Step into the ring with Japan’s fiercest warriors
by Andrew Alfonso
July 25, 2006 – Released on the X360 last year during the Christmas season, Wrestle Kingdom the latest title from Yukes, the perennial producer of wrestling titles on both sides of the Pacific. They’ve been spearheading the WWE titles for the past generation, all the while releasing games that feature top Japanese wrestlers in their home country.
Using a similar engine to that of the Day of Reckoning series on the GameCube, Wrestle Kingdom features over 40 of Japan’s top wrestlers, spanning three different wrestling organizations: New Japan Pro Wrestling, NOAH and All Japan Pro Wrestling. Unlike the organizations in America, which normally don’t wrestle against each other, the performers in the Japanese federations fight each other all the time in cross-promotional matches. Some of the top names you’ll see in the game are Masahiro Konno, Kenta Kobayashi, Mitsuharu Misawa and Keiji Mutoh (a.k.a. Scariest Japanese Man Ever). There are tons of unlockable characters in the game, some of whom will be familiar to American wrestling fans.
Japanese pro wrestling is far different from the American stuff that we usually see on TV. The crowds are far quieter and cheer during key parts of the match, and there are less pyrotechnics and flames. Oh, and Japanese wrestling is devoid of stupid storyline angles too. So all of that fluff is out the window, and what you’re left with is a straight up wrestling title. Like we mentioned before, the game is based on the same engine as WWE’s Day of Reckoning, which Yukes worked on. You have a strike, grapple and run button, as well as a Voltage meter which dictates when you can execute your finishing move. There’s also a “Kiai” (fighting spirit) meter which lets you recover quicker from moves or from submissions. This is done by pressing the R1 button but you can only use it a couple of times in a match, and it doesn’t regenerate over time. The game also takes elements from other wrestling games. For example, you can’t execute a strong grapple on an opponent until they’re weak or groggy, which is similar to what King of Coliseum does.
For the most part, the game isn’t as extensive as the Raw vs. Smackdown series. The weight class system that was implemented in the PS2 WWE games is nowhere to be seen here, although the aforementioned grapple system from KoC kind of makes up for it. Even the character edit mode is a lot less extensive than before. You can’t add multiple articles of clothing via layers, and the manipulation of your wrestler isn’t as great as the Raw vs. Smackdown series. Overall, the engine can compete with other games of this generation, although it’s not as good as the American offerings.
Where Wrestle Kingdom differentiates itself from other games is in the story mode, affectionately called Drama mode. Here, players can take control of their own created wrestler as they enter one of the top wrestling federations, in hopes of winning the gold. Part of Drama mode entails signing up for matches and beating the snot out of your opponent, but the other half is all about training your wrestler to become stronger and faster. This isn’t done through silly little exercises or talking to wrestlers backstage though. You have to put in some hard, god-to-honest effort into your training. Exercises are divided into three types depending on how often you can do them in one day. Every day, you have three slots you can fill up, so it’s best to do two exercises and then rest for your match. Simple exercises include jogging, meditation and learning how to absorb attacks, while more advanced exercises teach you how to execute moves like a belly-to-belly suplex and a fireman’s carry. The simulation part of the game is very different from what you’d expect if you’re used to the stuff that THQ has been releasing this generation.
The move from the 360 to the PS2 hasn’t been all that kind to the game, as the game lost a lot of its visual clarity and sharpness. There’s quite a bit of aliasing around the ring, and although the models are rendered fairly well, they don’t compare to the 360 version. The animations are also borrowed from Yukes previous wrestling titles, although there are some animations, especially when it comes to countering. One sweet counter was when Keiji Mutoh reversed a vertical suplex by driving his knees into his opponent’s face while he was being held up. The biggest problem tends to be the loading times, which are really long, even for a PS2 game. The time from choosing your character to actually starting a match can be anywhere from a minute to two minutes depending on how many participants are in a match. Fortunately, the gameplay more than makes up for it. Drama mode is a solid addition to the game, and surprisingly, taking on an AI opponent can be very challenging at times. They have their moments of stupidity but even on the normal difficulty mode, they can provide a good challenge for intermediate players.
Because of all the licensing issues and the fact that Japanese pro wrestling isn’t even popular among Western audiences, don’t expect Wrestle Kingdom in America any time soon. However, here’s hoping that Yukes takes the things that the game did right and applies it to its future WWE titles, this generation and next.