Sunday, March 28, 2010

Wrestlemania XXVI Preview

Wrestlemania is tomorrow, and I'm pretty excited. This year's card looks to have at least three outstanding matches on it, and several competent ones. This is a breakdown of the full announced card, and what I expect to see in each match.

-Eve Torres, Kelly Kelly, Mickie James, Gail Kim & Beth Phoenix vs. Vickie Guerrero, Maryse, Michelle McCool, Layla & Alicia Fox If more than two of these women had any wrestling chops at all, I might be excited for this match. As is, a "meh" is all I can muster.

-Triple H vs. Sheamus I'm not even sure what these two are feuding over. It was like sloppy last minute booking. "Uh, Triple H doesn't have a 'Mania match yet... what's the Irish guy doing? Nothing? Great, book it!" The match will probably be passable, but ultimately, it'll be Triple H doing all the work. No one cares about Sheamus, even when he was the champ, his promos were greeted with apathy at most, people getting up for popcorn at worst.

-Money in the Bank Ladder Match: Dolph Ziggler vs. Kane vs. Christian vs. Shelton Benjamin vs. MVP vs. Jack Swagger vs. Matt Hardy vs. Evan Bourne vs. Drew McIntyre vs. Kofi Kingston They crammed ten guys into this years Money in the Bank, but I think it was better when it was six. The more you get, the bigger a clusterfuck it becomes, but it should still be fun, with plenty of highspots. Smart money's on either Drew McIntyre or Kofi Kingston to walk away with this one.

-CM Punk vs. Rey Mysterio (If Mysterio Loses, He Must Join the Straight Edge Society) This match may be the surprise match of the show. Rey's frequently been in short matches at 'Mania (including last year's win over JBL which took all of eight seconds), but this match should be given a lot of time, and if it is will get the crowd in a froth. They love to hate Punk and they love to cheer Rey. Look for Punk to go over and start a long term program with Mysterio in the SES.

-Randy Orton vs. Cody Rhodes vs. Ted DiBiase They seem to be gradually turning Orton babyface, which I simply cannot understand, given his amazing successes as a heel. He's as hateable as anyone, possibly save Jericho. My hope is that the match ends with Rhodes and Orton turning on DiBiase, and Ted Jr. coming out the de facto babyface and starting a feud with his ex-stablemates.

-WWE Unified Tag Team Title Match: The Big Show & The Miz (c) vs. R-Truth & John Morrison Last year at Wrestlemania, the Tag Titles were unified in a dark match. This year, they'll be defended during the broadcast. The unifying of the titles has led to them getting a bit more high profile, especially following Jericho & Big Show's lengthy run with them prior to dropping them to DX. Look for ShoMiz to retain in a brief, but entertaining match.

-Bret Hart vs. Mr. McMahon in a No Holds Barred Match In the standard Vince at Wrestlemania match, look for the boss to get beaten severely and tap out to the Sharpshooter. It won't be a technical masterpiece, but the crowd will eat it up.

-Career vs. Streak "The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker in a No DQ, No Countouts Match This is the same match that stole the show last year, and you should expect no different this year. Yes, they're both getting older, but they both pull out all the stops for Wrestlemania. Look for the Undertaker to get the duke in an instant classic.

-WWE Championship Match: Batista (c) vs. John Cena While shitting on John Cena is the internet's favorite passtime, I actually happen to like him. In his matches, he sells beautifully, which makes him a great babyface. He's got excellent fire, and a good sense of the crowd. Tragically, Batista is awful, and will drag this match right down. Cena will go over in what's ultimately a dull match.

-World Heavyweight Championship Match: Chris Jericho (c) vs. Edge This match deserves to be the main event, but it will probably go on before Cena/Batista. Still, this feud has been boiling since Edge left with his injury. These two guys are among the best in the biz, and I expect this match to be worth the price of admission alone.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Wrestle(videogame)mania Week, Part the Final: Double Top Five Friday

And today Wrestle(videogame)mania reaches its conclusion. The following are lists of the Top Five WWF/WWE Videogame and the Top Five Non-WWE Videogames. Both lists are chronological. The lists are limited to one game from any given series.

Top Five WWF/WWE Videogames

-WWF Wrestlefest (1991, Technos, Coin-op) A true classic, the first WWF game with four player support, it's fast paced arcade play and huge sprites make it still a favorite of wrestling gamers today. Shame it never got a console port.

-WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game (1995, Midway, Coin-op) It's NBA Jam, but with wrestling! What more could you ask for? I still pop in the Playstation port once in a while, simply because there's never really been another game like it. Well, there was a crappy pseudo-sequel from Acclaim for consoles, but it's worse in every way.

-WWF No Mercy (2000, THQ/AKI, Nintendo 64) Coming out just a week before the next entry on the list, this game is still my favorite wrestling game of all time. The single player (two player, if you're rocking a tag team) season mode has many unique stories with branching paths for each title (including the Women's Championship). All that coupled with a flawless grappling system make it the best out there.

-WWE Day of Reckoning 2 (2005, THQ/Yuke's, Gamecube) In a game that easily surpassed that year's Smackdown entry, Yuke's really outdid themselves with a long and well told story mode. The grappling system is among the best out there, allowing for reversals of finishing moves in the right situations. The best wrestling game you can put in your Wii, despite being a GC title.

-WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2007 (2006, THQ/Yuke's, Playstation 2/Xbox 360) Many point to Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain as the best in the series, but this is the game that really does it for me. It introduced an analog stick-based grapple system that allowed for great customization of created wrestlers, and also allowed weight class to play heavily (e.g. Light Heavyweight Shawn Michaels cannot slam Super Heavyweight Big Show) and had plenty of season mode storylines to go around for your superstar, depending on which show you were on. A real winner, and both common and cheap nowadays. (Disclosure: I have not yet played SvR2010, though I've heard great things.)

Top Five Non-WWE Wrestling Videogames

-Pro Wrestling (1987, Nintendo R&D3, Nintendo Entertainment System) Maybe it's the nostalgia talking, but this game is still great. The characters are well developed, the movesets are huge for the time, they actually put a ref in the ring... it's got everything. Though a turbo controller is highly recommended for maximum enjoyment.

-Three Count Bout (1993, SNK, Neo-Geo) In general, I'd say avoid this game if you see it in an MVS. However, if you can adjust the difficulty down just a bit, this game is great. Huge sprites, totally different movesets for each wrestler, different match types (street fights, electrified rope death matches, etc.) all make this a classic. Of course, I do mark out for SNK, so maybe I'm a little biased.

