Action Arcade Wrestling 2 Review (Xbox 360)
Like a wrestler trying to learn moonsaults before he can even sell a simple punch, Action Arcade Wrestling 2 makes the mistake of attempting a grandiose feature set before it has built up the core mechanics that make a wrestling video game fun to play.
The third title from Action937, which is now a three-person development team, could have benefited from taking a John Cena-like approach to game design, simply choosing four or five ideas to focus on, then doing those four or five ideas exceptionally well.
Instead, Action Arcade Wrestling 2 has spent tremendous developmental effort packing on an arsenal of modes and features that outweighs the majority of no-budget, my-first-video-games on the Xbox Live Indie channel by a good 200 pounds.
Based on its bulky feature list alone, Action Arcade Wrestling 2 looks to be an instant champion, but as soon as the bell sounds, it reveals itself to be the video game equivalent of Mass Transit –- an amateur wrestler barely able to take care of itself in the ring, ending up a bloody, injured mess.
While Action Arcade Wrestling 2 boasts a huge repertoire of well-animated special moves (about 200 total, with around 30 available per character), actually getting two wrestlers to join together in a grapple position so they can perform those moves is, at times, as difficult as bringing together “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and a Kodiak bear.
While computer-controlled wrestlers display pixel-perfect judgment in lining up attacks, the average human being will spend a good majority of matches watching whiffed strike after whiffed grapple fall pixels shy of its target, triggering only frustration.
Collision detection becomes an even bigger issue when 3 or more wrestlers appear in the ring at once, as is the case during half of the game's 14 modes. The coding of multi-opponent fights makes it impossible to attack any wrestler you are not directly targeting. Strikes often get absorbed by enemies you weren't originally highlighting, causing hits to whiff completely.
As if battling multiple opponents at the same time was not hard enough, Action Arcade Wrestling 2 also forces gamers to wrestle with an annoying focus system. The clunkiness of constantly pressing the right trigger to slowly switch focus before attacking or grappling destroys whatever fun might have existed in the game's triple threat, tornado, elimination, rumble and battle royal modes.
Tag team matches sidestep the attack focus issue by restricting your focus entirely to the current legal man. This design choice eliminates many classic tag teaming strategies, as non-legal participants line the apron like mannequins, lacking the brains to assist a pinned ally or beat down a competitor who has wandered foolishly into the wrong corner. Additional AI programming was needed to bring tag team contests to life, as currently, they feel exactly like singles matches, only with substitutions.
One-on-one exhibitions and one-one-one cage fights are the only match types in Action Arcade Wrestling 2 that meet modern wrestling game expectations, and when 85% of a product's play modes can't meet the standards set by decade-old video games, it's a clear sign that Action Arcade Wrestling 2 needed more time in development before being released in such a rough, barely functional state.
Action Arcade Wrestling 2's unique approach to reversals and weapon interaction is its only real gameplay innovation. Performing each move in your wrestler's repertoire adds to his “variey bonus” (as it's incorrectly spelled in-game). Variety bonuses can be spent by pressing the Y button in special situations, allowing your wrestler to pick up weapons, interact with tables or instantly escape from submissions or grapple moves. A wrestler with zero variety bonus, therefore, cannot use any weapons; he also must escape from submissions the normal way, mashing the A button until the escape bar slowly fills up, and counter grapples the normal way, hitting the left bumper just before the grapple initiates.
Finishing moves and strong grapples are easily countered at the beginning of a fight. A typical bout of Action Arcade Wrestling 2 involves wearing down your opponent with weak strikes and grapples, landing a few strong grapples, then ending the match with a finisher. Irritatingly, the damage recorded to your opponent often lacks consistency and appears glitchy.
As Kevin Nash, I once Jackknife powerbombed Sting through the ringside announcer's table, only to see The Stinger pop back up with ease as if he'd merely slipped on a sweaty mat. In a bloody cage match between rivals Raven and The Sandman, I spent a good 10 minutes beating The Sandman sober, then planted his face into the canvas with the Evenflow DDT finisher. But before Raven could even finish the DDT's animation and get back onto his own feet, The Sandman had already stood upright and begun charging up his own offensive move, as if possessed by a no-selling fit of Hulkamania.
The inconsistent damage output devastates Action Arcade Wrestling 2's aerial gameplay, as wrestlers rarely stay down long enough to create turnbuckle-climbing opportunities. Slow and awkward turnbuckle animations will unwillingly force the player to use exciting luchadores like Psicosis or La Parka as if they were merely masked versions of Ryback or John Cena. A complete lack of apron, mat or springboard moves forces Action Arcade Wrestling 2's gameplay into a predominantly grounded, power wrestling style.
Other annoying design quirks, like only being able to climb the top two turnbuckles, only being able to exit the ring through the left and right ropes and only being able to sprint or Irish whip directly left or directly right, severely hinder Action Arcade Wrestling 2's offensive opportunities and in-ring creativity.
One movable table is available ringside every match, but it rarely breaks when expected, as maneuvers that should smash through it often just cause both wrestlers to clip harmlessly through the wood prop. If a table is left standing in the middle of the ring when a match ends (likely because nobody could get the game to detect a breakage), the celebratory post-match cutscene will show the winning wrestler's body stuck inside the table model, with limbs clipping in and out of the boards. I crossed my arms and yelled "NO!" at my television after watching “The Iceman” Dean Malenko celebrate a victory over Chris Jericho by holding up the championship belt enthusiastically while being engulfed in the flames of a still-lit table.
