Wrestling Game StArcade: AAA Lucha Libre: Heroes del Ring

by Alex Knapp

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AAA Lucha Libre: Heroes del Ring
Year: 2010
Systems: PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
Developers: Immersion Software & Graphics, Immersion Games Mexico
Publisher: Konami

When it comes to wrestling games, we’ve had plenty of exposure to American pro wrestling/sports entertainment. And Japan has produced puroresu games for quite a while, with a few of them making it stateside. But the third international stronghold of professional wrestling has long been neglected: Mexico. The home of Lucha Libre, that colorful and unique world of fast-paced acrobatic competition, superhero-like masks and outfits, passionate fans, and intense blood feuds. And that’s unfortunate, because it’s a fascinating style, and a video game for it has a lot of potential.

Well, in 2010, American wrestling fans were in for a surprise, when it was announced that a new wrestling game challenger was entering the arena: a licensed game for none other than Asistencia Asesoría y Administración (AAA), Mexico’s biggest mainstream promotion! Latin American developer Immersion was going to bring us an opportunity to experience AAA competition and gain an introduction to the culture of Lucha Libre, right there on our gaming consoles.

This was pretty exciting news! For starters, it inserted some much-needed variety into the WWE-dominated wrestling game genre. And it was cool to see this unique form of pro wrestling gain exposure in this way. Maybe it could be the Mexican equivalent of Fire Pro Wrestling Returns, the game which introduced overseas audiences to the Japanese approach to puroresu and wrestling gaming! But more than that, it went along well with the growing international exposure of Lucha Libre. As we’ve seen in the past couple of years, Lucha Underground has become one of the hottest new wrestling alternatives with its combination of AAA and American indy wrestlers, and having been recently renewed for a second TV season, it proves that there could be a decent degree of niche interest in the Mexican style within the U.S.

But would its video game form be un juego fantastico, or would it end up being a disappointing pile of mierda? Well, as a fan who is unfamiliar with the specifics of AAA, I’m approaching this game with completely fresh eyes and an open mind. Let’s see what this game is about.

The opening of the game shows you…La Parka dancing.

…Is it weird to say that I’m really charmed by this? We’re one second into the game, and it’s already different, I’ll give it that.

Anyway, aside from dancing skeletons, we also see a highlight reel of AAA matches, along with a colorful intro to the roster. The music is an energetic and fun mix of rock and traditional Mexican music. Right off the bat, the game has managed to put a smile on my face, and this is one of the factors working in its favor: the presentation has loads of personality, and has a very distinctive identity to it.

The roster is a mix of luchadors past and present, Mexican and international, and some of whom you may have heard of before, some of whom you may be meeting for the first time. Just to name a few, some of the names you’ll see include: La Parka, Psicosis, Konnan, Dr. Wagner Jr., Abismo Negro, El Elegido, Silver King, Vampiro Canadiense, Octagon, Kenzo Suzuki, Jack Evans, Cibernetico, El Zorro, and members of factions such as The Black Family and the Psycho Circus. You’ll only start with a small selection, however; the rest will need to be unlocked. If you see some names you don’t recognize, don’t worry: the game appears to be aware that it’s serving as an intro of sorts on behalf of AAA, and thus includes informative bios of all available wrestlers, rich in kayfabe character detail.

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The graphics are excellent, and the luchadors look great. And the game also features bombastic pre-match announcements and fairly decent commentary. You have the option of having either English or Spanish announcing and commentary, which is a nice option and allows you to choose what best suits the atmosphere you’re looking for.

Then it’s time to hit the ring. And I will say that, while it’s learnable, the gameplay doesn’t have the best first impression.

The controls of Heroes del Ring are conceptually simple. You have different kinds of strikes, strong and weak grapples, and reversal capability. These are done through distinctive, yet simple mechanics which are different from your SmackDown vs. RAW controls that most players are used to. There is also a unique submission system where you strengthen your hold by tapping an indicated button repeatedly. However, that button switches every few seconds, so you have to stay focused and be on your game.