-All-Japan Pro Wrestling: Giant Gram 2000 (2000, Sega, Dreamcast) An arcade game at heart, this game's unique grappling system that relies on timing-based combos to unleash hard-hitting moves is a must for any wrestling fan with a DC. I only recently was able to check this one out, and I'm hooked!

-King of Colosseum II (2004, Spike, Playstation 2) This game is the best non-WWE 3D wrestling game. It contains a grappling system so deep, it's near impossible to explain here, but suffice it to explain that the time you spend learning it is time well spent. It also is officially licensed by all of Japan's big promotions, which allows for the kind of dream matches not seen in US wrestling games.

-Fire Pro Wrestling Returns (2007, Agetec/Spike, Playstation 2) This game is the end-all, be-all of wrestling games. Only overshadowed by No Mercy for it's extensive single player mode, Fire Pro Returns' gameplay, grappling system, and near endless customization options make this game THE wrestling game to beat. It's ten bucks, brand new, from Amazon right now. If you have a PS2 and even a passing interest in wresting games, it's money well spent.

Tomorrow: Wrestlemania Preview

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wrestle(videogame)mania Week, Part the Second: A Brief History of Non-WWE Wrestling Videogames

When people think pro wrestling, they automatically think WWF/WWE. Some, who were fans of the second renaissance of pro wrestling (the late 1990s) might think WCW as well, but even most casual fans from that time period are aware that the Monday Night Wars ended with WCW being bought by Vince McMahon, lock, stock and barrel. That fact leads many to think of the post from Monday would be a reasonably comprehensive tour of the history of pro wrestling videogames, with only a couple NES games with fictional casts and some crappy WCW games that EA did as all that's left for this post.

Not so. No, if I let it, this post would be at least twice as long as Monday's. Fortunately, it's not going to be that. It's a basic primer for those with a fledgling interest in wrestling games who don't know the world beyond Smackdown vs. Raw and No Mercy. It's also a general purpose article for those with an interest in videogame history. There will be copious links provided at the end for those who wish to know more. That being said, let's get started with what you might already know.

Fictional Wrestlers

A very good place to start, as they were the first pro wrestling videogames. In fact, a couple of the early ones were just called Pro Wrestling. The best known of these is the NES game, developed by Nintendo R&D3 (the folks behind Punch-Out!! and StarTropics, to name a few). It gives each grappler a punch, a kick, a few standard grapples (body slam, belly-to-back suplex) and some unique moves. Interestingly, every wrestler can toss his opponent from the ring and execute a tope on their prone foe. This is, I'm fairly certain, the first videogame tope, and it wasn't something seen again for awhile.

The cast sets a good precedent that fictional grapplers would follow for, well, ever, really, in creating a cast that are fairly thinly veiled analogues of real pro wrestlers. Fighter Hayabusa is New Japan Pro Wrestling boss and star Antonio Inoki, Starman is the first major lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) star Mil Mascaras, Giant Panther is Hulk Hogan, Kin Corn Karn is Japanese/Korean star Rikidozan, The Amazon is equal parts Abdullah the Butcher and Bruiser Brody, King Slender is "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair and the final, unplayable boss Great Puma is Japan's iconic Tiger Mask. The game is still surpisingly solid today, but also was one of the early wrestling titles to use the "grapple, then mash buttons to see who gets to do their move" system that plagued so many wrestling games through the 16-bit era. A turbo controller is highly recommended for enjoyment now.

Tell me you don't see the resemblance.

There was also a Master System game of the same name, that seems to hew very closely to Namco's Tag Team Wrestling, which, aside from providing the source material for's Strong Bad, is entirely forgettable. Other early games include Title Match Pro Wrestling for the Atari 2600 and 7800, as well as the Intellivision game Body Slam: Super Pro Wrestling. I've honestly never played the Atari game, and the Intellivision one is... not good.

Later, on the NES, we would see Tecmo World Wrestling, which isn't horrible, but half of the screen is taken up by a guy providing color commentary in text boxes. The highlight of that particular game are the close up, semi-cut scene style showings of big moves. The gameplay stops, zooms in, and you see your wrestler drop his finisher on your opponent, up close. Or you see yourself get pummeled up close, either way. This game also features caricatures of real wrestlers.

One NES game I have a soft spot for for no real discernable reason is M.U.S.C.L.E. Honestly, I understand the game is just completely awful, but I like it anyways. I think it's because I was obsessed with the little figures when I was a kid. M.U.S.C.L.E., if you were unawares, was actually based on a Shonen Jump manga called Kinnikuman, which follows the adventures of a bunch of super crazy powered space wrestlers... or something. Hell, I don't know. I just know the figures were sweet when I was little and the games got much better in the PS2/Gamecube era when AKI (makers of WWF No Mercy) took over development. Those games were based on the cartoon from the early 2000s which followed the exploits of Kinnikuman's son. It was localized here as "Ultimate Muscle," and aired on Fox Kids. The games used a system very similar to No Mercy, but with more superpowered slams and various rings. The best of the series released here is Galactic Wrestling featuring Ultimate Muscle.

The 16-bit era eased up on the fiction a bit, but we still saw Hammerlock Pro Wrestling and Natsume Championship Wrestling, both on SNES. These were both actual Japanese puroresu games that were localized to feature fictional wrestlers. The former was based on Genichiro Tenryu's Pro Wrestling Revolution: Wrestle & Romance, the latter on All-Japan Pro Wrestling. They're both middling at best, and if we were going to get ports of Japanese wrestling games, there are other SNES ones I'd've much rather had, but we'll get more into that later.

Capcom also was nice enough to bring us a few fictional grapplers, but only one got a console port. I'm sure many fondly remember Saturday Night Slammasters, both for Genesis and the SNES. It was ported from the arcade, and, even though it falls back a little on button mash-y grapples, it also included crazy special moves, and a glimpse at future Metro City mayor Mike Haggar's wrestling career, as he is one of the selectable characters. Capcom is also less bad about blatantly copying real wrestlers. While it's obvious that King Rasta is Bruiser Brody and Great Oni is Great Muta, the rest are pretty hard to pin down. Jumbo Flapjack could be John "Earthquake" Tenta, but he could also be Abdullah the Butcher. In a neat crossover, Biff Slamkovich references Zangief in his winning quote.

The console versions are pretty similar, but the Genesis version includes a death match option that surrounds the ring in barbed wire or electric ropes. The SNES version looks closest to the arcade and had four player support with the multitap. There was an arcade only pseudo-sequel called Muscle Bomber Duo that improved on the first game, but removed the option for 1-on-1 matches, it's basically Saturday Night Slammasters: Championship Edition. There was then a full-fledged sequel, but it had limited US release (I've never played it), and apparently is a traditional 2D fighter with wrestling ring backgrounds.

