Tag Archives: video games

Fighting Game Rookie Reviews Street Fighter V

I’ve had a decent amount of success playing fighting games like Soul Calibur, Virtual On, and a variety of wrestling titles – games were you’re expected to counter, anticipate your opponent, and learn different ways to attack and defend. But over the years, I’ve never been anything but fodder for friends in traditional fighters such as Mortal Kombat, Marvel VS Capcom, and Street Fighter.

While my friends could pull off a 50-hit combos in Killer Instinct or air-juggle the hell out of me in Marvel – for some reason, I just couldn’t pick up the concepts and button presses these games required so I’d just end up playing something else. I considered myself a capable gamer, but somehow the “up, up, back, circle fireball etc etc” would throw me off.

Problem is, these games looked awesome to play, and through other games I knew the rush that came with playing against a real-life opponent – in short, I wanted in. I just didn’t have the time and patience I figured was required – and the last time I went and purchased a fighting game at launch, which was Marvel VS Capcom 3, a short time later (at least to me) a newer version came out with more content, leaving my launch copy basically worthless as a trade in, so as a consumer, I felt I got a bit of the shaft on that one. (On disc DLC, if memory serves)

STREET FIGHTER V_20160426200031
Slowly learning the ropes.

As odd as it might seem for the hardcore FGC guys, for me, I liked the fiction of the games – and would turn down the settings to Easy, so I could go through the game and unlock the story and special endings for the characters. Not really worth the full purchase price in my opinion, and I barely touched a fighter for years until I got Injustice as part of my PS Plus membership. Even at that, it took me forever to actually fire the game up after downloading it. (Played a bit of Soul Calibur, Tekken, Virtua Fighter, Marvel)

Waiting for a Fallout 4 update, I ended up trying out Injustice. I had a bunch of fun playing through the story mode of that game, and then there was a bunch of hype for Mortal Kombat X (my favorite fighting game for its fiction) – tried that out as well, and while my skill with MK is limited, the game looks good and seems to have a bunch of content, and I could see consumers getting their money’s worth – especially if they are buying now and opting for the XL edition.

Meanwhile, Street Fighter V has been criticized for its lack of content, and to be honest, I’ve always associated Street Fighter with somebody playing as Ryu, shooting fireballs at me, and then light kicking me to death in the corner – so I wasn’t really expecting to like, or even play this game – but after spending the last couple of weeks playing nothing but the newest Street Fighter, I can agree that the game is light on content, but what is there is great looking combat and what feels like good game mechanics – where certain kicks, punches and special moves and abilities are tested against your opponents – all requiring a good degree of trying to out-perform and counter each other. At times, there is a level that’s reached during a match – whether it’s the surge that comes with near victory or the primal reaction to possible defeat – it feels almost zen-like, and that’s pretty cool when a video game can achieve that.

I really didn’t expect was just how much fun I would have playing the game – and just how well the game has challenged me to go from an uncaring bystander into a FGC novice and Street Fighter fan.

I’m not a sucker or an apologist, and I’m not suggesting that companies should bare-bone their games, but if it wasn’t for the lack of content in Street Fighter V –  I doubt I would have had such a good experience with it.

STREET FIGHTER V_20160426195652
Easy now, Bison. Show some restraint.

What’s hooked me for the last couple of weeks is the rush of beating an online opponent. And when I say rush, I mean in the literal sense – I’m working up a sweat, I’m pacing, I’m talking smack talk, tossing curses – and a good win comes with a touchdown-like victory pose and a “F*** Yeah!”

I wouldn’t have gone online and taken a couple nights of getting my ass handed to me hard, if I could have sunk a bunch of hours in a well-done single player mode that encouraged me to use all the fighters, learn them a bit, and offered me a good tutorial and introduction to the game. But because there was little else to do – I stuck it out, passed the first obstacle, learned a thing or two, and managed to string some wins together. I ended up really getting into what makes these types of games popular. And when I grabbed that first title – the Bronze one – damn if it didn’t feel good to earn it.

STREET FIGHTER V_20160409004201
Bison is always smiling, yet they make him out to be a bad guy.

