In the world of wrestling video games, there is the Smackdown vs Raw series, and... well... that is pretty much it. This year though, Konami and Slang are hoping to change that fact with the debut of Immersion Software’s Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes del Ring. The title takes gamers in an entirely new direction, south of the border, into the world of Lucha Libre (Spanish for “free fighting”). The popularity of the Lucha Libre style of wrestling has grown immensely in the United States over the past 15 years since the style was introduced to American television via a WCW talent exchange with the AAA Federation back in 1994. Ever since that promotion, numerous Mexican stars have made their way North into the popular US wrestling federations such as WCW, ECW, WWF/E, and TNA and injected the high flying Lucha-style into our traditional professional wrestling. Now, AA is looking to break into the American culture once again with their first video game based on their popular Mexican promotion.
When you enter the world of Heroes del Ring, it is important to know and understand the culture behind Lucha Libre in comparison to the style of wrestling that is prominent in the US. In the world of Lucha Libre, the fans are everything. There is a lot more “playing to the crowd” done throughout Mexican promotions than we see in the WWE / TNA. The same premise of crowd support exists in our wrestling culture, but the Lucha Libre style takes it to a whole new level. There are two classifications of wrestlers in the AAA promotion, the Tecnicos and the Rudos. The Technicos, or technicals, are the good guys who play by the rules and want nothing more than to be adored by their fans. The Rudos on the other hand, will do anything to win and are more interested in inflicting punishment on the crowd favorites. We have a similar system in the US but we often refer to them as faces (good guys) and heels (bad guys). Lucha Libre in general, as well as the AAA promotion, focuses heavily on these two factions and individual wrestlers are usually strongly aligned with one side or the other. The gameplay system that is used in Heroes del Ring is based heavily on this alignment system.
The main aspect of Lucha Libre’s gameplay mechanic revolves around the player assuming and fulfilling their role within the faction that they choose to align with. If you are playing as a Tecnicos wrestler you will see a huge benefit from keeping your fighting style(s) clean and following the rules; on the other hand, as a member of the Rudos you will want to do everything in your power(s) to make sure that the fans despise your every move. You will need to do this through not only your techniques in (and out) of the ring but also by utilizing your various taunts to rally or infuriate the crowd as needed throughout your matches. It is this concept of fan support, or hatred for that matter, that fuels the gameplay system in AAA. The success of your characters moves and attacks is based on the amount of crowd reaction that you draw; the stronger the reaction that you have coming from the crowd, the more likely your character is to win a lockup / grapple with your opponent and to pull off stronger, more effective moves.
If you are familiar with the popular wrestling games from the Nintendo 64 era, the control system utilized in Lucha Libre AAA should feel extremely familiar.This is perhaps the closest thing to Aki system that gamers have seen in years, since the old Def Jam games perhaps. The Aki-style system is built around the concept of weak and strong grapples. This premise, combined with the importance of fan reaction, requires gamers to gain momentum and support (or heat) from the crowd in order to widen your arsenal of moves.
To be specific, the R2 button initiates a weak grapple, which will allow you to then follow up with a face button of your choice that will trigger something along the lines of a short-armed clothesline or perhaps a body-slam. It doesn't take much to successfully pull off weak grapple moves, unless your opponent has really got the crowd momentum swung in their direction. Strong grapples on the other hand, which are initiated with L2, require some serious crowd reaction in order to successfully complete. You will want to both wear down your opponent with weak grapple-moves, strikes, and submission moves, as well as work on the crowd in order to build yourself up to completing the stronger, more complicated moves that are started with the strong grapple. If you are on the receiving end of one of these moves, the game has a decent counter attack system that is fueled by a correctly timed R1 press. Learning to counter effectively will take some practice, but the game will tutor you along the way in terms of the correct timing for countering techniques. You will want to time your button press along with the strike of your opponent; the game will notify of your timing errors if you happen to fail on the counter execution. The game tells you whether or not you pressed the button too early or too late, allowing you to adjust with each individual character’s speed and animation set. You will need to pay attention to the animation and style of your opponent’s attack though as the timing will differ depending on the attack that is coming at you.