Of course, in the '90s, anything Capcom could do, SNK was bound and determined to attempt to do better, so they dropped 3 Count Bout on the Neo-Geo. A fully fictionalized roster with many transparent stand-ins (Terry Rogers is obviously Hulk Hogan with hair, even more obviously when you know Hulk's real name is Terry), but a really oddly great single player that involves death matches and even a parking lot brawl that allows you to grab a backstage interviewer and throw him at your opponent. Unfortunately, the oppressive difficulty, which stems from horrid button mashing that begins to always go in the CPU's favor after about two matches, makes the game pretty unfun, unless you're playing the AVS version and can scale the difficulty down.

The last grappler I remember being released with a fully fictional roster is Power Move Pro Wrestling from Activision for the PS1. It was also the first 3D wrestling game that came to the US. Power Move is actually a rejiggered version of the first New Japan game (Toukon Retsuden) for PS1, basically getting the same treatment as Natsume Championship Wrestling. It's basically WWF Smackdown 0, as it was developed by Yuke's and uses a really primative version of the same engine. It's only interesting as a curio now, as each guy only has about four grapples, there's no single player to speak of, and there's literally no match options besides 1-on-1. The instruction book is kind of neat, though, as they went to the trouble to flesh out all of the fictional grapplers' stories and rivalries.


I'm gonna be 100% honest with you here, dear reader. WCW's videogame output was about as good as their product, which is to say, it had some high points between 1997 and 1999, but other than that, it was garbage. The first WCW games were developed by Pony Canyon/FCI, and the first one, WCW Wrestling for NES, wasn't even a WCW game when it was developed. It was actually a game called Super Star Pro Wrestling that featured a variety of actual puroresu stars from various Japanese promotions.

The localization is so horrifically bad that even though the Road Warriors (a.k.a. Legion of Doom) are in both games, the version of Hawk in WCW Wrestling is actually Stan Hansen in Super Star Pro Wrestling, while the SSPW version of Hawk somehow became Michael "P.S." Hayes in the American game. The game is overly hard, uses that same button mash-y style and the wrestler's signature moves rarely line up with what their actual finishers were.

The second Pony Canyon WCW game was years later for the SNES and was called WCW Superbrawl Wrestling. It was actually developed by Beam Software, who gave us Back to the Future II & III for NES. You can imagine what it might be like. The game, quite frankly, is inscrutable. The HUD is crowded and sloppy and the controls are awful. It makes Acclaim's WWF efforts look like Super Mario Bros. 3. It's embarrassing. It should be avoided.

Superbrawl Wrestling's horrific character select screen. Yes, that is Johnny B. Badd you see there.

There were Gameboy games from Pony Canyon, too, but I've never played them. Based on what I know about the console WCW games and wrestling games on the black & white Gameboy, I think I'm better off.

They got better after that for two games, while AKI was handling their N64 output, and I would say that WCW/nWo Revenge is the best wrestling game to not feature a character creation tool. The only problem with these games now is that they are surpassed in every way by the WWF games that AKI made for the N64. I'm also told that AKI's Japan-only follow up, Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 shames these early efforts.

THQ also had some PS1 games (later ported to N64 and PC) developed, but not by AKI or by Yuke's, who would handle their WWE games once they took over that license. The games in question are WCW vs. the World, WCW Nitro and WCW Thunder. I bought Nitro the day it came out, and the friendly guy at Funcoland tried hard to dissuade me. I would not be dissuaded. I can only wish now that I had listened to him.

Developed by Inland Productions, the games both feature horrid graphics, no single player to speak of, an obnoxiously limited move set, and should just generally be avoided. The only redeeming factor are promos you can watch on the character select screen. Seriously, that is the only interesting thing about these games.

WCW vs. the World actually came before those, and was developed by AKI. It plays similarly to their N64 titles, but has fewer moves for each wrestler. Largely forgettable today.

After THQ lost the WCW license, EA won the bid. This is not the EA we know today that released things like Rock Band, Mirror's Edge and Left 4 Dead. No, this was the old, bad EA. This is an EA that released a myriad of awful WCW games, including one that was a wrestling game without a ring. I'll say that again; they released a wrestling game that HAD NO RING.

Who needs a ring when you can have a Jeff Jarrett mirror match?

I talked Monday about how bad Wrestlemania XIX for Gamecube was, but at least under all the stupid crap there was a point at which you wrestled. In a wrestling ring. EA, though, they released WCW Backstage Assault. What's the demographic for that, exactly? People surveyed revealed that their favorite part of wrestling programs were the muggings guys gave each other in the backstage areas? Are you joking?

Sadly, faithful readers, they were not. The predecessor, WCW Mayhem had a ring, and was pretty much just as awful. The system was just sloppy. It was a quick cash-in from the old EA. Apparently, they were starting to get it, and handed development of WCW Mayhem 2 to AKI, but, as we know, WWF bought WCW in 2001 and that game never reached shelves. EA would take AKI's beginnings of that game and create Def Jam Vendetta, more on that later.


ECW was only a strong enough promotion to have two videogames made. Both were done by Acclaim and they were continuations of the WWF Warzone series. It was nice at the time to see Rob Van Dam, Justin Credible and the ECW crew in game format, but the games themselves were derivative, offering little over what WWF Attitude had already offered.

The first game was for PS1, Dreamcast, N64 and Gameboy Color. I've never played the GBC games, but the other versions are entirely skippable in favor of Anarchy Rulz for PS1 and Dreamcast, which, honestly, is also not really worth a lot of your time unless you have some serious ECW nostalgia. Smackdown vs. Raw included ECW in their rosters for the last three years, but there was nothing inherently ECW-esque about the brand in any of those games.


Puroresu games often come to the US with fake casts, as we've discussed. Others just stay in Japan. Most of them we've kind of touched on by this point, but there are two that I want to touch on in particular. The first is a series that was actually done by a first party. Sega produced three All Japan Pro Wrestling games, one for Saturn/arcade, two for Dreamcast. None of them made it out of Japan, which is a shame because they're very, very good.

The first is called All Japan Pro Wrestling featuring Virtua, because it (like the others) featured a couple of characters from Virtua Fighter. It set the tone, but all the games basically build off of the same system and only get better. Giant Gram 2000 for Dreamcast is generally considered the best of the bunch. What makes the games great is the system. It's very basic, using a rock-paper-scissors system which means throws beat grapples, grapples beat attacks, and attacks beat throws.