In my time with SFV, I’ve found that wins aren’t easy to come by. I would win individual rounds, but it seemed to take a while for me to get my first real victory. Thankfully, most losses taught me something about the match-up I was in. I might learn that a particular hard knee to the head would stop my opponent momentarily while they kicked my ass, so before long I was peppering that move into my repertoire, and getting closer to victory.

If you give the game a try, you’ll notice just how accessible the gameplay is – the fighters are responsive and the button presses and movements required for combos and special moves are pretty basic. Obviously, there are expert level sequences that take practice, but to get started with what you need, isn’t super complicated. That’s not to say there aren’t some glaring omissions, as many of the games techniques are simply not explained at all, forcing me to go online and search out more information on my own.

I mentioned earlier how SFV challenged me to become a FGC novice, and it was the lack of an in-depth tutorial and no adequate explanation about certain aspects of the game that lead to this – and that that’s something that I feel needs to be addressed, as I very nearly put the game down after the first night of getting severely beat and obtaining not a single victory. Not everyone is going to have the time and state of mind to think, “millions of people love this game, let’s try to figure out why.”

STREET FIGHTER V_20160416021133
One of the encouraging trophies for rookies.

However, going online and looking for tips on SFV and how to better understand my character (Bison), I was introduced to just how much love this franchise receives, and just how passionate the FGC seems to be. And while I do feel it’s Capcom’s responsibility to educate players on how their game works – there’s an absolute tonne of informative content available online, and I’d find myself watching YouTube tip videos while waiting for my next match-up and implementing a few new moves and strategies along the way. On that note, just a shout out to UltraChenTV, Bafael, and Cross Counter TV and @gootecks, all available on YouTube and all were informative and easy to listen to and understand. Had the game itself provided all the information I wanted, I doubt I would have searched out and found these guys.

After three weeks with SFV, I’m at a bit of a crossroads – I’ve enjoyed the game a hell of a lot more than I thought I would, and it has given me a nice rush just playing the game.

STREET FIGHTER V_20160413182551
Chasing wins is a major rush and super addicting.

That said, I’m hovering around Bronze (the first rank above the default Rookie) in the rankings, and to make the jump to Super Bronze and above, I’m going to have to up my game and put in more practice. It also likely means I’ll need to invest in a fight stick, as my thumb is developing a harder exterior and a slight numbness, and I’m also accidentally hitting the touch pad on the PS4 controller too often during a match. Obviously, buying a fight stick is going to add to the costs involved in enjoying the game.

As for any other negatives, depending on your point of view, you may find that the female fighters have some ample assets, and some of fighters have some odd design choices – notably, some messed up haircuts, but most look pretty decent. The lack of content is a fair criticism as well, though it hardly matters, as I’d guess that thrill of victory and learning your chosen character is what is going to hook you on this game, and if it doesn’t, a deep story mode likely wouldn’t make the game any more worthwhile to those buyers. The story mode that does come with the shipped version are short and ridiculously easy – basically three one round fights with the AI on super easy settings. On the plus side, it’s an easy way to unlock alternate attire. Finally, I found the training combos to be ridiculously hard for a rookie, and offer no instructions on how to improve, and setting the AI to perform a move to practice against was a process that could be much easier to navigate and set up.

As a super casual fan of fighting games, I never expected to like Street Fighter V, and coupled with the somewhat bad press of a light on content launch – I’m surprised I even played the game at all. If it weren’t for the chance to play SFV for free, I’d never know what I was missing.

STREET FIGHTER V_20160413012014
A little effort pays off quite nicely in Street Fighter V.

Having spend the last few months playing open world games that required little to no challenge, it was refreshing and kind of awesome to actually be challenged by a game – and to have somewhat stepped up to that challenge. Rarely does a game get me as engaged as Street Fighter V has – and while my neighbours might suspect I have Tourette’s after a close or cheap loss, the ecstasy of a nice win is a feeling unmatched by any game in recent memory.

More than any other fighting game I’ve played, SFV makes getting into fighting games somewhat easy – it hooks you in, and then let’s you know there is so much more for you to learn. As a consumer only, I’d prefer a game that I can sink my teeth into, learn from it, enjoy it, and have it offer me a deep gameplay experience, rather than give me a lot of extras that I might look at once or twice.

