Review by HeroFromKrypton
This may be my favorite AKI game.
I love all the AKI games to various degrees, but although I'm more a fan of American wrestling, I have to admit that the gameplay and AI is much more fine tuned in the Virtual Pro Wrestling games. Still, although VPW64 is the more dated of the two, there's just something about it that puts it over the top for me, though it isn't without flaws.
Since this is my first and only review and I haven't reviewed the other AKI games, this review will be somewhat of an overall review of the series, since they all use the same basic engine.
Gameplay - I've had some of the most exciting matches in any AKI game here. A lot of it is the AI, which actually seems more life-like than a lot of the American AKI games but is comparable to VPW2's. Revenge possibly has the worst, as sometimes the CPU players do nothing but walk in to you instead of attacking.
Although there are a few features that were not yet implemented, such as running grapples, there's still a lot of moves and move positions that simply weren't available in contemporary wrestling games from other developers.
I tend to judge all other wrestling games by the amount of moves each wrestler has compared to the AKI series, and there aren't many I can think of that outdo them in this department. Here, there is plenty of room to fit in each wrestler's entire movelist, although at times the move selection isn't exactly accurate. How come Hulk Hogan doesn't have the big boot? Why does he have a dropkick?
Comparing the AKI engine to other popular Japanese wrestling engines:
Toukon Retsuden: The TR system is a bit too linear for my tastes, where you're forced to start with the weak moves and build up to the strong moves. Here, you have the chance to pull off strong moves, the only thing stopping you is strong grapples are slower, which makes it hard to tie up with a healthy opponent who is less likely to remain dazed long enough. In the TR games, the stronger moves just aren't available until your opponent is in the proper state(groggy/dizzy) which only occur once your opponent has taken enough damage.
Fire Pro: There is more freedom in the AKI games when it comes to reversals. I haven't quite perfected the timing and I don't exactly understand what determines mid-move reversals, but I do know that I have some control over them. I never was much of a fan of Fire Pro's approach, where an uncontrolled human player can reverse a suplex or a powerbomb when player 2 is off getting a snack. The point of video games is interactivity, not sitting back and letting the game play for you.
Control - No real complaints here, although the controls could be slightly more responsive. It feels like there's a half-second delay between pressing a button and moves being performed, which is not helpful in such a timing-oriented game.
Graphics - This is one of the game's bigger faults, but somehow they fit. It's not so much that I mind the cartoonish look of the wrestlers, but there's many instances where there's little to no resemblance to their real life counterparts. I mean, look at Ric Flair and his trollish face. Likewise, Lex Luger resembles Fabio. Also, the tops of dark haired wrestlers' heads tends to be lighter than the hair on the sides, which gives off the impression that their hair is thinning.
Audio - This is one of my favorite parts of the game. The music has a real life feel to it, having sort of an adrenaline-pumping feel to it akin to something out of a Rocky movie. In all the following AKI games, the music sounds too quirky and video gamey. Music in a wrestling game should be intense and fist-pumpingly awesome.
The sound effects are not perfect, but that's only because they're exaggerated as in most video games. But I prefer them over the sound effects starting with Revenge. Somehow, they just sound more earthy and realistic. Reversals are represented by what sounds like a gripping sound rather than the irritating SNAP! of the sequels. Submissions use a low wrenching sound while the sequels use a sound which resembles the squeak of wet rubber.
Roster - This is like World Tour on steroids. It has most of the same WCW stars with a couple of exceptions, plus a huge roster of Japanese wrestlers and MMA stars. This is another thing that gives this game the edge over VPW2. Having several WCW stars in addition to the Japanese wrestling stars makes this game the best of both worlds. There is one problem I have, which is occasionally, multiple wrestlers are represented as alternate outfits, such as in the case of Vader, Bam Bam Bigelow, and Aja Kong. Vader and Bam Bam are notable enough to deserve slots of their own, and Aja Kong is a woman. You can't take a body and face that's meant to represent a huge 400 lb man and give it to a woman wrestler.
Overall - AKI really should have continued on their own once they lost the WWE license, and I mean more than just the weird rapper/wrestling combo that is the Def Jam series. It is my favorite gameplay engine but there was so much more that could have been done with it, so many ways it could have been improved. I give Virtual Pro Wrestling 64 a 9/10.
Product Release: Virtual Pro Wrestling 64 (JP, 12/19/97)
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