The thing that makes the game really unique, though, is the combo system. For example, if you are using a character that has a verical suplex, doing a button imput (often down and B) at just the right time turns it into a brainbuster. The reversal system works on a similar principle. Unlike Smackdown vs. Raw, or even No Mercy, wherein you just press the counter button before the grapple, Giant Gram requires the timing on a reversal be perfect to the time of an opportunity for reversal during the manuver. The Dreamcast titles also feature robust create a wrestler modes.

The other puroresu game I wanted to mention is King of Colosseum. It's developed by Spike, who is mostly Human expatriates. It is fully licensed by all the major Japanese wrestling promotions, and uses an extremely deep grappling system. It would be difficult to describe here, and it takes some time to learn, but it's worth it. My favorite thing about the series, though, is it's emphasis on wrestling psychology, something very few games even touch on. In KoC, in order to advance, in order to have a successful match, you must please the crowd. This means letting your opponent get an advantage on you, in order to make a big comeback. I highly recommend the last game in the series, King of Colosseum II, as the first few games break up the federations between them.

Fire Pro Wrestling

A series so well known, so grand, so critically lauded that it deserves its own heading. Fire Pro Wrestling began life on the PC Engine in 1989 with Fire Pro Wrestling Combination Tag, developed and published by Human Entertainment only in Japan. The game was a vast departure from earlier wrestling games in that button mashing was the fastest path to a loss. Fire Pro Wrestling Combination Tag required the player to time their grapples.

When two wrestlers approached each other, they would automatically lock up, after a moment, they would bend their knees. Hitting an attack button exactly at the moment you bent your knees would result in you executing your move, unless you attempted a move that was too powerful too early, and you opponent attempted a weaker, faster move. Over time, the only change to this system is that in more recent games, the wrestlers now rear back before lunging forward and locking up, and now the correct timing is exactly when you make contact for the lockup. Other than that, the basic system is the same.

Naturally, with more games came more moves, taunts, entrances, more wrestlers in the ring and, perhaps most importantly, a more robust single player experience. Several of the games feature very fully developed stories, not only for their time, but for wrestling games in general. In fact, if you've ever wondered why Suda51 puts wrestling moves and references in so many of his games, it's because he got his start as a scenario writer for Human working on the Fire Pro series. In fact, he set the tone for his work pretty early when he wrote the scenario for Super Fire Pro Wrestling Premium for the Super Famicom (Japanese Super NES). In that game, your character falls in love with Akira Maeda's (fictional) sister, but the love goes unrequited and after winning the World Heavyweight Championship, he kills himself.

Speaking of the player characters, each Fire Pro entry has a pretty large cast, with the most recent having over three hundred characters, with slots to create over one hundred more. The characters themselves aren't really fictionalized versions of real wrestlers. No, they're more like real, actual wrestlers with different names. They look, taunt, fight and use the finishers of their real life counterparts, and there are entire FAQs online dedicated to helping you go through the (extremely tedious) task of renaming all the characters to their real names.

The series has well over twenty entries, so discussing them all here is nearly impossible, but rest assured, this is not a series in which the most recent entry is the only one worth playing. In fact, while Fire Pro Wrestling Returns for the PS2 is by far the best game from a mechanics standpoint, it is woefully light on single player modes. That being said, it's the only console game in the series to get a US release, and at release it was only twenty bucks, so there's not a compelling reason to not own it, if you're into wrestling and videogames. Still, though, the major draw in terms of single player is a mode in which you become a promoter and book shows and can play out all of your matches. The only problem with it is you can't use your edits (created characters in Fire Pro lingo) in this mode, and making edits is one of the biggest draws to the game, so the mode becomes much less compelling.

The casts also vary from game to game, including one game for the PC Engine Duo that is entirely a Joshi (Japanese women's wrestling) game. Fire Pro Wrestling D for Dreamcast is also very highly regarded, as well as Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium. The first taste we got of the series wasn't until the 2001 launch of the Gameboy Advance, and the two games that got US release (Fire Pro Wrestling and Fire Pro Wrestling 2) are also very good, and portable, which is a bonus! The only shame there is that Fire Pro Wrestling 2's biggest draw was it's Management of the Ring mode, which put you even more in the shoes of a promoter than Fire Pro Wrestling Returns single player, as it required you to buy TV time, develop merch, etc. was cut due to the amount of work the (small) US publisher would've had to sink into localization.

Spike, the current owner of the Fire Pro series (made up mostly of Human expats, following that company's dissolution) have said that Fire Pro Wrestling Returns is the last in the series, but I have my doubts (and hopes!) that that isn't true.


I know I didn't cover every single non-WWE wrestling game here, but this post is already crazy long, and I didn't think it needed to be any longer. Still, there are a few games that don't fit into any of the above categories that I think need to be addressed. Just a quick rundown of some other games out there.

The first is TNA Impact. I had high hopes for this game. I read many developer interviews in which I was told the team was basically trying to recapture what made WWF No Mercy great while adding a modern design sensability. This did not happen. In fact, I'm not sure if the team had even played No Mercy, because this game was nothing like it, and while it was, I guess, playable at best, it was repetative with a wonky grapple system. Still, it was better than having to watch TNA, so that's something. It was done by Midway, who has since dissolved (and there are rumors that this game's high investment and low sales were a factor in that), so I'm not sure who has the TNA license now or if we'll even see another game.

Looks good. Plays horribly.

To move on to a pair of games that actually did resemble No Mercy, let's talk about the first two Def Jam games for a second. Def Jam Vendetta was a wrestling game featuring rappers, developed my No Mercy developer AKI. I'm not sure that there's much more that needs to be said here. It's a follow up to No Mercy in which I can play as Method Man. Sold. On the filp side, there's no create modes, so you're stuck with the default roster. By all accounts, this is what became of WCW Mayhem 2 after EA was stuck without a WCW license.

The game was successful, so EA put AKI right back to work and they came up with Def Jam: Fight for NY. At this point, you might be calling foul on me for talking bad about Backstage Assault, as by all appearances, this is a wrestling game without a wrestling ring. Not really. It's a game that came from wrestling games, but actually uses only KOs and submissions to end fights. It's really more of a fighting game informed by wrestling games.

AKI fixed most everything that was wrong with Def Jam Vendetta (which is to say, they added a create mode) and added former Black Flag frontman and spoken word genius Henry Rollins as a playable character. Again, sold. A game that allows for grudge matches between Henry Rollins and Dr. Foreman from "House, M.D." is automatically awesome. The game could've stood to have a ring, but still, it's very solid and it's from AKI. You can't go wrong. The third Def Jam game was handed to EA Chicago, was terrible, bombed and led to the shutdown of that studio. Let's not talk about it.

