a longer window for reversals, but dishing out more damage if successful.
To prevent being grabbed by your opponent, a strong strike could typically provide longer range, more damage, and occasionally leave the opponent stunned, thus easy pickings for a move, whereas a light grapple would connect faster that a strong strike, so successful wrestling took a lot of psyching-out your opponent, being good with timing, and balancing your attacks and your counters.
The reasoning behind choosing different moves was that each move had a different window for reversals. Keeping your opponent guessing was part of the strategy.
5 Star Wrestling does employ the same reversal system as the No Mercy, but the grappling system is much different.
Skipping the pre-grapple strategy of No Mercy, 5 Star Wrestling’s grapple system requires you only to be in range of your opponent, and using the right stick, simply push in any direction and you will perform your move. And holding down any of the trigger buttons, or R3 for illegal moves, will perform a new set of moves each. This system allows for more moves per wrestler than almost everything that has come before it.
So for me, that’s the biggest take away from this game – is that after years of reading about 5 Star Wrestling, and its developer Serious Parody’s admiration of AKI style wrestling video games, is that 5 Star Wrestling is nothing like those older games, at least at this stage of development.
Now, if you are reading this, or interested in 5 Star Wrestling at all, you are likely not a fringe wrestling game fan, you are probably right into these games, and like me, were expecting a No Mercy type clone, so let me shed light on the game and what it brings to the table.
First off, 5 Star Wrestling needs some polish. As you might have seen on Giant Bomb, the game still has a few bugs that need working out.
For me, I can usually get through a game without any game-breaking bugs, and when they do happen, they can give you a bit of a chuckle. For example, I beat the hell out of the Brock Lesnar clone, to the point where his head was in the black (major damage), but then my character got knocked down and couldn’t get off the mat, and Brock just walked in a circle around me and wouldn’t stop. I assumed I had hurt his head so bad, that he was walking around in a semi-comatose state, but no, it was just a bug, and I had to restart the match.
Small details like throwing an opponent into the ropes, often has the guy start running in one direction, but then veer off into another direction without reason. One jarring problem that has been a problem with the recent WWE games persists here as well, that is not being able to opt out of a taunt. Once you start, you either pull it off successfully, or you continue to taunt while your opponent gets a free shot. How this problem exists in a brand new game in 2015, when it worked fine in 1997, is pretty unacceptable, considering taunting your opponent, by definition, is to get them to attack you.
I already explained some of the psychology that went into the AKI-style gameplay, and taunts added to that, as they should.
If two opponents couldn’t get the upper hand on each other, you could suck your opponent into attacking by performing a taunt – meaning that you would either build stamina or spirit, getting you closer to a special state, or your opponent would attack – but you could defend yourself, strike, or counter out of your taunt.
Hit detection is pretty spotty as well, as player models often warp into position, and it’s particularly bad with running grapples.
Those are the big issues so far with the game. I’ve followed 5 Star’s Facebook page and Twitter, and the developers are aware of the bugs and are working on a patch or patches, and based on the amount of work put into this game, I’m sure they will address these issues.
Now, for any of you that may think comparing 5 Star Wrestling to, what is considered by many to be the best wrestling games ever, is a bit unfair, but consider that those games are many generations old, and the comparison to AKI wrestling games has been entirely created by the developers themselves, and Dan Hinkles, CEO of Serious Parody, and lead designer for the game, specifically said he is looking for fan feedback.
I’ve been putting off writing this hands-on with 5 Star Wrestling for as long as I can. I wanted to make sure I fully grasped the game, and could work past the bugs in order to give these guys at Serious Parody a fair chance to show off their creation, that clearly has a lot of love and effort put into it.
It took me a few games to get the hang of the controls, but by the third or fourth challenge match, I had it down, and the game flowed well. It all came together pretty nicely with the first Supercharged challenge, where you get unlimited special to lay a serious beat down.
First of all, I want to mention the animation on the moves, which as all done by hand, and are really well done. I don’t want to spoil any moves, many I have never seen before in a game. And the number of moves is crazy, simply standing in front of an opponent gives you access to nearly 50 different moves, not counting strikes or running attacks.
A bright spot that stood out for me was moves off the apron. Typically from that spot, you get the option to suplex your opponent back into the ring, or knock him off to the floor below. With 5 Star, there are some great animations that look brutal and deadly, and really look nicely done.
Unfortunately, that bit of impressiveness leads to one of the game’s shortcomings. Once you’ve tumbled out of the ring, there are no chairs, weapons, or environmental hotspots to interact with. It is a pretty big oversight, and I’ve heard the developer say something along the lines of “why have just regular chair shots, when we can do custom weapon animations?” and that is all well and good, but I can’t play ideas.
So for clarity – there are no items in the game, no chairs, no environmental interactions, no backstage, and you cannot Irish-whip your opponent into the turnbuckle from outside the ring.
One of the selling points for 5 Star Wrestling is the finisher to finisher reversals, which I could never pull off, in fact, I haven’t reversed one finisher and I’ve got 5 stars on almost all the challenges, minus the timed ones.
The video 5 Star Wrestling put up showing off this feature looks good, and it would be great to see some strategy, risk/reward come from it. Like I said, I wasn’t able reverse any finishers, so I don’t know if they are triggered from just reversing your opponent’s finisher, or if you also need to be in special state as well. Personally, I didn’t feel the urgency or intensity that I would get from, say Day of Reckoning, when two wrestlers got their special at the same time, or knowing that if I am reversed, then my opponent gets a huge boost himself.
There are a various match types to choose from, but they are all basic variations of a standard match, so pinfalls only, or submission only, last man standing, no holds barred, best-of-three, and first blood.