Victories in Action Arcade Wrestling 2 tend to take between 5 to 10 minutes. While this is a realistic length by contemporary RAW standards, the developers should have added an option to extend wrestlers' pain thresholds into the 20 to 30 minute pay-per-view range. Another missing option, rope breaks during pins and submissions, could have improved Action Arcade Wrestling 2's fun factor even more, as strategically, rope breaks often play a huge role in saving or losing wrestling matches.
While Action Arcade Wrestling 2 lacks any sort of career or season mode, the various exhibition modes do keep track of the game's reigning singles champion and tag team champions.
Crashes to the Xbox 360 dashboard occur frequently while trying to play or edit Action Arcade Wrestling 2. Spending more than 10 minutes inside Action Arcade Wrestling 2's create-a-wrestler screen is almost guaranteed to crash the game, losing any work that was not manually saved prior to the “code 4” error. Once a created wrestler has crashed, it's likely that his spot on the roster will become permanently damaged, forcing the game to reboot every time he's selected in the wrestler editor or chosen on the character select screen.
The workaround to Action Arcade Wrestling 2's unstable and practically unusable in-game editor is to download a free PC editing program from the game's official website, which supports custom .JPG and .PNG textures. The PC customizer, despite already being up to version 1.4, remains buggy, shutting itself down about 50% of the time during the initial boot sequence. If you can get the program past the first loading screen, it works fairly well thereafter, allowing gamers with compatible PCs to recreate virtually any wrestler or arena they can find textures for online.
Loading between screens in Action Arcade Wrestling 2 is lengthy and frequent, trailing only Arc System Works' Hard Corps: Uprising for the title of worst load times in an Xbox 360 downloadable game. Inside the PC editor, load times are slightly improved, though still much longer than expected for a simple series of menus running on a quad-core processor.
Action Arcade Wrestling 2's royal rumble mode impresses with its synchronized audience countdowns and picture-in-picture wrestler entrances, but the matches are marred by stuttering and loading each time a new contestant joins the match. The battle royal mode, while free of mid-match loading, also struggles to maintain a steady framerate any time five or more wrestlers occupy the ring. Additionally, a bizarre graphical glitch randomly causes rumble entrants to transform into the game's equivalent of Hornswoggle, rendering their on-screen character at about one-eighth its normal size.
Custom entrance music, while supported, is unbearably buggy. The feature worked fine when I first purchased Action Arcade Wrestling 2 last Monday, but once I began importing custom wrestlers from my PC into the game, I inexplicably lost the ability to use the music on my Xbox 360's hard drive. Even after erasing all four save files and deleting the game itself from my Xbox 360, I still have not gotten custom music working since my first few hours with Action Arcade Wrestling 2.
If custom music was working as intended, it would remain a disappointment, as the wrestler themes are only programmed to play after a victory or while a contestant is running down the ramp to join a rumble match in progress. Professional wrestling is half spectacle and half action, thus it's disappointing to see Action Arcade Wrestling 2 treat every match like it was between two RAW jobbers, offering no pre-match entrances.
Apart from its powerful customization tools and expansive move set, Action Arcade Wrestling 2 is a major regression from the great wresting titles gamers have been playing over the past 20 years.
Even at its meager $3 asking price, it is difficult to recommend Action Arcade Wrestling 2 to anyone who still owns a video game console from the 1990s and beyond, as that same $3 could yield much more entertainment if put towards a copy of WCW Revenge or Fire Pro Wrestling Returns -- games with reliable collision detection that won't crash your system due to corrupt character files or unstable menus.
As a sequel, Action Arcade Wrestling 2 shows tremendous improvement over its dismal debut, but months of additional training are still needed before this wrestler is ready to compete on a professional level.
Action Arcade Wrestling 2 comes with all the match types and options gamers expect from a professional wrestler, but in the ring, it remains unable to perform the most basic of moves without inflicting serious self-injury.
The game's technical shortcomings could potentially have been overlooked if it offered a satisfying in-ring experience to counter its many bugs and glitches. Instead, Action Arcade Wrestling 2's gameplay fails to meet elementary standards of animation and collision detection established by wrestling games 10 to 20 years its senior.
Visuals: Blocky player models constantly clip through solid objects and warp into place. The game's camera lacks the ability to zoom out and struggles to keep everyone on screen when two or more wrestlers are on opposite ends of the arena. A large library of well-animated special moves is Action Arcade Wrestling 2's lone graphical highlight.
Audio: A single heavy metal track loops throughout the menus. Spectators sound muted and uninterested. Matches lack commentary, making the smacks of flesh and the slams of the ring the game's only noticeable audio accompaniment. Unique sound effects, unfortunately, were not programmed for performing moves onto weapons or onto the mats outside the ring.
Controls: Basic player movement animates and controls awkwardly. Climbing through the ropes or onto the turnbuckles feels annoyingly slow. Multi-opponent matches fall flat due to constant focus-shifting and collision detection issues. Aside from the innovative reversal and weapon interaction systems, there's little to like about the game's clunky, poorly implemented controls.
Learning Curve: On-screen button prompts make Action Arcade Wrestling 2 easy to learn, but gamers will likely be frustrated by the difficulty of lining up strikes and grapples -- especially against computer opponents, who attack with robotic precision. Learning all the tricks necessary to get custom content working requires lots of trial-and-error plus heavy tutorial reading.
Lasting Value: Once the novelty of seeing all your favorite wrestlers in one video game wears away, so will your interest in Action Arcade Wrestling 2.
Score: 4.5 (Below Average)