The key to success in a match is to fill up your Popularity meter. It’s a deliberate attempt to infuse a bit of Lucha Libre culture into the gameplay, by making it out that your success in wrestling depends on your ability to delight the crowd and get them behind you. You can fill your Popularity meter by maintaining the offensive, doing poses, and especially by doing high-impact aerial moves. It’s very similar to the Spirit meters that have been introduced since the AKI/THQ games. However, as an extra degree of challenge, you can’t do certain moves, such as strong grapple maneuvers, if your Popularity meter is too low, requiring you to start with basic moves in order to gain momentum. Conversely, once you fill your meter, you’ll be able to dish out your signature move. How high or low your meter is also has an influence on how quickly you recover from being stunned, and on your ability to kick out of pinfalls or submissions.

It’s all very simple on paper, but surprisingly, there is a bit of a learning curve. And this, I think, is what frustrated a lot of players, because in the reviews I’ve read, there were a lot of claims that the wrestling in this game ends up slow, clunky, and sluggish.

But you know what? I’ve played this game and I can say: it’s perfectly playable. It’s similar to, for example, WCW World Championship Wrestling for the NES, or the Fire Pro games, in that it’s not very friendly to newbs and requires a degree of practice to master. But once you do practice, gain experience, and master such things as the picky timing of the reversal system, you’ll be having fast-paced, flippy lucha contests in no time.

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The wrestling itself has an over-the-top, unrealistic feel to it. Wrestler grunts sound like inhuman monsters more than actual people, and hitting a strong attack near the ropes can literally send your opponent flying over the ropes to the outside. Having been fed on a diet of realistic SmackDown vs. RAW style wrestling games over the years, some players may not like it. But personally, I think it’s a nice breath of excitement. It’s arcade-like, and allows you to be a silly wrestling game mark. Meanwhile, the move animations themselves are good, and you have access to a decent variety of very technically-sound and elaborate moves.

You have several gameplay options. The exhibition mode in this game is called Pride Battle, and you can have singles, handicap matches, two vs. two tornado tag matches, triple threat, or four-way threat matches. The latter two can be fought under “threat” stipulations, where the first person to score a pinfall wins, or elimination rules. It’s all pretty basic, but that’s okay. I will say that, the more participants there are in a match, the more difficult the gameplay. This is mainly because the controls, as mentioned previously, do require a degree of expertise and concentration to master, and this is harder to do when there’s a whole bunch of action going on in the ring at once.

There’s also the King of Kings tournament, invoking the, in its original Spanish, Rey de Reyes tournament held by AAA. You compete in a gauntlet tournament against other participants in order to be crowned Rey de Reyes. Eat your heart out, HHH!

And finally, there’s the Story Mode, which allows you to get this game’s unlockables. In this mode, you take control of a luchador of your own creation, using the game’s Create-A-Wrestler feature to design the protagonist of this campaign. You are then presented with a choice of Good or Evil; your CAW can either walk the path of righteousness as an honorable, upstanding tecnico (babyface), or go down the sinister road of a ruthless rudo (heel). From there, you embark on a mirror image of a similar story. Your character is a young luchador looking to make his name in AAA, either by learning respect and discipline from the promotion’s veteran tecnicos, or ambitiously looking to break out from under the thumb of its rudos. After proving yourself to your associates, you are in the audience of a major match for the AAA Megacampeonato between La Parka and Konnan. La Parka wins, but in the midst of the rudos’ dastardly interference following the bout, the championship belt is stolen. As a tecnico, you vow to restore honor to AAA by fighting your way through the rudos to return the belt to its rightful owner, while as a rudo, you seek to uncover who was truly behind the theft of the belt, so that you can claim it for yourself.

In true AAA fashion, the stories manage to somehow pull off being both extremely over-the-top and extremely serious at the same time. The settings and match situations are melodramatic, and the kayfabe is played up to a degree that plays havoc with suspension of disbelief. But by the same token, it is presented with a straight face, and truly feels like an epic journey of either a hero’s quest for honor or a villain’s rise to infamy. The actual progress of the matches is okay, for the most part; handicap matches are a pain in the ass when they pop up, and on more than one occasion, I ended up saying “screw it” and just winning by countout, like a wuss. But for the most part, it doesn’t feel like a chore to advance in the story.

