From the 8-bit era onward, there has been some luchadores sprinkled in wrestling video games. Starman from Nintendo's Pro Wrestling is probably the most famous of the bunch, but there have been a few featured in non-licensed wrestling and WCW titles. With the advent of the Create-A-Wrestler feature, players could create their own luchadores to go against the likes of Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Sting. When the organization folded in 2001, the only luchador you'd see in any wrestling title was Rey Mysterio, Jr. Sensing the desire for players to play a wrestling game that focused more on high-flying than brutal hits or hardcore action, the teams at Slang and Immersion Games partnered up to create a game based on lucha libre, the Mexican version of wrestling, with the licensing of one of the sport's major organizations. Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes del Ring is the first game focused squarely on this style of wrestling.
It is easy to characterize the sport of lucha libre as American wrestling with masks, and the comparison is mostly apt, but there are a few other details that pertain to AAA. For one thing, not everyone wears a mask. While you do see more wrestlers in Mexico with ornate masks covering their faces, there are an equal number of luchadores who go without. Wrestlers often adopt one of two persona types: Technicos (babyfaces, or good guys, who display a large variety of wrestling moves) and Rudos (heels, or bad guys, who employ more of a brawling style and will do anything to win). These two styles foster some unique traits and looks for wrestlers from both sides, though you still have some normal-looking wrestlers and pretty boys. For example, La Parka is a Technico who dresses up in a full skeleton costume and dances for the crowd while Apache enters the ring with a full Indian headdress. El Zorro is a Rudo who comes to the ring with aristocratic garb and a kendo stick for a sword while Electro Shock is dressed in a suit made to look like muscles without skin and carries a red skull to the ring. The ring has six sides as opposed to four, much like the rings were at TNA before the Hulk Hogan era. Finally, while there are championships, more importance is placed on hair-versus-mask matches, where the loser either gets shaved bald or is unmasked in front of the crowd — a life-changing event for the wrestler in question.
Lucha Libre AAA features a few good game modes. Pride Match is essentially the game's Quick Play mode, where you choose any combination of created wrestlers or the 31 different AAA wrestlers to go through various match types: 1v1, 1v2, 1v3, 2v2, three-way or four-way. From here, you can choose match types, count-out times, whether or not disqualification comes into play, and whether a winner must be determined via pinfall or submission. There are no other types of gimmick matches, like ladder matches or table matches, but there are also no tag matches, either. The 2v2 matches have all players fighting at once, though tag rules apply, so if one member gets counted out or pinned during the match, the team loses.
The King of Kings mode is essentially a tournament mode for the AAA Championship. Just like Pride Matches, you can slightly tweak the win conditions and rules, though you are limited to 1v1 matches, and the difficulty level of the CPU opponent is always set to normal. Up to eight people can participate in the tournament with any combination of human and CPU players.
Story mode is quite interesting, as you get video clips of some special aspects of lucha libre and two different story lines. As a whole, the story deals with a big match for the AAA championship. The champion, La Parka, did retain the belt, but an ambush by the Rudos resulted in the belt being stolen. Playing as part of the Rudo faction, you take on the role of a rookie who, despite being held back by your leader Konnan, aims to find the belt and fulfill his destiny of becoming AAA champion. Playing as part of the Technicos faction, you take on the role of a rookie who just entered AAA that is tasked with finding the culprit and retrieving the belt.
Aside from having different matches to go through depending on your faction choice, each plot also has you playing as some of the real AAA wrestlers instead of your created characters. You can take control of La Parka or Konnan for the championship match, while other story matches let you play as Zombie Clown or Chessman instead of watching them fight it out or having their matches explained via cut scenes. You need to play both factions in Story mode to unlock all of the game's wrestlers and arenas, but luckily, the stories aren't too drawn out. Unlike other games, you won't be fighting wave after wave of jobbers before getting to a pivotal match.