Because of the effort members of the FGC have put in to teaching others about SFV, if you end up buying Street Fighter V, you will get your money’s worth and you’ll be able to learn so much about each of the fighters and how to use them – but I find it hard to believe that Capcom would take such an esoteric approach to having newbies enjoy their game – rather, in spite of the game’s lack of proper tutorials and being light on content – the nature of kicking someone’s ass in virtual combat is a thrill that has stood the test of time, and in that regard, Street Fighter V excels.

STREET FIGHTER V_20160413193745
Bow down before my Psycho Power!

Final thought – Capcom has promised that more content is on the way, including more stages, characters and a beefier story mode, so I feel that the game itself is going to be a good purchase – it may just be that some consumers might want to wait until all that extra free content is available, or wait further until the paid DLC is also available as a bundled edition, and keep in mind that if your going to play SFV seriously, you’ll probably need a decent fight stick as well – an extra cost to consider.

Overall I can easily recommend Street Fighter V and give it a hardened and numbed, thumb’s up.

 

 

No Mercy Fan Plays 5 Star Wrestling. (PS3)

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.

PopCultureMania.com 5 Star Wrestling feature

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.

5starwrestlingscreen01

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.

5starwrestlingchallenge

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.

5Starwrestlingcharselect

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.

5starwrestlingunlocks

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.

 

 

No Mercy Fan Plays WWE 2K14’s 30 Years of WrestleMania. (PS3)

Being a kid in the 80s, I’ve witnessed the simultaneous rise of professional wrestling and video games, and through many of those years, wrestling titles have been a staple of the gaming industry. But the last generation of consoles, while making huge strides for other genres, has left wrestling games to wallow in mediocrity.

The biggest problem for me, is that the industry got wrestling games so right over a decade ago, but let that championship run end, only to be replaced by the shinier, flashier, Smackdown vs. Raw series, which was plagued by numerous flaws and shoddy gameplay – so bad, in fact, that I quit playing the series, and watched time and again as new contenders came along, hoping they could recapture that old magic, only to be disappointed by their failures.

Maybe it’s a symptom or a byproduct, but the decline in wrestling video games has coincided with the fall in popularity of professional wrestling. But something odd has been happening lately – the WWE has been improving greatly over the last couple of years, and with WrestleMania 31 just around the corner, I’ve felt a longing to kick some ass in the ring, and decided to give WWE 2k14’s 30 Years of WrestleMania mode of a try – figuring the nostalgia might be worth the 20 bucks I’ve paid for a used copy of the game.

I’ve been playing wrestling video games for as long as I can remember – from arcade gems like Mat Mania, WWF WrestleFest, and Sega’s The Main Event, to console stinkers like Raw for the Xbox, and the comically terrible M.U.S.C.L.E. title for the classic NES. And while most of the games were fun to play at the time, nothing quite nailed it like the No Mercy-style wrestling games for the Nintendo 64 & GameCube.

One of my all-time favourite periods in gaming kicked off in 1997, during the Monday Night Wars, with the release of WCW vs. nWo: World Tour for the Nintendo 64.

Unlike clunky or expensive multi-player add-on’s like PlayStation’s multi-tap or TurboGrafx-16’s TurboTap, the Nintendo 64’s built-in controller ports allowed up to four players to battle it out in the ring, setting up some nasty tag-team battles, brutal battle royals, and some amazing tournaments. Being able to play multiplayer fights with ease, led to the forming of allegiances, rivalries, and betrayals – as our #1 contender spot was decided by the top four players battling it out in the ring.

As newer versions of the game came out, they would improve upon an already great game, with nice controls, and amazing gameplay. Never would I feel out of control of my character, or that some flaw in the game lead to my victory or defeat. Simple things like not being able to stop a taunt, or interrupt two other players during a move, were not a problem with the No Mercy system.

No Mercy was a great game, but my personal favourite, which still used the same gameplay foundation, was Day of Reckoning for the Nintendo GameCube. The sequel, Day of Reckoning 2, was pretty good as well, but having the stamina system slowed things down a bit awkwardly for me, after so many years without it.

