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Review #376

Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes Del Ring
Developer: Slang/Immersion Software & Graphics
Publisher: Konami
Genre: Professional Wrestling/Lucha Libre
Release Date: 10/12/2010

I haven’t been too happy with Konami this year. The year started with a “Worst Game of the Year” contender in Walk It Out and their latest product was Castlevania: Lords of Shadow which was universally despised by the more than two dozen of us on staff. Honestly I was about ready to wash my hands with them. But I held out to give them once last chance because they were publishing Heroes Del Ring. I’ll be completely candid: The main (and only) reason I preordered this game was for the La Parka mask as he’s one of my favorite wrestlers (The original La Parka, L.A. Park, not the new guy) . Then of course the masks were cancelled at the last second, leaving me to rue trusting Konami once more. But hey, I paid off the game already, so I might as well pick it up, right?

Well, if you read my first impressions piece, you could tell I was torn on whether to like the game or not. Now that I’ve beaten the game, unlocked all but a single wrestler and have about 60-70% of the trophies, it’s time to write the review. So did Lucha Libre get better the more I played it, or did it job out like Super Calo in 1990s WCW?

Let’s Review

1. Modes

At first glance the options you have here are underwhelming. Singles matches, “Texas Tornado” tag matches, 1-on-2 handicapped matches, 1-on-3 handicapped matches, Triple Threats (both elimination and one fall to a finish) and Fatal Facing of Four (ditto). There aren’t any specialty matches but then Lucha Libre doesn’t really use them like US wrestling. There are “Hair Vs. Mask” matches, but only when you are playing against an online opponent. Finally there is a training mode, a CAW creator, a banner creator, and story mode. Again, this looks pretty bare bones, but remember this is the first major Lucha Libre game out there, but it’s also only the second game made by an all Mexican development company. Take a good look at Aki and Yukes’ first wrestling games. I wasn’t too impressed with Virtua Pro Wrestling or the original Toukon Retsuden, but because gamers invested their money in these developers, they were able to grow and eventually create consistently high quality wrestling games. For a first wrestling game, Lucha Libre AAA blows a lot of other developer’s first wrestling titles out of the water. Look at god awful TNA IMPACT! was. When you realize this is the developer’s second game ever, it’s pretty impressive what they’ve given us…even if the end result shouldn’t have been $60.

Story Mode is actually fun, and you’ll have to complete both versions of the game to unlock the majority of playable characters in the title. You can play through as either a Rudo (heel) or Technicos (Fan Favorite) and although the core plot is essentially the same, the path you travel from beginning to end is different enough to make you enjoy the contrast between the two. There are twenty matches in each storyline, which is more than any WWF/WWE story mode I can think of, so that is and of itself is impressive. I had a lot of fun with the plots, as not only do you play the majority of the game with your created characters (In my case it was Shark Boy and Art Barr), but in some of the matches you play as an actual AAA luchadore instead.

So there’s not a lot here, and things like the handicapped matches REALLY need some work, but what’s here is pretty decent as far as first games go. The roster is solid and a lot of wrestling fans that have only watched “sports entertainment” will still recognize a lot of these guys. I can’t say I was blown away by what’s here, especially for the price tag, but as far as first wrestling games go, this is better than most first efforts I’ve seen from dozens of developers over the years, so there is a lot of potential here. I should close this by adding that there are roughly half a dozen unlockable videos on the history of Lucha Libre and what makes it distinct from professional wrestling. I loved that they included a nice little primer like that.

Modes Rating: 5.5/10

2. Graphics

The game looks very nice; there’s no denying that. All the luchadores are highly detailed and look quite like they do in life. I’ve obviously been out of the loop as I don’t remember Cibernetico without a mask or Silver King with one, but every character in colourful and animated perfectly. The various arenas, referees and crowds all look pretty nice. There’s even a nicely rendered elephant in one! Best of all I think is how the characters change throughout the match. If you really and I mean REALLY focus on a body part, you can see the damage to it. This is best demonstrated on the face, where eventual masks will rip, eyes will blacken and blood will trickle down. This is a much better effect than how most wrestling games just have “normal” and “kind of bleeding.”

There are some flaws however. On the rare occasional a female character shows up (only on your CAW loading screen), she (or they as there are three of them) look very awkward and stilted. Still, as that is a loading screen, I can let that pass. It doesn’t explain why there aren’t any female wrestlers though. There’s occasionally some slight visual glitches that occur, but they are rare. Generally these occur when you unlock a wrestler in a match. The game will pause itself to announce what you unlocked but then when things unpause, you’ll see the referee make an X symbol with his hands (which designates a non-kayfabe injury) and then the camera angle will be at a dramatically different one that in usually is (now panned way far out). However this visual glitch is minor compared to the fact that once the match ends, you won’t be able to get out save for quitting the game via the PS button on your controller.

