Wrestling has been a staple of my televisual diet for almost my entire life and despite having the physique of a pipe-cleaner I’ve thoroughly enjoyed emulating my heroes. From leg-dropping my four-year old brother to getting hit round the head with the top of an ottoman, my unbridled passion for the medium has flown in the face of WWE’s stern ‘’Don’t Try This at Home’’ message thus far, and no wrestling video game, no matter how good (WWF Attitude, I look longingly at you) has managed to curb my compulsion to superkick yobs in kebab shops on a Friday night.
Yet here comes a new contender, rocking it old-school (by which I mean it’s on PS3 only) and looking to bring the pain to both my trunks-based fighting addiction and WWE’s stranglehold on the wrestling video game market. The question that needs answering here is: will indie developer Serious Parody’s 5 Star Wrestling be the acid-tongued upstart CM Punk of the genre? Or will it crash clumsily through a wall and become a running joke like the Shockmaster?
From the off, Serious Parody want you to know that 5 Star Wrestling is a parody of actual wrestling, yet the parody aspect of the game only extends to the roster. In truth it’s less a cheeky dig at WWE and more a painful attempt to do a ‘’PES’’ and approximate real life characters into a pun-tastic non-copyright infringing soundalike. Randy Orton becomes Andy Organ, Jeff Hardy becomes Greg Hearty and John Cena and The Rock smush into a single creation known as…Johnny Miavia.
As first impressions go, this is up there with the debut of Beaver Cleavage. Crude, childish and altogether lacking in taste. The roster is minimal, having barely a third of any decent fighting game’s playable characters, made worse by the lack of a character creation mode that would have vastly improved things. Graphically, 5 Star Wrestling is uglier than The Bushwhackers and more erratically animated than a convulsing Sin Cara on a Pogo stick. There is next to nothing to commend on the visual front beyond the novelty that some wrestlers look enough like their real-life counterparts to get a job as a third-rate waxwork.
At this point the trusty ‘’Crap Game Alert’’ would be wailing like a Diva in a leglock, but somehow 5 Star wriggles free of its failings and puts on an offensive display that sees it shine like a babyface mid-carder getting a cheap pop against the dominant heel of critique. The reason for that is down to the most vital part of wrestling. The matches.
The control scheme is surprisingly complex, face buttons control basics like strikes, running, irish whips and finishers while the right stick does a variety of contextual grappling maneuvers. On top of this are modifiers, applied by combining the above actions with the front triggers to open up a whole other layer of moves. Each character has the same basic actions, but as they have differing wrestling styles and backgrounds, they start to show you how uniquely they perform. There are high-flyers, submission specialists, ground n’ pounders and showmen that all bring something of their own to the dance and figuring out how to match these styles up is a large part of 5 Star Wrestling’s gameplay style.
You see, while in any regular brawler you can scrape through fight after fight by spamming the right moves over and over, 5 Star wants you to put on the best show possible on the way to winning. Knowing how to put on a good match is the key to producing a five star performance. I would highly recommend either playing against a like-minded human being or pushing the A.I. sliders up to get the best effect of this system. The standard settings will often leave you having a very one-sided squash otherwise. This system is worthy of praise because it treats wrestling in the correct manner, a choreographed duel between two athletes that’s designed to entertain the audience first and foremost. If you’re playing as a heel, fighting dirty, working on limbs systematically(wear down an opponent’s legs enough and they’ll struggle to lift you and may even collapse) and generally acting like a bit of a turd only further your cause, while a babyface will revel in near falls and heroic comebacks. Playing to type and setting up the classic wrestling match high spots makes 5 Star feel closer to a sim.
The matches are sadly all one-on-one affairs and if you’re after something spicy like a ladder or hardcore match then you’ve come to the wrong wrestling school, all of which should call the game’s longevity into question immediately considering the already sparse roster. However, there are a multitude of challenges to plow through that keep things interesting for longer. Each challenge requires you to complete upwards of three objectives per match scenario and gives the opportunity to unlock alternate outfits, arenas and so on by collecting currency based on your success and bonus amounts for however well you perform in said match. There is a set of challenges for each competitor and for all the different match variations. Again, it’s worth stressing that you turn the sliders up to get a more competitive and frankly less boring run through these challenges. Even on the higher scale the A.I. is no substitute for playing against a human with the knowledge, but it at least stops you from steamrollering your way to victories with little reward.
It is a monumental shame that all 5 Star Wrestling does so right is blocked off by a gauntlet of obstacles that will dissuade all but the truly determined.You’d forgive the terrible graphics if there was better animation and you’d forgive the small roster if there was a character creator. The RKO that almost certainly buries it at this point is that its stuck on PS3. A Vita version wouldn’t be a bad shout and – if it were to come to PS4 – I’d suggest for Serious Parody to just work on a sequel that retains the rather good mechanics while it tweaks, fixes and spruces up everything else. There is some real potential for a great wrestling game here, 5 Star just needs to work on its showmanship so it’s as exemplary as its in-ring ability.
Looks like I’m off out to deliver running knee strikes to call centre workers again then.