All it takes to turn a civilised, 30-something year old games reviewer into a raging street wrestler is a trip to the Boxing Day* Sales.
After venturing out to the high road this year in search of some bargains, I’ve discovered that to get the best deals before anyone else, head butting people to jump the queue, body slamming grannies en route to the 50% off aisle and holding small children in headlocks outside the changing rooms are all reasonably appropriate measures to take. You try getting twenty quid off a pair of Diesel jeans any way else.
So I do believe I’ve earned enough kudos in the art of fracas to properly review Chillingo’s newest release, Street Wrestler. Who else from Touchgen has elbow dropped a mouthy teenager from the top of the escalator for the last pair of £19.99 chinos? Well I know Nacho did something similar a few years back, but he’s done his community service. Stop judging him.
Street Wrestler is a side scrolling beat em up/down/sideways where you take control of one of three masked Luchadore fighters: Fatal Blaze; the all rounder, Daddy Brutal; the big guy. Hostile; the wiry athlete and the hilariously named Princess Achy, who’s initially locked. As well as being a woman. This rag-tag cadre of brawlers are aiming to take down a crooked wrestling promoter named Armando, who as the game puts it, ‘takes pleasure in violence as he reigned supreme across all continents’. He also looks like a rooster. More on that later.
The visuals and zany sense of humour give the game a unique feel. Sharp cell shaded graphics are served up in 2.5 D environments full of vibrant colour. This is the type of game where you’ll stop every so often to appreciate the detail in the backdrops and where every new level is a reward in itself. Yes, I know I’ve used that same description in my ‘Act of Fury: Kraine’s Revenge’ review, but I haven’t received my copy of ‘ How To Avoid Videogame Review Clichés: 2012 Edition’ In the post yet. Stop judging me. And I know you hear this every time a new game comes out, but these are some of the best visuals on the iPhone. Well, until next month.
I always appreciate games that draw me in with a nod and a wink, and Street Wrestler does this in spades, which leads to some very sore necks and eyes. And spades, I guess. This is a game which doesn’t take itself at all seriously and this saves it from being another run of the mill beat em up drowning in the ocean of Appstore games. Well, it still might drown, but at least it’ll have fun doing so, depending on how much fun you can have drowning. Which is to say, probably not much.
Like me, it has unmistakable charisma. (Shut up). It reminds me of one of those movie comedies where you can tell the cast isn’t just phoning in their performances, but are actually having a great time on set. Small touches lend to the sense of mirth: enemies in the first few stages approach you not in a menacing manner like any standard beat-em-up, but more like how I used to fight when I was eight years old: arms and legs flailing with absolutely no coordination. No wonder the bullies used to stop and laugh at me. I thought it was because I was funny.
At another point, you’ll saunter past an alleyway where your foes are being lead by one of their superiors in a set of perfectly coordinated one handed push-ups, which they interrupt to attack you. Later on in a level set in a bar, your attackers take offence to you barging in on a concert by a local band and attempt to sort you out. All enemy animations are comically exaggerated and despite the shallow combat (which we’ll come to in a bit) , you’ll want to progress just to see what madcap situation will be thrown at you next.
The most bizarre inclusion is that the game seems to have an unexplained preoccupation with poultry. As I mentioned previously, Armando The Antagonist looks a heck of lot like a rooster. Enemies burst into feathers when defeated or in some cases turn outright into chickens. Kicking these fowls reveals Pollojo – a drink which gives you energy. Now for those of you who aren’t an international gamer like myself, ‘Pollo’ is Spanish for…you guessed it, Chicken. I’m not sure if this is some developers in-joke or a cultural reference linked to wrestling or Luchadores I’m ignorant of, but I like it all the same. The more games in which you can kick a chicken for health, the better.
Control wise, it’s a standard virtual button set up: D-pad and contextual action buttons, although controlling your fighter can be little fiddly at times due to the game’s 2.5-D set up. You’ll often be mashing the buttons in an attempt to pummel your enemy, but fail because you’re not on exactly the same plane as them. There’s also bad news if you’re playing on the iPhone instead of the iPad. Attackers seem to get stuck underneath the action buttons, so like a blindfolded boxer, you’ll have a hard time seeing who you’re trying to beat up.
This leads to combat being slightly irritating. It’s also – like a bean burger at a barbecue – not very meaty. The problem being that the fighting just doesn’t have much gravitas. I want my punches and throws to feel like I’m one suplex away from causing an earthquake. Instead attacks lack weight. Sound effects are disappointing too, rather than sounding like you’re pounding fools off concrete and gravel like Nacho on a bad day, they resemble someone straining to open a can of tuna.
Combo variety is poor, with the same kicks and punches doled out time and again. Upgradable or unlockable moves would definitely have been welcome here. The game is also crying out for a special move unique to each character. I watched (and injured myself trying to repeat) a lot of American wrestling in the 90’s, and one thing that separates one wrestler from another apart from their costume and character is their finishing move. I would’ve liked to have seen each wrestler with their own finisher in the form of a smart bomb. What use is a side scrolling beat-em-up without one? And don’t mention Streets of Rage 2, one of the greatest side scrolling beat-em-ups ever which actually dropped it’s smart bomb feature from the first game. It was a rhetorical question.
Street Wrestler will just about keep you going to the end with it’s wacky storyline and sense of humour, but after that, you won’t want to come back to it much. It’s lack of depth and flimsy combat hurts it in that regard. Forget not the gravitas, gamer.
But I can’t be too harsh on a game who’s first boss downs a shot of tequila and farts out flame from his behind as a means to kill you. Like the kickin’ Chicken** situation, the AppStore would be a better place if more games experimented with alcohol-based fart-weaponry..
And finally, if you’re thinking that a review of a game where enemies turn into chicken upon death shouldn’t be complaining about a lack of gravitas, then like a Sunday League team putting ten men behind the ball against Barcelona with a 0-0 scoreline and 2 minutes left, you probably have a point. Stop judging me.
* Boxing Day is the name given to the day after Christmas in the UK
** I am totally going to open a fast food chain with this name.
Street Wrestler is out now for $2.99. Get it on the