So the game looks good, but it has a few minor flaws that are often coupled with larger overall engine flaws. The game definitely good though, and it’s a treat to see some of these wrestlers outside of CAWs for the first time in years or even for the first time ever.

Graphics Rating: 7/10

3. Sound

Even though I don’t speak a lick of Spanish, I love that the entire game is bilingual. I also loved that all the videos of the Luchadores had them speaking in Spanish with English subtitles. I was afraid they’d Americanize too much of the game rather than let AAA stand on its own. You can even have Spanish commentary during the matches with English subtitles which is a blast as a change of pace. Alas, there isn’t a Spanish announce table that you can put your opponents through. The English commentary is nicely done and Konnan (from nWo fame for people new to AAA) does the heel colour commentary and it’s hilarious. The dude buries EVERY wrestler in the game and it’s much better than having to listen to Michael Cole. The only down side is there is very little actually recorded for the commentary so you’ll hear the same things over and over again repeatedly.

The music in the game is great and I absolutely love the theme that is in the opening cinematic and end game credits. There really aren’t a lot of tracks for the game, so much like the announcing, you’ll hear the same few (but well done) themes over and over again, including an “Eye of the Tiger” ripoff.

Much like the rest of the game, the audio of Heroes Del Ring is very nice for a first effort, but bare bones compared to what wrestling game fans are used to.

Sound Rating: 6.5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

I have a real love/hate relationship with the game. It’s got some pretty big bugs, like the one that occurs when you unlock a character in mid-match, but the game also stalls (although it doesn’t completely freeze) up on the title screen when you first turn the game on, and trying to connect to a server is a Herculean task, but those are the only real big issues I have with the engine itself. Otherwise the game runs smoothly.

Gameplay however… Well, to be honest – even while writing this review, I’m not sure if I enjoyed it or hated it. You see, it’s very different from most other wrestling games. Sure you lock up and beat the crap out of an opponent until you get a countout, DQ, submission or pinfall, but the actual mechanics are quite different. The L2 and R2 buttons are your grapple commands instead of the face buttons like we are used to. Instead three of the face buttons are for punch, kick, and strong melee attack. The L1 button is for running and you HAVE to hold it down to run, while the R1 button is the blocking and countering button and the timing is so precise you pretty much have to be a frame counter ala King of Fighters zealots to get it to work consistently…and that’s on Easy. Basically I learned not to block and to always get the first hit.

I really hated the blocking and countering mechanism in this game simply due to the timing and the fact that by the time the prompt to press the button comes up, your chance to actually block or counter has long since passed. So it’s salt in the wounds if you will. There’s also the issue with the fact the game is very slow. When you think of Lucha Libre, you think of fast paced high intensity wrestling, but this game actually has a slower pace than the Smackdown Vs. Raw series and this is more of an arcade wrestler, which make the molasses like speed of everyone all the more shocking. I guess I was expecting something more along the speed of Street Fighter II Turbo vs. the original Street Fighter 2 with this game. There are a few other problems just as the fact that it’s hard to direct your character towards a different opponent in handicap or multi-man matches. You’ll also find that in matches with more than two people when your character gets up, instead of aiming for one of the opponents, he’ll attack wherever there ISN’T someone with that first punch , kick or grapple, leaving you wide open for an assault. On higher difficulties the only way to win a multi character match is through countout, and that will drive you nuts.

What I did love are the pinfall and submission systems. Instead of straight out button mashing affair, you’ll be button mashing with purpose. Whenever you or your opponent locks on a pinfall or submission, a horizontal line will appear on the screen. You’ll want to button mash the specific button. Doing so correctly will make it harder for your opponent to escape while hitting the wrong button will help them. The reverse is true with your opponent. This adds a bit more fun to what had become a tried affair in other wrestling games in this situation.

Grappling in and of itself was neither bad nor good – it was simply done quite different from previous games and so longtime Smackdown vs. Raw fans will simply have to rewire themselves to do things different from what their instincts are telling them. Once you have the new controls set in your head, the game plays rather nicely and you should do pretty well in anything but handicapped matches and times when you need to block. I’ll admit when I first picked up the game, the bare bones aspect really annoyed me compared to what Smackdown Vs. Raw gives you, but the more I played, the more I realized this was pretty good for a first time out from a small independent developer. Most of my complaints when I first started playing included the lack of speed in the game, the rather limited CAW creator with only a measly four CAW slots (not even the first game to have CAWs had that little. WWF War Zone had 60! and that the controls seemed so alien compared to other wrestling games I’ve played in the past two or three console generations. After spending a great deal of time with the game I realize the only truly problem with the game besides a few bugs is that there just aren’t enough bells and whistles for the $60 price tag. If this was $29.99 or even $39.99, what’s here would be a nice deal, but Konami, rather than the developers, got greedy.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 5/10

5. Replayability

There’s no career mode or general manager mode in this game, so really, once you’ve unlocked all the wrestlers in the game (all but four of which come from both storylines), there’s not much to come back to unless you’re a trophy addict. Sure you can make a few CAWS but generally the type of gamer that cares about CAWs wants to be able to make at least twenty or thirty. There is online play but the servers have been down every time I have tried save one. You would think companies would know by now to NOT use Gamespy.

Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes Del Ring shows promise – far more than TNA IMPACT! did, but it’s still too bare bones to make anyone want to come back to it once everything is unlocked. It’s a curiosity, and an interesting alternative to the WWE games, but it’s better off as a rental or a purchase when the price goes down as there’s just not a lot here to do once the novelty wears off.

Replayability Rating: 5/10

6. Balance

This is really the weak spot of the whole game. I’ve mentioned how insane handicapped matches are but nothing can really prepare you for one. A handicap match on easy is harder than a singles or tag match on the highest difficulty. This is for several reasons. The first is that you switch between targets with the right analog stick, but your character is slow to switch between the two and when he does, he is vulnerable as hell. Second, as mentioned previously, your character will often strike at empty air when he first gets up in a handicapped match, which will drive you nuts, especially when he is surrounded by enemies. Third is the fact that the computer surrounds you and just gang rapes you into unconsciousness. If you are attack one opponent, the other one or two can just attack you without you able to block or reverse their attacks. Even worse, you can be attacked in mid move. Oh, you’ll still do the move to the opponent you finally grappled, but you’ll take damage from all the punches and kicks. Fourth is the fact that when in a handicapped match, collisions detection gets funky so you might go for a grapple on someone, but all of a sudden it’s the computer grappling you from behind even though you were face to face a frame or two ago. Fifth is that you really can’t pin an opponent in a 3 on 1 handicap match. You can try, but you will fail miserably. Your best bet is to go for a countout or to just attack one part of each opponent’s body and then slap on a submission hold. The latter works if you are extremely fast at hitting buttons. Otherwise, you are stuck going for a countout win.

Now these issues are unique to handicap matches and the other forms of wrestling in the game play just fine (although they have the opposite problem of being very easy) but god knows anyone who plays this will be swearing in story mode if they are playing as a Rudo. The second to last battle pits you against Silver King and Dr. Wagner Jr, who not only have some of the best overall stats in the game, but the match is a no DQ, no countout affair (Unlike the Technicos version of the match which has countouts). You’re going to have to do this several times to succeed. Your best bet is to give your character a lot of submissions holds and attacks that go for a wide arc like a diving clothesline. Get them near each other, do the clothesline to knock them both down, lock on a submission and pray.

So really the game is unbalanced in two different ways. Handicapped matches are insanely hard, while every other match is pretty easy. This is definitely the one area I wish the developers would have fine tuned, but you’ll only have to do a handicapped match a few times in order to get a few trophies and complete story mode.

Balance Rating: 4/10

7. Originality

I can’t think of another Lucha Libre game that has a mainstream release and certainly not one with the quality of this roster or that explains the history of the business like this. Sure there are plenty of wrestling games out there and have been since before the NES, but this is the first real decent alternative in North America to WWF/WWE games since well…the Aki WCW games for the N64. That’s a little over two generations ago. The game is by no means perfect and it does pale in comparison to the Smackdown Vs. Raw series, but when you look at it as a creation from a brand new development team, it’s not only a breath of fresh air, but it shows that these guys have a lot of promise and that if they can get a sequel or two under their belt, we might actually have a solid challenge to Yukes’ monopoly.

There isn’t a lot of innovation if you look at this as “just another wrestling game,” but if you take into consideration the control scheme, the fresh new submission and pin system, and the fact a major publisher got behind a Lucha Libre game, you have a pretty outside the box game that just happened to have a somewhat familiar window dressing. I’d call it a thumb’s in the middle but when you realize that the Konami code unlocks midget versions of each wrestler, that alone propels the game into positive territory in terms of originality. Seriously, what other game has midget wrestling?

Originality Rating: 5.5/10

8. Addictiveness

This is another category where things could go either way. I enjoyed both storylines and I actually finished the last 25% of the Technicos story and then went right through all of the Rudos without stopping. I’ll admit I was annoyed with the game at first, but that’s only because I went in thinking of the control scheme of SDvR, and that threw me off in my first few matches. Once I adapted and broke the static thought pattern of constantly comparing this to Yukes’ games, I found it to be quite fun at times. I enjoyed reading the biographies of wrestlers I had never heard of and had fun trying to make CAWs even with the limited parts and movesets (There are over 200 moves in the game at least). I played the game a lot longer than I thought I would have when I sat down and wrote my first impressions piece. All in all, I liked the game for what it is, and although it’s not a keeper, it does have me hoping there will be a sequel.