Speaking of things we shouldn't talk about, Eidos released two Backyard Wrestling games. They are literally games in which you wrestle in backyards. They feature members of the Insane Clown Posse as playable characters. You should stay far, far away from these games. They are an insult to both wrestling and backyards. In fact, in that way they are surprisingly faithful to their source material.

A real juggalo wouldn't fuck around with a wristlock, and a real backyarder can't do one.

There is only one lucha libre game I'm aware of, and it's not even out yet. Initially announced as AAA: El Videojuego, it's now known as Lucha Libre AAA 2010: El Heroes del Ring (Pro Wrestling AAA 2010: Heroes of the Ring). It's being developed by Immersion Software & Graphics and published by Slang. I am not familiar with either of those companies. I can only hope it isn't vaporware, because, as you can see by the body of this article, lucha libre in videogames is woefully under-represented.

So that's it. That's your primer for wrestling games. I know I left some out (Konami's Rumble Roses series, Yuke's Japan-only Wrestle Kingdom series, that crappy All-Star series Square-Enix did in Japan), but I think this post is enough to keep almost anyone busy for at least a little while. Check back tomorrow when I bring you a double dose of Top Five Friday for Wrestlemania Week!

Hardcore Gaming 101's SNK Wrestling Games article
Hardcore Gaming 101's Saturday Night Slammaster's article
Hardcore Gaming 101's All Japan Pro Wrestling Games article
Hardcore Gaming 101's Pro Wrestling (NES) article
The Fire Pro Club
Wikipedia's Fire Pro Wrestling page

Monday, March 22, 2010

Wrestle(videogame)mania Week: WWE Games and Publishers

The road to Wrestlemania ends this weekend in Phoenix with Wrestlemania XXVI. As anyone who knows me is already aware, I have a completely un-ironic and sincere love for the art form of professional wrestling (yes, I think it is an art form, and yes, I would love to debate that). I also have a completely un-ironic and sincere love for professional wrestling videogames. This week is a perfect opportunity to meld my loves. Today I'll talk about the WWF/E's relationship with videogames, Wednesday will be a primer on non-WWE wrestling games (including some puroresu games) and Friday will be a special double Top Five Friday centered around wrestling games. On Saturday, I'll put up a bonus post which will be a Wrestlemania preview just like the one I did last year. Without further ado, let's talk about WWE games.

The Acclaim/LJN Era
The first publisher to lay claim to WWF's games was Acclaim. Some of the games were released under the Acclaim name, some under the LJN imprint (Acclaim's way of getting around Nintendo of America's five games a year rule), nearly all were horrid. The first one released and the first one I remember playing was WWF Wrestlemania for the NES. If Wikipedia is to be believed, it was actually programmed by Rare, and if that is the case, it is Rare's worst game. Even worse than Perfect Dark Zero.

The game featured very few wrestlers, almost no grappling and a ridiculous difficulty curve. For NES gamers who had already played Pro Wrestling, it was a big step down. Unfortunately, the rest of Acclaim's NES output showed minimal improvement at best. Their 16-bit titles got a little better, culminating in Rage in the Cage, which almost no one played, as it was a Sega CD title, but it was essentially the same as the semi-highly regarded Royal Rumble for SNES & Genesis, but with FMV and more wrestlers.

In the late '90s, Acclaim went through a house cleaning and attempted to revamp their image. It kind of, sort of worked. It was around this time that we saw Turok: Dinosaur Hunter (lauded at the time, but pretty crappy in hindsight) and Acclaim's last two WWF releases, Warzone and Attitude, the former for PS1 and N64, the latter for PS1, N64 and Dreamcast.

They were very much the same game in terms of gameplay, using fighting game-esque button combos to execute wrestling moves. Attitude was the first wrestling game I remember playing that both had a robust character creation mode (Warzone feature a mode for this, but options for looks were sparse and movesets were all premade) and a story mode that semi-closely resembled actual wrestling programming. It included grudge matches and a climb from b-rate shows like Shotgun Saturday Night up to pay-per-view events like Wrestlemania. Still, as with Acclaim's other releases from the time, they've both aged pretty poorly, and are only worth checking out for nostalgia or curosity's sake.

The Ocean Era

Ocean Software made a few WWF games for gaming PCs/microcomputers in the late '80s and early '90s. The only one of these I've played is the DOS version of WWF European Rampage Tour, based on the tour of the same name. It was pretty bad, if memory serves, but the digitized Sean Mooney speech between matches was kinda neat for the time. The graphics shamed any of Acclaim's NES releases, but the gameplay was pretty well par for the course (which is to say, bad). Not much else to say, really.

The Technos Era

Now this is where WWF games get good. Technos, one of my all-time favorite developers in both the arcade and on consoles, the fine folks behind Double Dragon and River City Ransom, had the WWF license for two glorious games, one of which is still considered by some to be the best WWF game ever made.

The first was WWF Superstars, which should not, under any circumstances, be confused with Acclaim's awful WWF Superstars for the Gameboy. Superstars featured eight wrestlers total, six playable ("The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase and Andre the Giant are the boss team) and features only tag team play. It followed the semi-standard button mash style of gameplay popular at the time for grapplers, but the button mashes weren't nearly as hard to win against the CPU as later games like Three Count Bout.

The second is still one of the most beloved WWF games to come out, WWF Wrestlefest. Wrestlefest featured a much larger roster, much larger, more detailed sprites, and even some digitized live commentary. It was released two years later, and features twelve wrestlers, ten of which are playable (the Legion of Doom are non-playable bosses). Each wrestler has a unique set of moves, resulting in many more moves overall compared to Superstars, which had a fairly standard set for all the superstars.

In terms of play modes, it features a mode based on Saturday Night's Main Event, in which you (and a friend?) choose a tag team and try to take the Tag Team Titles from Hawk and Animal, the Legion of Doom. The other mode, which was a big deal at the time, is Royal Rumble, in which you (and up to three friends) choose superstars and have to eliminate everyone to be the last man standing. They're a little loosey-goosey with the rules of the Rumble, allowing pinfalls as well as the real Royal Rumble rule of throwing your opponent over the top rope to eliminate them.

Overall, Technos did a great job with the WWF license. Unfortunately, they only had two releases, and neither of them ever saw a console port. But I wouldn't blame you if you used MAME to play them.