As a player successful attacks and counter-attacks their opponent, they gain points that measure / equate to the reaction of the crowd. The points, along with taunts, build up a meter of stars located under your lucha's name; once all of the stars he been filled you can trigger your signature move. Signature moves are initiated by pressing both trigger buttons; once “triggered” you simply need to engage your opponent with a strong grapple and your character will complete their strongest (signature) move. Nailing one of these moves on your opponent usually gives you the best chance to successfully pin your opponent and win the match; it does not guarantee a victory though as a strong opponent can still kick out before the referee’s hand hits the canvas on three.
Lucha Libre AAA also relies on a variety of button pressing-style mini games for its submission and pin systems. Both moves are initiated with the press of either trigger button, but the opponent will then be given a chance to break such a hold. When it comes to submission and pin moves, the wrestler on the receiving end of the move will be given a prompt to rapidly tap a certain face button. This button will change every couple of seconds, so you will be required to pay close attention to the required button at any given time. This is a nice change of pace from other games which require players to repeatedly hit a specific button in order to break a hold / pin. Those sorts of games often turn into “button mashing” fests whereas Heroes del Ring requires players to pay close attention to what the game is requiring in terms of button input and change up their input constantly. Pounding on a button different than you are supposed to will only swing the momentum further into your opponent’s favor. You will need to stay on your toes and pay attention in order to be successful. Swinging the momentum over to your direction with the correct presses will allow you to not only break out of the situation, but potentially counter the said move with your own attack. The combination of all of these elements creates a gameplay system that should play out well over the course of a match. Unfortunately though, other aspects of the game keep it from staying fun for an extended period of time and ruin the experience all together.The gameplay and control system of Lucha Libre sets and extremely solid foundation for the game but things go downhill rapidly when the rest of the game comes into play. First off, the game features a less than stellar collision detection system, especially when it comes to combat near the edge of the ring. Many of your stronger strikes completed near the ropes will launch your opponent out of the ring... and in an extremely awkward manner. While this can be an effective part of your offense when it happens intentionally, the game often send the opponent out of the ring when you don’t want them to go. Add that to the fact that the animations involved with said ring exits are absolutely ridiculous. The characters just seem to flop out of the ring with absolutely zero finesse. There is little to no grace involved with such ring exits and it just looks plain bad. The same thing could be said, to a slightly lesser degree, for aerial moves performed from the top rope(s). The animations of the actual moves look nice, but the timing is off by quite a bit and the whole procedure ends up looking like a badly botched move from the independent circuit(s). Considering that the lucha libre style of wrestling focuses heavily on aerial moves and attacks, this becomes a horrible setback for the game.
There are many wrestlers in the game’s roster that rely heavily on high-flying arsenals so one would think that the aerial combat system would be as refined as the grappling and base gameplay system. It isn’t. The moves and aerial abilities are there, but it just looks sloppy in many cases and ruins the flow and feel of the matches. This is perhaps the biggest area that Immersion needs to focus on when and if they develop another iteration of the game. The foundation is laid, now they really need to focus on the details in order to bring the rest of the game on par with the grappling system.
Another huge problem area for the game is the speed of movement, or perhaps the lack thereof. Everything in the game moves at a single, slow pace. When you character walks across the screen, he moves at one speed, and when he runs across he moves at the exact same speed practically but uses a slightly different animation. This severely limits the variety and effectiveness of the gameplay and looks sloppy in motion. It is almost as if the developers took all of the time in the world laying this fantastic groundwork for a game and then just threw all of the details in on top at the last second. The amount of potential in the game really bothers me because I think that it could have been really good... it could have been a contender in the wrestling game genre, but the severe lack of polish and finish on the game completely ruins any chance of that.
