A tribute to retro wrestling games of the past, play multiple match types, edit arenas and create wrestlers... all for just 80 points. A winner is STILL you! Powered by Torque X.
"The Manhandler" has to be the single best wrestling name I've ever seen. He and nine more grapplers make up David Horn's Action Arcade Wrestling, an Xbox Indie game with its heart left in the late 80's back when Pro Wrestling and Tecmo World Wrestling reigned supreme. Action Arcade Wrestling is the first wrestling game on Xbox Indies, and its large variety of bout settings and character and ring editor definitely should spark interest in the game, especially at its bargain price point.
Each of the game's wrestlers looks to be pulled straight from the Hulk Hogan era with comic colored style leotards befitting the style of the time. The character editor allows for approximate renditions of Junkyard Dog, Bam Bam Bigelow, Andre the Giant, and others thanks to just over a dozen individual settings to alter the wrestler's body girth, hair style, and outfit. Each item whether skin, hair, or clothing can be colored to the player's wishes, and a combination of coloring and available patterns can be used to reproduce most basic wrestler designs. The available patterns allow for a somewhat convincing Sgt. Slaughter (no hat though), a tied (no bowtie) Ted DiBiase, or even Pro Wrestling's own Starman. This is a game which can thrive on customization, and there appears to be no artificial limit to the amount of wrestlers players can create and save. Beyond the wrestler's physical appearance, dozens of moves can be set to further customize each wrestler. Thus, a player created Jake "The Snake" can have his DDT along with any number of Irish whips, powerbombs, and whatnot the user throws at him. The level of customization allowed is without a doubt Action Arcade Wrestling's greatest strength, and though it cannot reach the level of Fire Prowrestling S: 6Men Scramble, it offers enough options to satisfy most anyone and is sure to impress, particularly for a new release.
The graphics are cartoony which may or may not detract from the game. I was fine with it, but I'm sure there are those players who would prefer if the wrestlers didn't all vaguely resemble Kinnikuman given the simplicity of the facial details. The wrestlers themselves move about nicely, and their strike and grapple animation is well done. Each move is distinct and looks the part, and the hits look and sound authentic when they connect. I do wish the ring settings weren't so generic and that the wrestlers could choose from some kind of taunt and/or entrance theme, but any such complaints feels greedy in light of everything Action Arcade Wrestling offers for its 80 points price. The 3-D polygon models are better than what I'd expect for such an inexpensive title, more so when taking account of the high level of customization allowed, and the game looks terrific, about on par with what an HD 32-bit sequel to Tecmo World Wrestling might have provided. I do wish that Horn made the game look more consistent here and there -- the crowd graphics really look odd next to these polygon models both in creation and style -- but that's a gripe for onlookers and not those enjoying the game and focused on the action in the ring.
Unfortunately, the action in the ring is Action Arcade Wrestling's chief failing. Basic strikes turn into an odd guessing game where it pays to let the other player make the first move so that it can be easily dodged and retaliated. The dodge mechanic is awkward and destroys any aggressive play a game such as this needs. Grappling turns into a weird game of Simon in which one of the controller's buttons is flashed on the screen, and the player who keys it in first gains advantage on the grapple. Then, another button is flashed, and the player with the advantage can either win the grapple with a successful button press or reset it to a neutral state again. Suffice it to say, it's rather awkward, and I'd much rather Human's (now Spike's) rock-paper-scissors system of seeing who comes out on top. It's a real nuisance when the gameplay gets in the way of the wrestling action, and Action Arcade Wrestling over complicates things for its own good. I also do not like the Simon game when the wrestler is down on the mat -- a series of random button presses are required before the player is allowed to get up, the length of this mini-game depending upon the player's stamina. In the mean time, while the player is stuck playing Simon, his or her wrestler is getting pounded on the mat.
Action Arcade Wrestling could have easily been one of the best games on Xbox Indies yet, and the potential is there. Even with the control faults, the game remains fun, and the four-player local support is sure to entertain as well as all of the different play modes including royal rumbles and cage matches. The lack of a better single player tournament mode and on-line multi-player keep the game limited to those who have local players available, because the three variable difficulty settings isn't much to offer, especially when playing Simon against a good computer opponent tends to be a losing affair. I find that while Action Arcade Wrestling strikes its audience on target, its gameplay is likely to alienate those used to the Janken play of Human's wrestling games or the button mashing of THQ's releases, and that would be unfortunate for a game as well thought out and varied as this.