Wrestle Kingdom (Xbox 360) review
"Microsoft's conquest of Japan begins here. Designed to appeal specifically to local gamers and developed by genre specialists Yukes, Wrestle Kingdom features the combined talents of the All Japan, New Japan, and Pro Wrestling NOAH leagues. "
As it is with baseball, it's been said that Japan is where great wrestlers go to die. Personally however, I don't believe that for a moment. Rather then, the romantic in me suggests that Japan is where great wrestlers go in order to live forever, permanently etched in the hearts and minds of the local psyche. Certainly, fans here have proven to be the amongst the most fanatical ever seen, with their obsession for the sport knowing no bounds. The WWE may have all the grandeur and aplomb in the world, but it's tucked away in the small community halls and meager sized domes that you'll find the real passion. The real sweat, and the real tears...
Great legends never die
Microsoft's conquest of Japan begins here. Designed to appeal specifically to local gamers and developed by genre specialists Yukes, Wrestle Kingdom features the combined talents of the All Japan, New Japan, and Pro Wrestling NOAH leagues. Haven't heard of them? Don't worry! Knowing Chono Masahiro from Muto Keiji isn't essential , though admittedly the game might be all the richer for it. Those feeling lost already, needn't despair either. Ex-WWE superstar Jamal has also lent his ugly mug to the action, appearing as a part of the All Japan line-up and representing for his peeps back home.
Still, players unfamiliar with the associated leagues are bound to be unimpressed. A wrestling game is only as good as its characters are charismatic, and muscle bound Japanese fighters are anything but that. Thankfully then, Wrestle Kingdom isn't your average release, and Yukes' involvement has guaranteed it a certain level of quality not previously seen in other, Xbox 'rasslers. The AI problems of Raw 2 are nowhere to be found, and believe it or not, there's a considerable career mode to be had as well. All that time spent developing Smackdown for the Playstation 2 has obviously paid off for them, and so long as direct comparisons aren't made, you're going to enjoy this game a hell of a lot more.
Take for instance Wrestle Kingdom's outstanding graphics engine. At times almost photo realistic, its good looks are mostly the product of some incredible texture work, though the various character animations do a fantastic job too. Wrestlers swagger out to the ring, firing off one handed quips to the crowd and pumping themselves up through a variety of trademark poses and finger jabs. I'm going to crush your spine their eyes seem to say, but thanks to the absence of voice acting, such detail is left up to the imagination. Instead then, players are given dialogue boxes and on-screen text, and though the in-ring announcer does his bit to introduce each wrestler, even that's started to feel like an after thought. Where's the authenticity, Yukes? And what happened to the play-by-play?
But ok, you've checked out a dozen wrestling games already and you're well aware of the genre's track history with such things. What does Wrestle Kingdom have to offer the likes of you? Outside of the usual range of gameplay options (ie. exhibition, tag team, triple threat etc), the title's biggest claim to fame is its previously mentioned career mode. Here players can take a fledgling wrestler and turn him into a champion by competing in a series of domestic, and international bouts. Alliances are made, rivalries are born, and while player/NPC interaction is extremely limited, the presence of a training mode means you'll always have something new to consider. For example, if your character needs additional upper body strength, a heavy regime of weight lifting might do the job. Push him too hard however, and he'll run the risk of sustaining an injury right before the next bout.
It's got to be said then, Wrestle Kingdom's in-ring action is amongst the best ever seen. Building on their success with the Gamecube's Day of Reckoning 2, Yukes have combined the usual assortment of grapple/throw techniques with an intuitive counter system that rewards variety and punishes repetition. Likewise, the well mapped controls prove just as friendly, empowering players with a string of devastating attacks that literally rock the screen. From moonsaults, to pile drivers, to your character's own individual specialties, the sense of impact delivered by each and every blow is impressive to say the least. As your opponent staggers around the ring trying to shake off some mild concussion, you'll climb to the top rope in anticipation of landing a final kick to the face. The crowd's cheering, you're posing, and yes, there's even a little blood on the canvas. Good times indeed.
Inevitably though, comparisons to Smackdown have to be made, and it's here that Wrestle Kingdom takes its biggest blow. Where the Playstation 2 exclusive provides one of the most, in-depth CAW functions around, Xbox 360 owners are given only a limited means with which to design their own characters. A bland range of body types makes creating your own Big Show (or Brock Lesner) next to impossible, and should you want to dress them up, you're unfortunately stuck with an uninspired range of clothing and accessories. That being said, I was able to recreate a passable Jeff Hardy, though it wasn't until I put him in a Friday the 13th style hockey mask and purple fedora that I truly hit pay dirt.
Even with its occasional warts, Yukes have done an outstanding job with Wrestle Kingdom, easily crushing anything THQ have put together. We're talking a top line-up of 46 wrestlers, full Xbox Live support, and as for the crowds, there's this Japanese cutey in the front row that I've got my eye on. Yes, they look that good! If this is the start of Microsoft's campaign to conquer Japan, then I'd say they're in pretty good steed. Wrestle Kingdom has what it takes to turn heads, and the sooner it gets to impressing the locals the better. Mind you, there's also a chance you'll dig it as well...
* Yukes' involvement guarantees quality
* There's a 46 strong line-up of wrestlers at your disposal
* Wrestle Kingdom features a full range of game modes
* Smoothly responsive controls make power slamming a dream
* The easy to pick up counter system is friendly to all comers
* Chain wrestling has made an Xbox debut
* Wrestle Kingdom has some awesome good looks
* These are some of the best crowds... ever
* Full Xbox Live support
* Limited CAW options
* No in-game commentary
* Some voice acting wouldn't have gone astray
Staff review by Michael Scott (January 01, 2006)
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