Addictiveness Rating: 5.5/10

9. Appeal Factor

Here’s the problem – wrestling is a niche genre. Sure THQ’s WWE yearly roster update is always going to sell well, but that’s because it’s A) the only real major wrestling federation left in the United States and B) it’s been the only wrestling game released stateside since what, Fire Pro Returns in many a year. Before you ask, no I don’t count Action Arcade Wrestling on Xbox Live.

The problem with AAA isn’t the game itself (although that is a minor one); it’s that the average wrestling fan has been indoctrinated to only care about WWE wrestling, or at least wrestlers they have heard of. The same too holds for wrestling video games. TNA has a fraction of a fraction of the WWF’s audience and even then people were looking forward to the game in desperate hopes of having a THQ/Yukes alternative. Look what happened. While Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes Del Ring is a much better wrestling game than TNA IMPACT, I could also say, The Adventures of Lolo is a better wrestling game than TNA IMPACT! and the statement would still be true.

Most of the luchadores in this game are main eventers in Mexico, but North American gamers know people like La Parka, Konnan, Psicosis, and Vampiro as midcarders at best. Even then their heyday in the States was nearly a decade ago. Because of mainstream wrestling fans only having exposure to WWF programming coupled with the game being both bare bones and a roster of wrestlers than the average wrestling fan here in the States wouldn’t have heard of, I can see a lot of people snubbing this game for a variety of reasons. For people that are into WWF alternatives like Ring of Honour. AJPW, NJPW, NOAH, AAA, CMLL, Dragon Gate and the like, you can probably pick up this game and have fun with it, but it’s still overpriced for what you get. Again, if this was $29 or even $39, it would definitely be something I’d recommend as a nice budget title. As a full blown title, even if you like what’s here, you’ll still feel like the game needs more modes, more wrestlers and more CAW slots. It’s basically a niche alternative for someone who is willing to sacrifice depth for a WWE alternative.

Appeal Factor: 4.5/10

10. Miscellaneous

There’s not much more to say here, so I’ll just repeat the bottom line. The only game this team has made before this was a little title called CellFactor: Psychokinetic Wars, which received mostly positive reviews. Is the game worth $60? It depends. On one hand you’ll be getting a bare bones title with a few issues that will no doubt aggravate whoever plays it. On the other, you’ll be supporting the best alternative to a WWE monopoly that we’ve had in years and the developers show a lot of promise. It just depends on if you look at buying this game as immediate satisfaction or if you are looking for a long term investment. If it’s the former, then don’t buy this until it hits the bargain bin, but also remember that if this DOESN’T sell enough, then you’re back to only have WWE wrestling games . If you look at this as the latter, then by all means, pick it up now and ensure a sequel. If the sequel boasts more CAW slots, more storylines, a deeper roster and those gameplay fixes, than you’re been rewarded for your faith in a small indie developer that was lucky enough to be picked up by a major publisher. If the second game has the same issues that plague this first one than you know the old adage of “Fool me once…”

For now, I’m going to be SLIGHTLY optimistic and put my faith in Slang and Immersion. I like a lot of the guys in this game. I like having an alternative to WWE Wrestling games. I like supporting indie companies. I like the thought of a quality Luche Libre game. I like the thought that we might someday have a AAA level developer in Mexico, even if it’s just for wrestling games. Most of all, in this age of so many publishers being afraid to try new IPs and just churn out sequel after sequel, I want to support Konami for taking a chance with Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes Del Ring, even if I haven’t been happy with a lot of their other titles this year. So do I feel I got my sixty dollars out of the game. It all depends on how you look at. Short term, this would have been better as a budget title. Long term, here’s hoping that this leads to a second outing that’s a higher quality affair.

Miscellaneous Rating: 5.5/10

The Scores
Modes: 5.5/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 6.5/10
Control and Gameplay: 5/10
Replayability: 5/10
Balance: 4/10
Originality: 5.5/10
Addictiveness: 5.5/10
Appeal Factor: 4.5/10
Miscellaneous: 5.5/10
Total Score: 54
FINAL SCORE: 5.5 (DECENT GAME!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Although it’s very easy to make the case that Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes Del Ring is overpriced due to the game being a bare bones title when compared to the Smackdown Vs. Raw series, it’s worth it to keep in mind that this is only the second ever title from a small developer in Mexico. When you look at the game that way, it’s hard not to be impressed with what you have here. Yes, there are some bugs and handicapped matches with have you swearing like a sailor on drunken shore leave, but the game looks great, sounds great, and there are some fun innovative things that the engine does even while the CAW system and the amount of match types are exceedingly shallow. It’s a nice, if not great, alternative to the WWF yearly offerings and the engine, as well as the development team, shows a lot of promise. Although I can’t recommend picking it up at full price, I can recommend giving it a try in hopes that we get a more robust and cleaner sequel.

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