If they manage to stick with it and put the gameplay system to use, gamers will find a variety of modes including both single and multiplayer options. Lucha Libre AAA includes the following game modes: Pride Battle (exhibition), King of Kings (tournament), online matchmaking, training mode (learn the basics as well as advanced techniques), and Story Mode (career campaign). I wish that I could speak more about the online modes of the game, but there just hasn’t been any opportunity to play them. I have been unable to find anyone online to play the game with. The premise of the online modes seems strong though as it is based around your Luchador’s pride. While you can participate in almost any type of match online, the ranked portion involves Hair vs. Mask matches, which mean almost everything in the Lucha Libre culture. Players who lose in these matches will be forced to regain their pride by winning three consecutive ranked matches before they can get their hair or mask back. It is an interesting take on the premise and serves the Lucha Libre setting well. Unfortunately though, few gamers will get to truly experience it as there just isn’t anyone playing online. The story mode, on the other hand, deserves a little bit more of an explanation. I really like the Story Mode that Immersion has created for the game. There are two separate campaigns to play through, one for the Tecnicos and one for the Rudos. You will play through a majority of the story mode using an original luchador that you will create when you start the mode or within the game’s luchador editor. The focus of the story is on the tension between these two factions, just as it is in the actual AA promotion. Because of that, there will be points in time during the story’s progress where you will be given control of one of the existing luchadors in the game, based on which faction you choose to represent. You will progress through a heavily story driven tale of the feud between these two groups and your custom character will rise through the ranks and represent your side accordingly. By the end of the game, you will be at the top of the entire promotion and bring honor to the group that you represent. It’s a fun story and it moves along at a quick pace. The match types that are utilized change with every chapter and it never got to be monotonous in terms of what the player is required to do. If you can tolerate the gameplay shortcomings, you will find an extremely enjoyable campaign worth playing through not only for the story in itself, but to unlock the additional playable characters in the game and special videos that can be watched through the game’s option menu.
In terms of the Luchador creator, the game features a really good character creation mode that allows you to build your own wrestler form the ground up. You will get a chance to customize everything about your character from their name, outfits, Tecnicos / Rudos alignment, and wide variety of moves and attacks. The best aspect of the character creation mode is the extensive mask options included in the editor. Masks are a huge deal in the world of lucha libre wrestling and Lucha Libre AAA gives you a rather large assortment of mask options that allows you to create your own, custom mask(s). There are a ton of base options for masks as well as a wide variety of tweaks including the colors, accents on the various details, and to accessories to customize a wide variety of details including the eyes, mouth including horns and attachments to make your mask bigger and more fearsome.
Even though the game gives you a large amount of options to customize your character, it will only give you a small amount of slots for characters. The game only gives you four slots for created characters. Considering that you will likely play through a campaign for each faction of the game, which will consume two of the slots and you will only be left with two slots for your own personal creations. There is absolutely zero reasoning or excuse for this. Half of the fun of wrestling games is the creation modes that allow you to make it your own. You don’t get a chance to do this with Lucha. The game also features a banner editor that will allow you to customize up to four signs that the crowd will hold up during various matches. The editor gives you a choice of a small variety of sign/banner “styles” and then allows you to alter the message and the font(s). This adds a nice touch to the experience of seeing actual signs in the crowds supporting your own custom luchadors. Once again though, the experience behind this is stifled by the limit on the number of signs / banners that you can create.
Unless you have followed the promotion yourself over the past couple of years, most of the roster of the game will be completely unknown to you but there is likely to be a few familiar names in the bunch. Wrestling fans from the mid-90's WCW era will recognize some faces such as La Parka (same gimmick, different wrestler under the mask), Silver King, Vampiro, and Konnan. The rest are likely unknown to anyone who isn't an actual AAA fan. The roster is a decent size and rather diverse though, and you are sure to find someone of your liking in the mix be it one of the high flyers or perhaps one of the down and dirty brawlers. Playing through the game will teach you a lot about the individual characters, both through their involvement in the story mode and through the informational videos unlocked throughout your gameplay. The roster includes 31 wrestlers, but only 12 will be selectable when you boot up the game for the first time. In order to access the rest, you will need to progress through the game's career mode and earn them by defeating certain opponents during the course of your career on both sides of the promotion