Review by GeminiRocketPop
"A truly awesome wrestling game - it's true, it's true"
Wrestling games have always been a guilty pleasure of mine. Wrestling matches don't always go the way I want them to, and I'm not too fond of the idea of becoming a wrestler myself, so I play games. Unfortunately, wrestling games have never compared to the real thing. WWF Wrestlemania for the NES was the first to feature licensed wrestlers, but the moves were confined to punch, kick and slam, and wrestlers could replenish their life meter by grabbing ''icons'' that periodically ''ran'' across the top of the screen. Hardcore wrestling fan that I am, I felt the game was too ''video gamey'' for my taste, and felt more like a dumbed-down version of a simple fighting game. My wrestlers resembled their real-life counterparts in appearance only. I wanted more. The SNES brought the quality and realism up a notch due to several factors, not the least of which were improved graphics and actual theme music for the wrestlers. LJN dominated the SNES wrestling market and employed the grapple system, meaning two players engaged in a lockup and pressed buttons until one player lost his mind and gave up, conceding the move to the other player. The assortment of moves improved somewhat - there were the basic bodyslams, vertical suplexes, atomic drops and clotheslines, and each wrestler now had their finishing move. The SNES games were a great improvement over the NES games, and, in fact, the later SNES games were a great improvement over the early SNES games. The N64 came along, and THQ/AKI and Acclaim stepped into the ring to produce the WCW and WWF games, respectively. I'm a big WWF fan, and I assumed that since Acclaim seemed to be the bigger name, we (meaning me and every other WWF fan in the world) would have the better game than them (every WCW fan in the world). I couldn't have been more wrong. The WCW game had a larger base of characters, more moves, and it looked much better. Many people argued with me that Warzone, the WWF game, looked better than World Tour, the WCW game, but I couldn't see it. The two games almost caused me to convert to WCW fandom, something which, to this day, I'm glad I didn't do. Back for round two the following year, THQ gave us WCW Revenge and Acclaim countered with WWF Attitude. Revenge made huge strides over an already great game. Attitude kept everything the same and increased the number of selectable wrestlers. I was about to give up hope completely on WWF games when AKI and THQ announced they would produce a WWF game using their engine. ''Using the AKI engine'' were the words I wanted to hear. The guys at THQ were obviously real wrestling fans - they knew how to design a game so that play would flow like a real wrestling match, and this is where the main difference lay in THQ and Acclaim's games. Warzone and Attitude played something like Killer Instinct, with complex button presses required for simple moves. Nobody wants to have a movelist for 40 wrestlers nearby whenever they play - it really kills the mood. When Austin is about to deliver the Stunner after flipping his opponent off, you don't want to have to pause the game to find out exactly how to complete the move. Wrestlemania 2000, THQ's first WWF game for the N64, was just as good, or better than, Revenge, and it featured WWF wrestlers, which instantly made it better in my book. I'd explain more about WM 2000, but this review is about the game that followed it, No Mercy, and the two games are very similar, so let's move on, shall we?
The No Mercy characters reflect the WWF roster of about July 2000, which is more or less accurate to the roster today, except for all the WCW guys that came over, but you can create those yourself, so there's nothing to complain about. Many people have argued that the Acclaim graphics look more realistic, but I have to disagree. The AKI graphics tend to be more blocky, and clipping will rear its ugly head from time to time, but the movement of the characters is amazing. All the faces of the wrestlers look pretty much like their real-life counterparts, but it's in their movements that you can really see the effort put in by AKI. They must have hardcore wrestling fans like myself on their staff that know wrestling, because the physics of what actually goes on in the ring is very accurate and puts Acclaim's pieces of garbage to shame. The Rock shakes his foot before delivering a stomp, and delivers a little fake before dropping the Elbow. Chris Benoit really lays into his opponent with his knife-edge chops and really cinches in an STF. Kurt Angle's celebratory taunts are here to perfection, and the Undertaker's Last Ride looks just like the real thing. No two wrestlers punch or kick the same, which is amazing in itself. The moveset of nearly every wrestler is recreated perfectly, as well as the taunts and walking, jumping and running tendencies. If you're not a wrestling fan, you probably won't appreciate these things much, but AKI set out to make a wrestling game and they did a fantastic job of catering to the hardcore fan.