If you haven’t checked these games out, and you are a wrestling video game fan, you really should. It is odd to say, considering how far games have come, but a wrestling game released in 2004, has better gameplay than pretty much everything that has come in the decade since.

I used to hope that a good wrestling game would come along that would match the fun and gameplay of those glory days, but so far, no luck. But at least there has been some attempts.

Games like Rumble Roses, Lucha Libre AAA: Héroes del Ring, and TNA Impact, all had certain aspects that were good, but ultimately, they weren’t even contenders. And WWE All Stars, which had so many good things going for it – turned out to be more of a fighting game.

Which left me to play Smackdown vs. Raw, as none of those others games could produce a sequel.

Compared to the No Mercy games, Smackdown vs. Raw just felt sub-par. I always had the feeling that I was just setting up a spot, rather than out wrestling my opponent. To me, it seemed as if all the progress went towards the presentation – trying to exactly recreate a superstar’s entrance and signature moves, rather than creating good gameplay mechanics.

One year, and this was on my Xbox 360, I couldn’t even tag my partner. I can’t remember the exact problem of why it didn’t work, but the next year they made a big deal about the improved tag-team mode.

Collision detection was pretty bad, and not being able to break up a suplex or a headlock to save your partner was pretty pathetic, considering that it is still an issue multiple generations down the line with this series.

Not to mention the simple things like not being able to defend yourself during a taunt. Crazy, considering that this is still a problem in WWE 2k14, yet it worked fine over 15 years ago.

But I didn’t try out WWE 2k14 for its gameplay. Like I said, I had given up on this series – the last one I played was in 2011. Aside from one match of WWE ‘13 with a college classmate, before we went old school and plugged in the GameCube for some Day of Reckoning.

I was actually looking for another game and noticed a used copy of WWE 2k14 on sale for 5 dollars.

Having just watched the last couple PPVs, and with WrestleMania 31 coming up, I figured I’d hype myself up with the 30 Years of WrestleMania mode.

I had really enjoyed the old footage and hype that was part of WWE All Stars, and I’d heard plenty of praise for Attitude Era mode on WWE ‘13.

I still hope that a No Mercy-style wrestling game gets released, but I was very impressed with WWE 2k14’s 30 Years of WrestleMania – and if you’ve given up on this series as well, maybe it’s time to grab a cheap copy and try it out.

The showcase mode does a good job of showing off the evolution of wrestling, from the simple moves of the earlier years, to the craziness of the Attitude Era, and by this, acts as a good tutorial. For example, Hogan’s big move against Andre is a one-button body slam, whereas later on you’ll be setting up ladders, wedging chairs into the turnbuckles, and smashing wrestlers through the barricades.

The control system is pretty easy to get the hang of, and I found it worked well. At least for single player, as the strategy involved in pulling off moves and reversals is much different than the No Mercy-style system.

For example, in No Mercy, the reason I am choosing a quick or a strong punch, or going for a quick or strong grapple, is to change up my attack and defensive timing. Essentially, different moves required different timing and button presses to defend. Whereas with WWE 2k14, I found that the reverse window for moves happened at the grapple animation, so choosing to perform a specific move had no strategic advantage other than limb-specific damage.

Because the matches are scripted, the commentary is great, and makes it feel as if you’re playing at a big time PPV. The sound of the crowd is pretty good, and they typically get more excited as the match goes along, and pop when they are supposed to, adding to the excitement. Though, oddly at some points, they quiet down when they should be going nuts, but I figure that is an oversight, rather than by design. For example – I land a big finisher, the crowd goes wild, but if I climb the ropes to drop a big elbow immediately after, it’s like the crowd has gotten momentarily bored.

Though, if you stick to the scripted events, you’ll earn unlockables and witness some of the biggest moments in WrestleMania history.

Having been away from the series for years, I missed the improvements the game has made along the way, but got to experience them while going through this mode, and many times my jaw would drop, I would laugh, or be impressed by a “holy shit” moment.

