Most Professional Wrestling enthusiasts that know the band of fans outside the WWE and TNA will often speak of AAA and Lucha Libre wrestling in the highest regard. For years, the AAA has showcased the pinnacle of athletic wrestling from Mexico and beyond. Their unique, high flying style has integrated its way into North America now, but for years, the talents of the likes of Eddy Guerrero and Rey Mysterio were as hidden as their faces behind their colored masks.
During the 80s and 90s, many lightweight young high flying up and comers that could not make it to the WWF or the National Wrestling Alliance cut their teeth in Mexico. Chris Jericho, Dean Malenko and the late Art Barr were among those who made their name alongside the Luchadores (the endearing term given to Lucha Libre Wrestlers) before finding suitable success in the US. It was hardly surprising, then, that there were a degree of excitement when a Lucha Libre game was announced for all systems.
To build excitement, Konami handed out professional grade Luchador masks at E3, and sent interested parties home with the promise that this would be the wrestling game of the year. Finally, the game hit the market on October 12th, six sided ring and all. Hopefully, however, this game would be slightly better than the last six sided ring game to hit the market, that being TNA Impact. Impact was a lucklustre title bogged down by a poor wrestling engine and transition system, leading to awkward matches and an awkward game in general.
Before jumping into the game, it is often good to err on the side of caution when it comes to Konami's sports games. Granted, they've blessed us with Blades of Steel, but one attempt at a wrestling game this grande 20 years ago was not only lacklustre, but ended up in a lawsuit with the WWF. The engine for that game did ultimately lead to providing the engine for some of their classics like the Ninja Turtles arcade game, but given that they haven't had the best track record with this kind of thing in the past, I was a bit skeptical. Rumble Roses and Rumble Roses XX weren't bad, but hardly long term wrestling classics noted in the annals of gaming.
As I popped the game into my 360 for the first time, I had my fingers crossed that Konnan was retired from wrestling, and he would be in the game. The game opens with lucha legend La Parka doing his trademark dance while you watch clips of AAA in action. So far so good. You're then treated to a welcome piece by -- Konnan. With extreme sadness I listened to him explain the basic controls, which appear to had been done for all consoles at once, as he implored me to hit "dis button" to grapple instead of the button's name. No matter. Training videos don't amount to much in the grand scheme of things. Numerous gameplay modes do, which Lucha is stocked with. Besides your standard exhibition and handicap wrestling matches, there's online play, king of the mountain-esque tournaments and a few gimmick matches. Wrestling games are also often defined by how diverse their story modes are, and how deep gameplay is within it.
The story mode is of most importance I'd say, since it drives how successful the game will be to solo players. Lucha Libre forces you to play story mode anyway, because when you start playing the exhibition mode, all the characters aren't available to use, and are unlocked as you play story mode and win specific types of regular matches. You can choose between being a Tecnico (Face/Hero) or Rudo (Heel/Villain) and you create a character to get started, known throughout as "rookie" or "the new guy."
The Rudo story mode doesn't center around the character, however, so much as it does the faction itself. You will not only be playing matches as yourself, but other members too. Unfortunately, as a rudo, it meant I had to play as Konnan, the faction leader. The story mode is neither interesting, nor deep. You, as the rookie don't have much input into how your career turns out. You simply follow along with what happens over the course of a few cinematics and matches. Gamers searching for that deep story mode where the actions you make/take affect the rest of it should keep searching. You are dictated toward your matches and progress, and if you are quick enough, should be done the whole thing in around an hour and 20 minutes, if not less when playing on Easy.
The game's idea of increased AI by the end, however, is to simply block and counter everything you throw at them while making your reversal window so small, it is too hard to to get used to. You will be beaten pillar to post with no chance of recourse outside of when the computer messes up, or in the case of handicap matches, the fighters accidentally grapple or hit each other.