I mentioned the grapple system used in the SNES WWF games and how frustrating it was. No Mercy also uses a grapple system, but it's different than the earlier one that drove many good people to insanity. When one wrestler initiates the lockup, he has the upper hand and can execute a move by pressing any combination of buttons and directional arrows. He can also choose to whip his opponent into the ropes, throw him outside the ring, hold him for someone else to hit, put him on his shoulders or spin him around. There are no life bars - instead, each player has an Attitude meter, a pulsing bar that increase when a player delivers a blow and decreases when a player is struck. The maximum point on the Attitude meter is ''SPECIAL!'', at which point your wrestler enters a ''hulking up'' period of about twenty seconds where he demolishes anyone who comes near him, reversing any move they try and blocking their punches. It's also during this special phase that a wrestler can hit a special move by grappling and pressing the analog stick. Special moves are finishing moves, and once Special is attained they can be executed, regardless of the status of the opponent's Special meter. On the other end of the spectrum is ''DANGER'', which means your wrestler is vulnerable to submitting or taking a particularly nasty beating and not being able to fight back. The Spirit meter actually results in a very realistic match in a wrestling sense. When the meter starts to go up, momentum is usually on that wrestler's side and he can rattle off a bunch of moves in a row if he knows what he's doing, much like a real pro wrestling match. Taunting an opponent can also increase the meter, though cheap tactics like repeated punching have the opposite effect, much like cheesy attacks in some fighting games ''anger'' the opponent and give him a boost of energy. The layout of the controls is great - one button whips the opponent to the ropes or the corner, another button runs, another climbs the ropes, another punches, another kicks, another grapples, another taunts, another blocks or counters moves, and another focuses your view on another wrestler. It does take some time to master the buttons, but once you do, you'll find you can do pretty much whatever you want in the ring with virtually no limitations. It's also worth noting that there a variety of popular wrestling weapons that can be found and used against your opponent. Nowhere else can you bash your opponent senseless with a mannequin's head, a microphone, a ring bell or a set of steel entrance steps.
We've established that the gameplay is amazing, and that's the most important part of the game, but the gameplay modes hold up nearly as well. You can have a standard singles or tag match (with tagging or no tags), a Royal Rumble match, a cage match, a ladder match, a Triple Threat, a King of the Ring or a Survival match. One player can referee a match between two friends or a friend and a computer player. These play modes are more than enough to keep any wrestling fan entertained.
The storyline mode lets you choose a wrestler and have him battle for the World, IC, Tag Team, European, Lightweight, Hardcore or Women's Title. Each belt features a different path and involves forging friendships with some wrestlers, betraying others and often being forced into matches with seemingly impossible odds against you. For instance, you might defeat a wrestler, only to have him hire the APA to fight you in a handicap (two-on-one) match. You might get jumped in a bar and be forced to wrestle an impromptu Hardcore match there. You might have to survive the Royal Rumble to earn a title shot or even keep your job. The scenarios are endless and greatly increase the game's replay value.
The SmackDown Mall lets you buy weapons, costumes, accessories, moves and even hidden characters using the money you've earned in storyline mode. This is a nice way of creating some more replay value, as you'll eventually want to have all the costumes, weapons, moves and characters at your disposal, and you'll have to win a lot of matches to do so.
The best part of the game is the Create-A-Wrestler (CAW) feature, which is unmatched in its depth. You first choose your wrestler's height and weight, hair and face color, facial hair, body shape, eyes, nose and mouth, and clothing, of which there's an exhaustive amount to choose from. You then choose the relative strengths of each body part. For instance, a high defensive strength for the legs means that your opponent will have to hammer your guy's legs a lot before he'll give in to a leg submission. A high offensive strength for the head means he'll do a lot a damage with a headbutt, and for the arms it means he'll rip your head off with a clothesline. Setting these variables adds some degree of strategy to making a character. After choosing his reaction to blood, jumping and running ability, the fun part begins: choosing the moves. You'll easily spend over a hour just choosing your wrestler's moves, because you have to choose several moves for him to execute in every imaginable situation - when the opponent is standing, sitting or lying down, when he's in the corner, facing away from you, on the outside of the ring, on the apron, on the top rope facing towards or away from you, kneeling - the list goes on. This is where the true wrestling fan shines through in the game. Most casual fans will have never heard of many of the moves you can bestow upon your wrestler; I don't know if the Tiger Suplex '85 or the Emerald Frosion have even been officially introduced to the North American industry yet. There are literally thousands of moves to choose from, and you have to love the guys at THQ because they've included the moves of wrestlers from rival organizations in case you want to create them. Kevin Nash was a WCW wrestler at the time, but his Jacknife Powerbomb and Wolfpac taunt are in the game. If for some unknown reason you want to create Konnan, you can do that to, as his Tequila Sunrise is available for your use. You can tailor-make pretty much any wrestler you can think of, because almost every wrestling move known to man is included in the game. Honestly, every time I look at the CAW feature of this game I feel a sense of awe, because every one of the thousands and thousands of moves are executed perfectly by the computer demonstration dummies on the right side of the screen. If a wrestler you want isn't in the game, I guarantee you can make a very convincing looking version of him.
Do I have any complaints about the game? On Expert, the computer can be very cheap, simply blocking everything you try, even clotheslines from behind, which is highly improbable in real life. Then again, the Expert mode is supposed to be hard. Some people may be annoyed by the clipping, because it is evident at certain times throughout the game. The dialogue in the storyline mode could be better - for all the work put into the CAW, I expected better lines than, ''You will pay for what you have done to me. I will beat you!'' Some of the dialogue reeks of 1980s NES Japanese translation, and this disappointed me somewhat.
You have to have this game if you're a wrestling fan, no questions asked. I guarantee it's worth the purchase, even bought new. If you don't watch or like wrestling, on the other hand, this game may not be for you. Rent it first, and then decide for yourself whether it's what you like. Make no mistake about it, though - this is far and away the best wrestling game currently available in North America.
Overall - 10/10
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 11/15/01, Updated 11/15/01
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