The game feels like a tweaked version of the last non-WWE wrestling game released, TNA iMPACT!, and the similarities aren't merely with the six-sided ring. Reversals play a big role, as you can deflect or counter just about any move. Pin and submission systems are also similar, since they rely on rapid presses of specific buttons to get out of the situation or strengthen your hold on the move. You also have more emphasis on getting to the action, as ring introductions are fairly short and the win/lose poses and animations are the same.
It doesn't completely pick up everything from Midway's last wrestling game, though, as it incorporates some of its own traits. A physical referee is present and gives warnings to wrestlers for hurting the ref or using weaponry, disqualifying that wrestler if they disobey the rules a second time during the warning period. In addition to a damage system, there is also a popularity system where you can only execute certain moves and grapples based on the crowd's reaction to you. Players with a low popularity meter are limited to striking and non-grapple moves, since their opponent can easily counter a quick grapple. Those with a high popularity meter can execute strong grapple moves with little to no resistance from the opponent. The mechanic allows for some nice strategy to your fighting and ensures that matches don't consist of one power move after another.
Not all of the similarities it picked up from TNA iMPACT! are good ones, though. The move sets vary per wrestler but feel limited since the moves only require face buttons in a given grapple to be executed; there are no combinations that entail face buttons and the d-pad, so you can't introduce new moves into the mix. The reliance on counters is a similarity that isn't exactly great because the window for countering moves seems so small. This is especially true for higher difficulty levels, where it becomes close to impossible to reverse any move.
Speaking of difficulty levels, the game has a bad tendency of making them spike all over the place. Easy matches are easy enough for anyone to win without much effort. Normal matches offer a 60/40 split, where you lose most of the time in a squash (one-sided) fashion, and hard matches require you to cheat heavily to have any chance of winning. Story mode amplifies this spike because of the situations in which it puts you. The 1v2 situation, for example, happens very early in the Technico story, and on normal difficulty, the challenge is enough to make people quit the mode out of frustration. Thankfully, the situation occurs later for the Rudo story mode, but the lack of explicit match rules also mars that. Even though it never states it in the beginning of the match, you can lose a three- or four-way match if you aren't the one to pin all of your opponents — a rule that isn't in the Pride Match mode. Another complaint is the game's speed. Lucha libre is about fast movements and high-flying attacks, but you wouldn't know that from this game, since everyone runs at the same slow speed. Without quick movements, what could have been a unique wrestling experience transforms into a game that's similar to past wrestling offerings.
The creation options are both limited and expansive, depending on what it is you choose to customize. The game lets you customize a sign that the ring girls will hold every time you fight. You can put whatever text you want, but there are only 10 or 11 templates, each of which is in a set font, so you can't even think about using a pixelated font or a word balloon.
You can create a wrestler with various options from their alliances (Technico or Rudo, each giving you different amounts of popularity depending on the actions you take and where it occurs) to their physical build and moves sets. It isn't a terribly extensive set of options, but it is enough to make some decent real-life counterparts.
The real depth in customization lies in the wrestlers' masks. The choices for basic mask pattern are extensive, as are the options for eye and mouth shape, colors and additions, like fangs and fins. The mask options feel more extensive than the wrestler options, and those who enjoy looking at real-life lucha libre masks will spend a ton of time designing masks. If there is one drawback to the game's creation system, it would be with the number of slots available for custom characters. Four characters slots feel like a paltry amount for the player, especially since the game roster isn't as large as the competition. The dearth of slots is a big disappointment for those who were looking forward to a large stable of created luchadores.
The multiplayer is pretty much a mirror image of the Pride Match mode. The same configurations such as 1 vs. 1 and 2 vs 2 matches are here, but the biggest addition is the hair-versus-mask matches, which only involve your created wrestlers and show the loser getting shaved bald or getting his mask ripped away. The only issue with multiplayer is that there doesn't seem to be anyone playing the game. As of this writing, there has not been one matched played to check for online performance simply because there was no one to challenge. If you're looking to play the game against human opponents, you'd better have enough people you can call on locally since the online space seems to be dead, with no hope of becoming active in the near future.