Be ready for the worst opponent recognition mode since WWF Wrestlemania 2000 as well. With multiple-opponent matches, the auto-target system misfires on a regular basis, and you will find yourself tearing your lucha mask off when you run around a downed opponent to hit another halfway across the ring, and your luchador (though closer to and facing the other opponent) does an epic dive onto said downed opponent, leaving the standing one to come in for the kill. Luckily, the AI is rarely intelligent enough to do anything but punish you, and after you wear both of them out, you can simply climb the turnbuckle, hit both of them and pin one for the victory. You will rarely find pinning in 2 on 2 bedlam matches difficult, as once you do pin your downed opponent, the other is content to stand and watch rather than break it up. For added challenge, they will oppose submissions, so feel free to try to submit all of your opponents if that suits your needs for opposition better.
You do get exposed to the different types of matches in story mode, however. Unlike the WWE, there aren't Punjabi Prisons, or Hellacious Cells, or Elimination Chambers. AAA has built a tradition of high flying, multiple-wrestler matches with traditions like "Hair vs. Mask" and so on. You will encounter many of these types of matches in story mode, giving you a decent feel over what AAA is about. Again, much like the characters, the gimmick matches must be unlocked. There's no way to just jump into mask vs. hair matches, for example. This is a slight drawback, since the story mode doesn't offer, or put forth much excitement.
Fighter entrances also consist of generic rock music followed by posing on the entrance ramp, hardly the exciting, high energy entrances of old when Juventud Guerrera used to run to the ring at full speed and spit a gallon of water into the front row while signalling for the Juvi Driver (before you look, he was not in the game and likely will never be in an AAA game due to professional differences and his inability to co-exist with the booking team.)
Getting into the gameplay itself, it's not much better than the story mode. The graphics are average, but good enough. Sadly, this might be the best part of the game, and it isn't even that good. The weapons look like 3D Studio Max reproductions, the ring girls look like blow up dolls, and about the only positive that comes from all of this is the fighter sprites looking great. The fighter animations are clunky, however. The cinematics aren't even in high definition half the time. Gameplay videos, and the intro video are, however, you can see digital blocking and blurryness in some of the other videos.
The controls are clunky, and the movesets are very limited. Reversals, which are done with the right bumper must be done at the perfect moment, or else they fall within the "too early" or "too late" header. Unlike TNA Impact and Legends of Wrestlemania, where the reversals occured too frequently and too easily, this one almost pushes it to the other extreme, though it is somewhat manageable in the end.
I give the controls credit for one thing - Consistency. They are just as clunky and awkward as the player animations, play by play and overall feel of the wrestling engine. Reversals seem to work whenever they feel like (even in impossible situations,) and for a wrestling game where actions and exchanges happen at a very frantic pace, the controls do not keep up. When I think about the king of bad controls in a wrestling game, I always refer back to WWF Attitude, which made you dial your friends, take a run around the block and balance on one foot to do a clothesline. But you know what? The controls were responsive. This game has very simple controls that are not responsive. For a game that suffers from awful gameplay, the controls provide little further incentive to want to purchase this game, or even rent or play in the first place.
Moveset collision detection is laughable as well, and this game, for whatever reason continues to play into the current generation wrestling game philosophy that wrestlers shouldn't sell big moves. Top rope dives, moonsaults, and sentons are sometimes meant with selling reminiscent of Road Warrior Animal, who often couldn't sell a gunshot if he was hit point blank. On the other hand, a simple punch near the ropes causes you opponent to fly head over heels out of the ring. Go figure.
Lucha Libre wrestling prides itself on excitement, fast paced action and the continued ability to drop your jaw in awe when you think you've seen it all. Somehow, Konami has found a way to slow down the excitement of Lucha Libre so much that it feels like every much is Vader vs. Mabel from Men on a Mission played in slo-mo. If you so much as touch wrestlers from certain angles, they will fly over the top rope and out of the ring like they were shot with a cannonball.
Animations are pre-determined, so you can still get hit from odd angles, and reverse from impossible angles and be pushed through the reversal animation. The worst part might be the fact that the game suffers from slowdown. Konami decided that in 2010, it was acceptable to follow the lead of Mega Man 2, and have in-game slowdown. This only occurs when you have more than 3 sprites on screen interacting simultaneously, but still, the game doesn't look like it is resource-heavy enough to warrant slowing down.
