As far as I’m concerned, there hasn’t been a great wrestling video game since the WCW vs. nWo series on the N64. There have been a few decent attempts along the way, but the majority have fallen a long way short of the brilliant balance found in Asmik Ace and AKI’s fantastic wrestlers. They weren’t necessarily the best looking games on the market but they absolutely nailed the most important aspect of any wresting video game – the wrestling itself. Strikes were impactful and the grappling was fantastic, but above all else, the WCW vs. nWo series captured the ebb and flow of professional wrestling like no game since.
While Serious Parody’s 5 Star Wrestling doesn’t quite match the highs of Asmik Ace and AKI’s finest, it does come as close as any since at recreating that pitch perfect pace and balance that made those games so special. 5 Star Wrestling is a technical wrestler at heart, one whose relatively simplistic controls hide a wealth of depth. Its commitment to showmanship and different wrestling styles also sets it apart with the game as much about playing to type and entertaining the audience as it is about getting the victory – you’ll need to put on a show if you want that 5 star rating. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but the fundamentals are strong and the wrestling entertaining and engaging.
Sadly, while the in the ring action is as good as anything I have come across in quite some time, the same can’t be said for the rest of the package. I’d love to call 5 Star Wrestling the Pro Evo to WWE’s FIFA, but honestly, that would be doing Pro Evo a disservice. Sure, 5 Star Wrestling shares Pro Evo’s commitment to technical nuance, but while both suffer from licensing issues, Serious Parody’s wrestler really is something of a technical and artistic disaster.
The visuals for one, both on a technical and artistic level are just plain unpleasant. I didn’t go in expecting WWE levels of polish, but a bit of decent art design goes a long way – sadly, 5 Star Wrestling is in short supply. Venues are bland and ugly while character models are mostly poor. The real kicker though are the animations which are stiff and ultimately have an adverse effect on the otherwise very competent gameplay. Of course, it doesn’t help that all the characters are lazy re-imaginings of actual wrestlers. The game is obviously aiming for a level of parody, but the joke falls painfully flat. The wrestlers are poorly realised riffs on the real thing and only serve to make the lack of a character creation mode that much harder to bear.
Also, while the wrestling itself is very good, the level of variety is extremely limited. No Royal Rumble’s, no Hell in a Cell, heck, there’s not even a ladder to be found. 5 Star Wrestling is a traditional one-on-one brawler and while this does increase the purity of the experience, it inevitably reduces the longevity. In fairness, the developers have done a pretty good job of stretching out the single player experience via character specific challenges, but this only last so long and ultimately cant stave off the inevitable sense of repetition.
The fact is, to get the best out of 5 Star Wrestling, not only are you going to need to look past its glaring technical and artistic deficiencies, but realistically, you’re going to need another like-minded player to share the experience with. In fairness, the AI is pretty decent on the higher difficulty settings, but as is so often the case, it simply can’t compare to human competition. With said friend in tow, 5 Star Wrestling’s nuanced gameplay and star rating mechanic really come in to play and it becomes that much easier to overlook the games’ flaws. Just be warned, those flaws are much more prevalent when taking on the solid but invariably limited AI.
The core wrestling experience is as nuanced and entertaining as anything I have come across in quite some time, but sadly, the game is dragged down by its poor visuals, terrible art design and array of technical limitations. Those willing to overlook the lack of match types and horrible presentation will find a very solid wrestler underneath, but honestly, no game should require that much effort to enjoy.
Still, issues aside, 5 Star Wrestling is great fun with like-minded players and is as fundamentally strong as any wrestling game on the market. If ever there was a game screaming out for a sequel, it’s 5 Star Wrestling – develop for PS4 rather than PS3 (such an odd choice), improve the visuals, iron out the technical deficiencies and, for the love of God, add a character creation option. Make those changes, and Serious Parody might have a contender on their hands.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.