Flaws still exist with this game, and still the collision detection could use work, the taunting problem is still there, but overall, I enjoyed playing the game, and the wrestler I was controlling felt like he or she was actually under my control.

As an added bonus, once I was finished with 30 Years of WrestleMania, I set up some dream matches and a King of the Ring tournament with all the unlockable classic wrestlers, and found it was sublime to just watch the matches play out COM vs. COM.

Won’t spoil the characters you get, except one – the Ultimate Warrior. Which looks cut directly out of the main game, as every other match, you end up unlocking the participants – except this match. The reward screens pops up, but it is empty. He was a pre-order bonus, or you can buy him.

I also played a few months with the Universe mode, but quickly found that I could waste way too much time there, and forced myself to eject the game.

That said, I went and got a copy of WWE ‘13 to play through the Attitude Era after being impressed with the 30 Years of WrestleMania, and to me, it was even better – event wise. Game wise, aside from the option to check your characters special moves, I didn’t notice any difference between the two versions.

WWE 2k14 does a better job of letting you know what your character’s special moves are, and spells out the historical objectives of the match clearly, whereas WWE ‘13, you can’t check your moves mid-match, and some of the historical objectives are trial and error if you don’t check online or beforehand.

Overall, if your like me and have missed wrestling games since their glory days on the Nintendo 64 and GameCube – give WWE 2k14’s 30 Years of WrestleMania a shot. It is the best thing this series has produced in years and it actually was quite a bit of fun to play through.

However, I did not play online, or versus a human opponent, and I suspect that the strategy, gameplay, and nuances that made the No Mercy games so great, and are not present with this series, would become more and more noticeable over time.

Another problem with the game stems from one of its best features – and that is the showcase modes themselves.

Yes, it was fun to play through some amazing WrestleMania and Attitude Era moments, but I’m in no big hurry to replay them anytime soon, after playing some of the biggest ones twice, as some of the Attitude Era matches are also featured in the WrestleMania mode.

Sticking to what is in the real-world WWE Universe, somewhat limits what the game can offer in some ways. I’d prefer a game to offer me a good number of wrestlers with equal amount of skills, and let me test those abilities in whatever type of match I want, and let me truly create.

As is, I’m always going to have the skill sets of whatever the current roster is, and whatever the legends they offer me, that aren’t DLC. So unless I’m a huge fan of every wrestler, lower rated stars like Kofi Kingston rarely get used by me, and the top-rated guys are basically the same in every version.

Plus I’m tired of this series games create-a-wrestler. Day of Reckoning had a great one, complete with a really good entrance creator.

Nowadays, since outfits and wrestlers are scanned, you get great looking tights and accessories – so in comparison, my character always looks budget, and you offer me so much useless attire like 20 shirts that all make the character look like he’s gained 100 pounds, and robes that fit like your wrestler is wearing a dress.

And with the scanning, it always seems like they get it 90%, and the last bits stick out that much more, like oddly formed hair or facial feature.

I’d prefer they go with a stylized look similar to WWE All Stars, and have a create-a-wrestler similar to Rock Band. So that if you buy “The Beefcake Barber” complete with ripped, leopard-striped tights and armbands – you’ll actually look like one half of the Dream Team.

WWEAllStars670x420

Just make the gameplay great, that’s the most important aspect. All the bells and whistles don’t mean all that much if they aren’t back by substance. The AKI control scheme allowed for more strategic depth but this game controlled really well and matches were fun to play.

5 Star Wrestling finally looks close to release and is going to be shown at PAX East. Those developers, Serious Parody, have modeled their game after No Mercy, and I hope they can deliver. Since, if you can mix fun, and balanced gameplay, with some decent strategic depth, you can build a bit of a community and have some great matches. With WWE 2k14, I don’t think the one-button reversal system is able to offer that.

However, as a single-player experience, and as a wrestling game fan, the specialty modes were a blast. Over the last 30 years, I still remembered a bunch of the matches, but not all of them, and not the specifics of how they played out. And I was fully entertained during my time with these games. As a bonus, they were cheap to buy. So if you haven’t, go pick them up and get your wrestling game fix, just in time for WrestleMania.

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.