Calling this awkward mixed bag of action are Konnan (there he is again!) and another person whose name I didn't catch and couldn't find online. You do have the option to set the play by play to English or Spanish, and even if you do not speak the language, I would recommend choosing the latter. The play by play isn't just bad -- It's terrible. It's like listening to the Mexican equivalents of Sean Mooney and Lord Alfred Hayes calling matches together. Neither talk much about wrestling, or the moves themselves. In fact, it appears they recorded about 10 minutes worth of generalized dialogue and the wrestler names, and are working off that database. For a game trying to portray an authentic depiction of Lucha Libre wrestling, they don't even call the moves by their proper names, opting instead for a Vince McMahon-esque approach, referring to the most dangerous highest flying of moves as "WHATAHIGHFLYINMANOOVA" or "FLYING DIVE!!!" rather than their affectionately dubbed Spanish names like "Tope Suicida" or "Cielo Perfecto Uno." This won't be lost on the casual gamer looking for goofy wrestling fun, but will be lost on the hardest of hardcore wrestling fans.
There are a few nice things though that should be noted. The roster is quite large once you unlock it, and old WCW fans will recognize many of the luchadores from the glory days. Silver King, the aformentioned Konnan, Vampiro (without the facepaint or dreadlocks) and La Parka are included, and WWF fans remembering the short lived AAA cross-promotion may remember the likes of Cibernetico and Dr. Wagner Jr. The Create a Luchador mode is very detailed, with an almost infinite amount of costume combinations. You can even play as mini versions of the regular wrestlers by inputting the Konami code at the title screen which is always good for a few laughs and extra fun.
If you can also move past the slowdown and sluggish nature of the game, learn the controls, and give it the time of day, it is somewhat fun to play with friends in multi-player modes. It is nice that every wrestler has a high flying moveset, and everybody has the ability to take flight no matter who you take, or no matter what size they are. Everybody in Lucha Libre is on a level playing field, and you need not worry about taking a Rey Mysterio and getting beaten down by your friend using Big Show, who cannot be slammed or picked up, or sell moves for the life of him. That aside, this game offers very little else.
I appreciate what this is doing for the sport of lucha libre in providing another outlet for advertisement, but this isn't the way to do it. The most exciting parts of the whole thing occur in the video clips of actual AAA action, and never in-game. You don't get to sit your opponent on a chair and do a 720 off the top rope into their lap like the videos show, nor do you have someone doing a twisting plancha over the ropes that would win Olympic Springboard Gold. Overall, no amount of free lucha libre masks could convince me to recommend this game to you, the reader.
The wrestling game industry has been a fair bit topsy turvy over the last 15 years, ever since Midway tried to turn wrestling into Mortal Kombat through its Wrestlemania Arcade game. You've had some definite highs (the first Smackdown vs. Raw, SvR 2006,) some definite lows (WCW Backstage Assault, which didn't even have a WRESTLING RING,) and some of those go-betweens that made you scratch your head (WWF Royal Rumble for the Dreamcast, WWE Legends of Wrestlemania.) File this game into the category reserved for WWF Wrestlemania and WWF King of the Ring for the NES, along with TNA Impact for current gen. This game is one of the very worst wrestling games ever made. It doesn't sink quite into the doldrums of Backstage Assault, Backyard Wrestling, NES Tag Team, MUSCLE or WCW Wrestling, as there's a special spot in wrestling game hell for those abominations. But it is safe to say that this might be the worst wrestling game put out at least 8 years.
This game can be compared very closely (both in the 6-sided ring, and the overall gameplay and feel) to TNA Impact, which was bad too, but at least the story mode was decent and lasted for longer than an hour. This game means well -- It really does. It's just not any good. Lucha Libre Wrestling is that somewhat likeable newbie at work who's never done anything to hurt anybody, but just isn't good at what he does, so you have to let him go after probationary review.
Some companies are just made to do wrestling games -- Konami isn't one of them. Unless Konami can find a way to siphon employees from companies like THQ to fix their wrestling game franchise, I hope they take this game as their message that they should be sticking to what makes them stand out, like Bemani.
Suggestions: Bring familiar wrestling gamers onboard for play testing and development of any sequels, especially those who are a fair bit more versed in Lucha Libre. This doesn't capture Lucha Libre's free flying, fun loving spirit at all outside of the sprites themselves.