The Midway Era

This era consists of exactly one game: WWF Wrestlemania. It was an arcade game that may as well have been called WWF Jam, since it's to WWF what NBA Jam and NFL Blitz are to basketball and football, respectively. Still, the game is a remarkable bit of fun, even if it can be beaten in about fifteen minutes on the hardest difficulty and only features eight playable wrestlers. It was ported to consoles by Acclaim, as they had both the WWF license and a deal with Midway to port their arcade games. The SNES version is gimped significantly, supporting only three characters on screen at a time and cutting Yokozuna and Bam Bam Bigelow entirely.

Following that game, Acclaim did an in house sequel, only for consoles, ironically called WWF In Your House, based on what the off-month pay-per-views (the ones that weren't Wrestlemania, King of the Ring, Summerslam, Survivor Series or the Royal Rumble) were called at the time. It added four player support, but killed everything else. The graphics were awful, the controls were sluggish and the special moves were much harder to pull off. Leave it to Acclaim to take someone else's good idea and ruin it.

The THQ Era

THQ are the current holders of the license, and they've been busy, busy, busy. The flagship series for them is the Smackdown vs. Raw series, which started simply as the Smackdown series. It began life on PS1, with two releases that were developed by Yuke's, a development house which seems to specialize in pro wrestling games. They were pretty well known in Japan for the Toukon Retsuden series, which were games based on the New Japan Pro Wrestling promotion.

Before that, they were known for their collaborations with developer AKI, who, before partnering with WWF, were responsible for WCW/nWo World Tour and WCW/nWo Revenge on the N64. AKI used the same engine for the two N64 WWF releases they did that were published by THQ. Those games were Wrestlemania 2000 and No Mercy. No Mercy is considered by fans of wrestling videogames to be among the greatest ever, if not the greatest ever. It's pacing, character creation tools, number of moves, branching storylines and myriad of unlockable content make it legendary amongst fans of the genre. If you like wrestling, No Mercy is reason enough to keep your N64. AKI went on to develop the first two Def Jam games for EA, then the Ultimate Muscle/Kinnikuman games.

On the Xbox front, THQ released two games in the Raw series, both by Anchor that were middling at best. They followed that up with Wrestlemania 21, which was mediocre by all accounts. After that, they just decided to go with the sure thing, and with the Xbox 360, they've just been releasing entries in the previously Playstation exclusive Smackdown vs. Raw series.

That series is also on the Wii now, but previously there had been a number of games on the Gamecube. They were all a bit different, with the biggest sore thumb being Wrestlemania XIX, which featured a really dumb storyline (even for a wrestling game) which basically turned the game into a Final Fight-style brawler, with you beating guys up at constructions sites and the like. It was dumb. Never play it. THQ and Yuke's did, however, finish the Gamecube era in a strong fashion with the two Day of Reckoning titles. With a similiar, but not congruent system to Smackdown vs. Raw, the Day of Reckoning titles feature a strong emphasis on story, the second game being particularly notable as it's one of the very few grapplers I can think of that starts you as the champion, then sets you on a quest to regain your title, instead of making you the wet behind the ears rookie out to prove himself and win the title.

THQ also did two GBA titles that are not great alone, but entirely un-necessary when you realize that the first two Fire Pro Wrestling releases to come to the US were on the GBA. They later experimented with other genres, including an ill-advised foray into the car combat genre with WWE Crush Hour. One odd little experiment that's surprisingly solid is WWF Betrayal, which, despite what I said about Wrestlemania XIX, is a Final Fight-style (really more Mighty Final Fight-style) brawler that works really well. You choose one of four characters (Undertaker, Stone Cold, Triple H or The Rock) and punch and kick dudes, occasionally busting our your finishing move. It's dumb and easy, but it's fun in the way the most beat-'em-ups are.

So that's my tour of WWF/WWE's videogame history. Yes, I know I didn't cover every single game, but it's just an overview. If you're really curious, check the link at the bottom of the page. Stay tuned on Wednesday for an intro to non-WWE games!

Wikipedia's WWE game list

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Top Five Friday (Slightly Late Edition): Top Five Consoles to Import Games For

I just got a PC Engine Duo-R (that doesn't play CD-ROM2s, but I don't want to talk about that right now), and it's got me thinking that there are some systems that just didn't reach their full potential in America. Some you just need to import games for. These are the consoles that require modding or buying the Japanese version of to get the best experience. The list is in chronological order of release.

Nintendo Entertainment System/Famicom

Still my favorite system after all these years, when I started importing Famicom games about five years ago, I opened up a whole new world. Sure, the big time classics came to the US, Contra, Mega Man, all that stuff, but Japan saw a lot of games we didn't. A lot of great stuff we didn't. There are plenty of decent-ish Famiclones available that allow for import play, so getting started isn't too hard, though I do want a Twin Famicom someday. Favorite imports off the top of my head would be Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti, Gradius II (though it's tough as nails) and New Ghostbusters 2.

Turbografx-16/PC Engine

Especially with the Wii's Virtual Console, I can't imagine anyone having a real desire to own an American Turbografx at this point, unless you're a collector. If you just want to play games, most of the standout American releases are available on VC (and a couple Japanese ones, too).

The Turbografx was a distant third place competitor of the Genesis and SNES. The PC Engine blew away the Genesis (Mega Drive) in Japan, and it's not hard to see why. The PC Engine has a giant and great library. It's like I've just opened an entire new chapter of gaming history to myself. Favorites include the formative years of the Fire Pro Wrestling series and any Konami arcade ports you can get your hands on. Of course, Dracula X: Rondo of Blood is up there, but it's about $100 cheaper on VC than getting a disc copy. Check out the PC Engine Software Bible for more info.


Sega of America apparently decided they didn't want to use the Genesis' momentum at all, and that they'd totally shoot themselves in the foot on the Saturn. Great US releases are somewhat rare, and copies of said releases are often even rarer still. Just look at the latest eBay auction prices for a US copy of Guardian Heroes vs. a Japanese one. Go ahead. I'll wait. See what I mean?

Forget about that for a minute though, and just check all the games that never even made it here. Deep Fear, All-Japan Pro Wrestling featuring Virtua, tons of shooters, it's all great stuff, and it's the reason the system did so, so much better in Japan.


Sega redeemed themselves in America with the Dreamcast, but it was too little, too late, and the system died too soon in both territories. Of course, before it did (and after, now that I think about it), there were many awesome games that didn't make the trans-Pacific journey. Giant Gram (notice how many wrestling games I'm mentioning?), Shenmue II (if you're into that and don't have an Xbox) and many shooters released after the system "died" make for an importer's paradise.