All of this builds up to a challenging climactic final boss battle, which, once again, manages to be both one of the most outlandish, yet one of the most epic, things I’ve ever played in a wrestling game.   I won’t spoil it here, but suffice to say: you know how sometimes people say that in Mexico, wrestling is treated like a religion? Well, they’re not kidding.

The most obvious comparison I can make with this game is to TNA Impact. Like that game, Heroes del Ring is the gaming debut of a promotion, which features some really neat independent wrestling talent who you won’t have the opportunity to see in many other games, and serves as a way to show newcomers what the identity of the promotion is. Hell, they even both have six-sided rings! So, inevitably, I’m thinking of how Heroes del Ring stands in comparison to that game, not necessarily in terms of gameplay, but in terms of presentation and how well it represents its promotion.

In the end, I can say that Heroes del Ring does a superior job of that. In addition to wrestler bios, you can also, by playing through the Story Mode, unlock informational videos which help explain Lucha Libre culture to the player! The wrestlers themselves discuss such topics as the tecnico/rudo dynamics, the significance of losing one’s mask or hair as a match stipulation, and other important topics of the rich lucha heritage. And as I mentioned before, each unlocked wrestler also has an informative bio which fleshes out who their character is in great detail, and features statistics such as who their trainer was, what stables or families they belong to, and how many masks or hairs they’ve claimed.

I can say without a doubt that Heroes del Ring has done exactly what a wrestling promotion’s debut game should do: it made me want to check them out and learn more about them. I feel like I’ve been getting an education on a wonderful culture with a colorful cast of characters and a fun, energetic presentation. And once I got past the initial learning curve, I had fun in the ring as well.

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And yet, it’s unlikely that we’ll see similar future outings of this type of game soon. Why? Because this game got a lot of mixed to negative reviews by critics. Why?

Because people are estupido, that’s why!

No, no, I’m kidding. I can understand that people have different tastes. But by the same token, I don’t think I’ve ever played a game where my personal opinion differed so strongly from the general consensus. I had a blast playing this game, and I’m proud to admit it! And I disagree with almost all the complaints that I’ve read about this game.

The gameplay is hard to grasp and inaccessible? So the game isn’t just like SmackDown vs. RAW. Boo hoo. As I said before, with practice, it’s a very accessible and easy-to-control game. Anyone who says otherwise simply isn’t trying hard enough.

The animation is slow and sluggish, which doesn’t represent fast-paced Lucha Libre well? I’ll admit, this was my first impression as well; in my first few moments playing, I thought I was in for a disappointment, because generally, the wrestlers move pretty slowly when they’re not grappling or in action. But once you get the hang of the gameplay, the game speed really picks up and becomes the type of energetic in-ring experience you’d expect.

The match types are limited? I’ll grant you that, yeah. Singles, tornado tag, handicap, triple threat, and four-way are all basic, and it kind of sucks that there aren’t more unique gimmick matches. But in my opinion, this is more than made up for by the quality of the actual in-ring experience. Matches go back-and-forth, striking a good balance between being challenging and being doable. The Popularity meter introduces a lot of psychology and requires you to combine strategy with risk-taking. Near-falls and sudden finishes abound, making matches unpredictable. And the game has an impressive and diverse array of wrestling maneuvers that you rarely see in mainstream wrestling.

Is AAA Lucha Libre: Heroes del Ring a perfect game? No. It would be nice if the gameplay were a little faster, and the reversal system could stand to be a little less touchy. And some extra game modes would help. But the positives far outweigh the negatives, in my view. It’s different, informative, looks great, is filled with personality, and does a good job with what matters most: the wrestling.

If you’re still apprehensive about this polarizing game, try giving it a rental first to see if it’s your cup of tea. But as for me, I have no qualms giving Heroes del Ring the Wrestling Game StArcade stamp of approval, and I consider it a solid and underrated outing. Viva la Lucha Libre!

Rating: 4 Stars

Photo Credits:

Photo 1: en.wikipedia.org

Photo 2, 4: gamefaqs.com

Photo 3: videogamesblogger.com



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