There are no tag teams, no championships, no create-a-wrestler, no entrances, no online play, and no CPU vs. CPU, which is a shame, because I was looking forward to watching how the AI would battle each other.
Watch the posted game play videos to get a closer look at some of the issues I’ve pointed out, and see for yourself, or listen to the interview I’ve linked to and hear Dan address them himself.
Working within the framework of the game as is, I managed to have fun with the challenge mode, and there were a bunch of things about 5 Star Wrestling that made it fun to play.
The challenge mode is the bulk of the game, and by completing objectives you earn coins to get the unlockables, though, these amount to just one extra outfit per wrestler, two extra arenas, and the different match types to use in exhibition mode. This mode acts as a tutorial and it only takes a few matches to get the hand of. After that, I was getting five star matches almost every time.
Being able to pick apart my opponent piece by piece, played to my sadistic side, and I’d find that I’d have to break at least one bone before I won my match. More often than not, I went for breaking another bone, making the guy bleed, making sure that his brain was bashed into the black, and I’d put my opponent into submissions – knowing that I could win, but I’d let him struggle to escape as I eased up on the buttons, only to squeeze the pressure on again, before resting up to do it again – while dishing out some finishers of course.
And that is pretty awesome, so congrats to Serious Parody.
While the bleeding animation is pretty weak, the game models do start to get covered in bruises the more you beat on them, even getting black eyes. There are other cool details like hearing the rattle of a snake when the Randy Orton knock-off builds enough momentum to do his finishing move.
Having a separate button to pull off illegal moves is great, and there are a tonne of them. Just click R3, or with a modifier, and kick your opponent right in the berries. Though there is no rewarding “Ding!” when you do it, like in the AKI games. I did get myself DQ’d a couple of times by accidently clicking the R3 button while trying to do a normal move.
Speaking of getting disqualified, I came across another cool feature, which is manually letting go of a submission hold if your opponent manages to make it to the ropes. Letting you risk keeping the hold on a little bit longer, for more damage, rather than an automatic break.
As I’m playing tonight, in a 2 out of 3 falls challenge, I got pushed off the top of the turnbuckle, out onto the mat outside the ring, and it looked wicked. Somebody cared enough about this game to put in a nice touch that could have been left out and no one probably would have noticed. Though, I did magically slide along the floor outside. Thing is, I can imagine this game with the bells and whistles, and hear that satisfying crunch when a wrestler takes a huge bump like that – it’s just not there with this version.
5 Star Wrestling also returns to a button-mashing system for pins and submissions, and I prefer that over what WWE offers – too often I’ve lost matches just by missing the timing by half a second. It is likely to be exploited by rapid-fire controllers, so I like what TNA Impact did with their pins and submissions.
Now, I’ll go into 5 Star Wrestling’s main bullet point, that is the limb specific targeting that can limit moves, such as not being able to perform a finishing move because the wrestler’s knee gives out from taking too much damage.
It is cool to see, but it is not necessary to win. Unfortunately, this is likely the main feature that new WWE games will likely implement, so Serious Parody cannot hang its hat on that feature. Because there was no online play I couldn’t test it out against a human opponent, but it seems like it could be a game-building mechanic that can be expanded on. On a side note, I was playing some Blitz the League 2 this week, and I’d love these developers play a few games of that, considering the limb damage aspect.
Serious Parody looks to have put a lot of work into 5 Star Wrestling, and some of the pieces are really well done. But there are other wrestling games that got 90% of it right, only to be left on the shelf because of what they missed. We could be playing bad-ass versions of WWE All Stars and TNA Impact! if they had manage to nailed it down for a 3-count.
Listening to Dan talk about 5 Star Wrestling, you can hear the passion he has for this project and he’s stated that they are already working on the glitches. It’s been a project he’s been working on for years and he says he has invested over a million pounds into the game, so it’s hard not to want them to succeed.
The parody aspect is alright I guess, but if I want to play as the most electrifying man in all entertainment – why not do it with a huge crowd, full entrance, and the huge PPV feel?
I’d prefer the game to focus on create-a-wrestler or original creations, and clearly the have the ability to do it . I would also like to see Serious Parody jazz-up the presentation, and add some effects on the finishing moves – make it pop, and make the game exciting. As is, it’s little too sterile, but most of all, I want Dan to stick to his vision and make the AKI-style wrestling game that he wants, and that the fans are waiting for. They have all the tools, they’ve built a working wrestling game from scratch, and it is published. It wouldn’t be impossible to tweak the grappling system, and add some razzle-dazzle. Something like Def Jam Vendetta, and Blitz the League 2, look pretty similar to what 5 Star Wrestling is going for, based on the main arena they designed.
If Serious Parody can do that with 5 Star Wrestling, they’ll have a hit on their hands, and maybe that’s where they are headed.
With more people moving on from the PS3 on to current-gen, and wanting to release the game during WrestleMania season – you can understand why Serious Parody might have just wanted to get the game up and out there and selling, in order to get some funds coming in and to complete the project as it was envisioned.
These guys have been active on social media since the game launched last week, so check them out and see how things unfold. Dan has stated that the more 5 Star Wrestling sells, the faster they can hire more people, add more features, and the likelihood of seeing the game on more consoles, or a sequel, will be greatly improved.
Serious Parody has my 25 bucks, and I’d like to see how the finished product turns out. If they follow through, it will be awesome, and if they don’t, well…I’ll have to wait longer for my follow up to those great wrestling games of the past.
Thanks for reading, feel free to leave me a comment or come follow me on Twitter for some ramblings and recommendations from the world of pop culture.