Playstation 2

I have two words for you. Sega Ages. M2 has handled several of Sega's classic franchises with the kind of love and care that nerds like me love to see. These are packages of entire series, every version (every region and system), displayed in the original resolution with box art and instructions. These alone are worth finding a way to import for your PS2 (I recommend a soft mod, they're affordable and easy, but Japanese PS2s are pretty affordable these days). Not to mention the crazy amount of other games available. Besides most of the latter Sega Ages titles, I highly recommend King of Colosseum 2 (had to get my grappler in there).

Hardcore Gaming 101's Post-Mortem Dreamcast Shooters article
Hardcore Gaming 101's Sega Ages article
The PC Engine Software Bible

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dave and Buster's and American Arcade Culture

Until this month, there hadn't been an arcade in my hometown of Milwaukee for some years. The last was an Aladdin's Castle I frequented as a youth that was not only closed, but razed to the ground sometime in the last half decade. I didn't hear about it when it happened, and was quite surprised when I went to play a couple games one day. Apparently, it'd been gone for nearly a year by that point.

Now, there's Dave & Buster's. If you're not familiar, allow me to edify you. Dave & Buster's is essentially a grown up version of Chuck E. Cheese's. It's big and loud and there's booze and food. You have to be 21 or over to get in, or accompanied by someone over 25 before 9pm. After 9pm, you must be over 21.

I'd been to the one in Honolulu before, and wasn't terribly impressed, but that was years ago, and now there was now one close to my house. Besides, a friend was having her 30th birthday party there, so I had to go. So, last saturday, off I went to see the shiny new arcade.

I'm still not impressed.

Dave & Buster's is filled with claw machines (including a comedically huge one with appropriately sized prizes), skee ball, racing games and light gun shooters, mostly with film licenses and Dreamcast-quality graphics attached. There was also a Guitar Hero Arcade cabinet or two and, if you looked really hard, seven retrogames separated into three combo cabinets (being Mario Bros./Donkey Kong/Donkey Kong, Jr., Qix/Space Invaders and Galaga/Ms. Pac-Man).

I was disheartened to say the least. Chicago has, or at least had the last time I looked into it, at least two arcades worth frequenting. One is Nickel City, which is owned by Capcom and is filled to the brim with old school goodness, all available for a nickel a credit. The other is Sega's GameWorks, which, if I were to describe it in basic terms, is a lot like Dave & Buster's, but has an area separated for retrogames, and includes slightly more obscure fare like Moon Patrol and Burgertime.

I was hoping for something more in line with GameWorks. Last time I was at GameWorks, they had SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos on a large projection screen. More obscure than anything I reasonably expected to see at Dave & Buster's, but I certainly didn't think a Street Fighter II cabinet would be too much to ask for. Clearly, I thought wrong.

Which made me start to question how what I want from an arcade differs from what other people want from an arcade. You might think with all my grousing that the place would be empty, and if it were, deservedly so. Alas, faithful reader, it was packed. To the goddamn gills. There was a 2 1/2 hour wait to eat, if you wanted to. 2 1/2 hours and not a single Street Fighter cabinet in sight.

It seems that the arcade, at least in America, is little more than a novelty. You go, you get drunk while you wait 2 1/2 hours to eat mediocre food, then you play some racing games with your frat buddies, then you go home and maybe come back in two months. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but an arcade should be about choice. God knows this place has the floor space for it. Literally, no exaggeration, 90% of the floor space is ticket games, racing games and light gun games. The rest is a couple rhythm games and the limp selection of retro titles I mentioned earlier.

Clearly, this is what the people want. It's a casual place filled with casual games. I'm not casual, so I guess Dave & Buster's isn't for me, but I'd like a bit more of a concession that what was offered. The people who were there on Saturday aren't going to be regulars, but me? With a very few of the right titles, you got me in there once a week. Of course, I don't drink, either, and I'm sure much of their revenue comes from mediocre food and booze, so maybe they don't care about people who would come solely to play games. Maybe I'm that much of a dinosaur. And maybe that's why there's a vacant lot where Aladdin's Castle used to be.

Things have changed. We can game socially from our couches with XBox Live and Playstation Network, and I'm all for those things, but nothing's like meeting a total stranger (face to face so he can't call you epithets without getting punched) and challenging his/her skills. Nothing's like teaming up with five strangers and pummeling your way through Konami's X-Men arcade game.

I didn't see any of that. I saw people with groups of their friends, all playing the same games with the people they came with. Not branching out. Not being social in the true sense of the word.

I'll admit this is kind of getting away from me. It's 3am, and I'm exhausted, but I guess what I'm saying is that I just want a real arcade experience. Is that too much to ask?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Salamander (PCE) vs. Life Force (NES)

Ok, so I haven't posted here in almost a year, and I'm sorry for that for all two of you who read this. Apparently, however, I've found out that there are people who actually do/would care about all the shit I write about here had they known. Well, now they know, because I'm going to tweet everytime I update, so expect to see three weekly updates again starting today.

To rechristen the blog, I'm going to talk about the differences between Salamander for the PC Engine (Japanese Turbografx-16) and Life Force for the NES. The funny thing about these games is that they're more or less the same game. Follow me here; Konami released a game called Salamander in the arcade in 1986, it was considered by many to be a sequel to Gradius at the time, as Gradius II: Gofer no Yabou wouldn't be released until 1988. In hindsight, it's clearly a spinoff, as the player one ship is the Vic Viper, the same ship the player flies into the heart of the Bacterion Empire in Gradius (and most of its sequels, but that's a whole other blog post). The game improved on Gradius in every way, expanding the arsenal (the debut of the Ripple Laser), adding 2-player support and alternating between horizontal and vertical levels. It also changed the power-up system, abandoning the now classic Gradius upgrade system for a more traditional "enemies drop an item, you pick it up and get a new weapon/item" system. This is the game that was ported to the PC Engine in 1991.

The first level of Salamander seems to take place in a giant living organism, and the fine folks at Konami seemed to think that was a sweet idea, so they redid the graphics for the American arcade release to make the whole thing look like the inside of an extra-giant living organism for all six levels and retitled it Life Force. So, in essence, they are slight variations on the same game. They re-ported Life Force back to Japanese arcades, changing the graphics even more, and reimplementing the Gradius power-up system. This is the game that was ported to the NES in 1987 (and was oddly enough called Salamander on that system in Japan).