The controls are simple enough for anyone to grasp. The X and Y buttons handle punches and kicks, respectively, as the A button becomes context-sensitive and lets you climb turnbuckles, pick up weapons or go outside of the ring. The B button picks up fallen wrestlers from the ground. The left bumper initiates a run, while the right bumper handles blocks and reversals. The right trigger does light grapples, with four different moves in this position being handled by the face buttons. The left trigger initiates strong grapples and utilizes the four face buttons for moves. The left trigger also handles pinning opponents, making it easy to remember once you get the opponent dazed enough to get the pin. The only issue with the controls is with the right analog stick, which is used to switch your wrestler's focus in a multi-opponent match. It doesn't seem to do directional flicking fast enough, so you can't exactly pinpoint who you want to hit next. The changes are so slow and inaccurate that you might be better off getting into the vicinity of the opponent and hitting him instead of relying on the focus change before attacking.
Graphically, Lucha Libre AAA is good, though it still suffers from a few rough spots. The character models are large and pretty well detailed. The crowds have a good polygon count, making them look more realistic than what you'd find in a few other wrestling titles. The environments look great, and each one has a few unique elements, like the large elephant in the corner at the Psycho Circus ring. Animations are where the graphics become a hit-or-miss affair. The animations mostly look fine, with wrestling moves looking simultaneously awesome and painful, especially when you start flying from the turnbuckle or out of the ring. Animations also hold up well during one-on-one matches, but when there are more than two people involved, things become problematic since you'll see players instantly shift from one opponent to another as they execute their moves. You'll also see this quick transition occur if you decide to run to the ropes, bounce from them and then roll under to the outside. With everything else running so smoothly, these instant transitions become very noticeable. Another noticeable flaw comes from the special moves as they are being executed. During the move, the camera might go for a low angle or rotate above to be more dramatic. Unfortunately, there are times when the angles and rotations are bad enough that you don't get to see the move in action.
The sound is good, though there are a few things that you wouldn't normally expect in a wrestling game. The music isn't the typical rock and metal blend you'd expect to hear. Instead, the game goes for more traditional Mexican flair, surf rock, and more acoustic guitar sets in the menus, with rock music only appearing for the pre-match intros and post-match results. The score is intriguing at first and remains pleasing after it plays a few times. The effects aren't as booming as the competition, but the hits, stomps and heavy footsteps still come through clearly. Chair shots and the breaking of fluorescent bulbs feel a bit muted, though.
As far as voices are concerned, the crowd is purely in Spanish and sounds good. The issue is that the crowd isn't on all of the time, sometimes creating pockets in a match where you hear nothing but the grunts of the wrestlers and the effects of the hits. The commentary has an interesting approach, as there are two different commentary tracks to go with the game. There is an English track with wrestling star Konnan and legendary Spanish commentator Moody Jack calling the shots. The track is good, with both men offering the classic bad guy/good guy points of view and some nice banter. Some of the lines repeat after a few matches, and they have a habit of breaking the fourth wall by telling the user that this is the first game with the AAA license, but most of the time, it's better than what a wrestling gamer has heard over the years.
For the sake of authenticity, there is also a Spanish commentary track from two different announcers, and while it is unknown whether or not they also have a high tendency of repeating their lines, it's refreshing to have commentary in the sport's native tongue. Oddly enough, the cut scenes for the stories are all in English, and there are times when the custom wrestler intros are in English despite the player choosing Spanish for the audio track. The hair-versus-mask outcomes also suffer from this same issue.
Overall, Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes del Ring is a pretty good first title from this development group. The story mode is intriguing because of the different paths you can take, though the huge spike in difficulty might deter all but the most die-hard fans from finishing it. The fighting system may not have a multitude of moves, but the natural progression from light to heavy attack moves makes for a more realistic and strategic approach to the fighting. An increase in custom character slots would have been a nice complement to the substantial creation options for both wrestlers and masks. The game may not have what it takes to dethrone WWE Smackdown Vs. Raw 2011 as best wrestling title of the year, but there's enough to make people look forward to a new entry in the series. If you're a big wrestling fan, be sure to rent Lucha Libre AAA, but since the online landscape is so desolate, be prepared to have a few friends on standby.
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