So, why the NES & PC Engine versions? Well, the easy answer is because they're the versions I own, but the reason they're the ones I own is because they're considered by most to be the definitive ports. Hell, part of the reason I bought a PC Engine Duo-R was for the port of Salamander. And the NES game is a classic for anyone of my generation, and for me personally stands next to Contra as the two best co-op experiences on the NES.

Most of this post is going to entail the differences, so we'll deal with the similarities first. The biggest one is that both have the same basic layout, alternating horizontal and vertical stages, three of each. They also share the same weapons/items (being Speed, Missle, Ripple, Laser, Option/Multiple, Shield/Force) and the same kickass soundtrack, compliments of the Konami Kukeiha Club, though the PC Engine version obviously has a fuller sound. They are, at the core, the same game.

So what's so different? I'm glad you asked. The first thing you'll notice, if you're a big fan of the NES game, is that the PC Engine game scrolls much faster. Nearly double time, in fact. I didn't pull out the stopwatch, but stage one goes by in a blur. You'd think it would make the game harder, but it doesn't really, as the controls and default ship speed take it into account.

The second thing you'll notice, and one of the largest differences, is the power-up system. In the NES game, you collect power orbs a-la Gradius and use the A button to power up when your meter hits the weapon/item you want to use/power up. In the PC Engine game, the enemies (the same enemies) drop weapon pickups instead of power orbs. This has two major effects; one being that getting Options (or Multiples, if you prefer) is much easier, the other being that if you die, certain weapons can't be regained depending on the level/checkpoint. For my money, though, the power-up system of Salamander is preferable. Even though there'll be certain areas you can't get a Laser in (my weapon of choice), getting Options is much, much easier, as they're given out like candy, thereby making it easier to get by even with your default pea shooter.

After you start collecting power-ups, you'll find that the Shields are different. Life Force uses the Force Field item, which surrounds your ship in a blue haze (a red haze if you're player two) and protects you from all angles for just a couple hits. Salamander uses the original Gradius Shield item, which is two spinning stars that only protect you from the front, but can take many more hits. Later games in the Gradius & Parodius series would give you the option at the start of the game to choose which style you like.

Now, the more power-ups you collect, you begin to realize that, due entirely to the NES processor, in Life Force you can only hold two Options, while in the PC Engine game, you can hold four. This affects the balance of the game to a certain extent, but the faster scrolling and greater ability of the PC Engine to show more sprites on screen with less slowdown make up for it.

And by about this time, you'll have finished the first stage, at which point you will notice a small difference, followed by a big one. The biggest one, in fact. The small thing you'll notice is that the sprite of your ship actually pivots and turns vertical for the trip to stage two. A nice touch, courtesy of the horsepower of the PC Engine graphics processor(s). Then you better grab your chair for a shock if you've spent your whole life with the NES game. Stage two is completely different in the two games. Salamander drops you into a visually dull, but challenging asteroid field. Life Force drops you into a vertical version of Gradius's first stage, with rocks all over and volcanos shooting flaming rocks at the Vic Viper (and Road British, if there's two players). If you press on in Salamander, you too will see this stage, but not until stage four.

The interesting thing here is that Life Force more or less combines stages two and four of Salamander into stage two, and it ends with you facing off against both the bosses from the Salamander stages. From there, stage three is pretty well identical, with two exceptions. One, the big solar flares telegraph much more clearly in Salamander, which makes the stage much easier. In the NES game, even after all the time I've sunk into it, stage three is still the hardest stage for me, in Salamander it's significantly easier than stage four, which is a fair tradeoff, as stage two in Life Force is much easier than that (still following this?). (The arcade version of Life Force features the same stage layout for stage three, but the flames are blue and the background has veins all over it, in keeping with the whole "inside a giant monster alien" theme. Strangely, the NES version's is identical to Salamander in aesthetic.)

The other stage three difference is the boss. In both you face off against a long dragon that flies around the screen, but after finishing it off in the PC Engine game, the level is over. After blasting it out of the sky in Life Force, you fight the head of a much, much larger dragon, then on to stage four.

We've covered that stage four of the PC Engine game is a stage we've already beaten in the NES game, so what happens now if you're playing the NES? Well, you see more of the bio theme. It's a vertical scrolling stage of the inside of a body. There are kidney-like things that spontaneously sprout arteries, a laser shooting ribcage and a boss fight with a giant skull that spits bullets with eyes the leave the sockets and fly around the screen. Nevermind the sped up section with tunnel navigation that requires old school twitch reflexes.

After both of these stages, welcome to two completely different stage fives! Salamander gives you a horizontally scrolling asteroid field, which is every bit as boring as stage two only scrolling the other way. It does culminate in a very good boss fight against a sort of Gradius-style Big Core on steroids. It's only vulnerable when it opens its front hatch to fire, but it shoots in a big spread and it shoots big bullets, followed by several enemies. I don't imagine it's easy or even possible without Options.

So, while the PC Engine game wins out on the boss fight, Life Force shames the other in level design. We enter a blue cavern, with trecherously placed mountains and turrets, that gives way (admittedly in a somewhat jarring fashion) to an Egyptian-style temple/pyramid with pumping columns, and multiple routes though destructable walls. It ends with a fairly blasé boss battle against a giant sarcophagus head.

Then stage six. The final stage is more or less the same in both versions. There's some minor differences in Moai Head placement during the lead up to the final boss, and Salamander has you fight a few Big Cores, but they go down very easily so it's not much to write home about. The final boss in the biggest difference here. In Salamander, you fight the eye of Zelos while little walker enemies walk up and down the walls, doing nothing to hurt you, unless you're dumb enough to fly into them. Zelos' only attack is a lightning bolt from the center of the eye that can destroy your Options. In Life Force, the eye of Zelos is protected by a dragon that you must kill first, but Zelos itself has no attacks.

In both games, a twitch flight out of an exhaust shaft with closing bars is your last challenge. This is much easier in the NES game, as you instantly respawn when you die. This is not the case in a single player game of Salamander, which means you have to essentially memorize the shaft and do it perfectly to escape. Following a successful escape, both games show a brief ending of the ship flying out while the planet explodes in the background.

Overall, both games are excellent, and any retrogamer would do well to have both in their collection, but, and it may be the nostalgia talking, Life Force is just a bit better. The stage design in stages four and five outshine the design in Salamander stages two and five, and for two games that are essentially the same, an edge in stage design is all it takes. Still, Salamander is great, and is worth every penny I paid for it.

Hardcore Gaming 101's Gradius Article
Salamander on Wikipedia
My Life Force Shoot-'Em-Up Training video from two years ago.

I'll be back on Wednesday with "The Milwaukee Dave & Buster's and Arcade Culture in America." Look for it!