Saturday, July 15, 2006

Wrestling Spirit 2 Review

Wrestling Spirit 2, developed and published by Grey Dog Software.
The Good: Well developed career and season modes, lots of wrestlers and moves, easy to make MODs, challenging AI
The Not So Good: Matches are tedious and defending is not fun, lack of multiplayer
What say you? An excellent set of features, but lackluster matches: 5/8

We all go through phases. For me, my “watching wrestling” phase was during college and graduate school, when I turned in twice a week to watch the sweaty competitors of the WWF/E grab each other. Ah, the late 90s. Not surprisingly, there have been numerous games that have tried to capitalize on the popularity of wrestling, but most of these have been on consoles, and us PC users have been relegated to a port of WWE Raw (why didn’t they pick a good wrestling game to port?) and wrestling management games such as Wrestling Spirit. Well, two games are twice as nice, so Wrestling Spirit is now Wrestling Spirit 2, which bills itself as “the thinking person’s fighting game.” I enjoy thinking on occasion, so how will a more strategic approach to wrestling work out?

Like most sports management games, most of Wrestling Spirit 2 is laid out in text menus. In general, the information is presented in an easily accessible manor, but it sometimes takes multiple clicks to reach important information buried in menus. All of the data is arranged in a reasonable way, it just takes a little bit more time to retrieve some of it. The matches themselves are just text with a picture describing the action. Wrestling Spirit 2 would be a lot cooler with a full 3-d view of the wrestlers and the ring during matches, even if it was just basic models. Of course, this would make it much more difficult to made MODs for the game, but I think it would deliver a more compelling wrestling experience to actually see someone receive a suplex instead of just saying so. In terms of sound, there’s not much to say: a clicking sound and that’s it. Wrestling Spirit 2 is slightly below the average mark held for sports management games these days in terms of graphics and sound.

Wrestling Spirit 2 has an impressive list of features and game modes. Besides a simple exhibition mode, the game features a career mode, where you can either create a new rookie wrestler or take control of an existing veteran grappler, a professional season mode, and a World Cup style world league, complete with round robin and elimination tournaments. If you create a new wrester, you can set their name, gender, style, nationality, and language skills. You can also establish their starting stats at several levels that change initial skills and future potential. During a season, the locker room is used to read e-mail, view morale or the region-based popularity, and change the move set. Most of the wrestler’s work is done through the several associations in the game, so you’ll need to join some in order to make some money. You can suggest feuds and tag teams to your association to keep your popularity up. Relationships are developed with other wrestlers through a blackjack-style game that’s difficult but also unique. There is also a complete financial model, where you can upgrade your skills, make some investments, and change your living quality (from sleeping in your car to five star hotels). Wrestling Spirit 2 has a full catalogue of options available during career mode that makes the game fun to play and a convincing caricature of the daily life of real wrestlers. Wrestling Spirit 2 has an active MOD community as well, and the structure of the game allows for custom wrestlers, associations, and moves. There’s already a mid-1980’s database released and a real world database in development, among several others. About the only thing Wrestling Spirit 2 doesn’t have is Internet multiplayer, although the depth of the career modes should be enough to satisfy most players.

While the features of Wrestling Spirit 2 are outstanding, the actual matches leave a little to be desired. Each match has a different style, which dictates how long the match will last and how quickly higher level moves will become available. In each match, one wrestler is the attacker and another is the defender. The attacker chooses a move or attack and the defender chooses a counter, and the game determines whether the attacker’s move was successful. All of this is mouse-driven and involves a lot of clicking; each action must be double-clicked, and the result box is in a different part of the screen, so you need to move the mouse twice per turn between the same two places. This gets annoying in 100+ move matches. Each wrestler has an energy level and the lower the energy level, the move powerful the moves that can be used against him. The moves themselves are a good assortment of striking and grappling actions, each of which has a percentage of success. You can also arrange your opponent through the use of things like Irish whips or picking them up from behind, which will open up certain position-based moves.

The general strategy of Wrestling Spirit 2 is to wear down your opponent while increasing your momentum. Eventually, you can land a finishing move and then pin your opponent. It sounds simple enough, but the actual matches are pretty monotonous. As an attacker, you just keep clicking on moves, hoping that you land them. Defending seems arbitrary and a game of chance: since all attacks have a percentage of success, it’s just a matter of waiting until you get lucky. Maybe I’m missing something, but clicking avoid, block, and break until you regain control is not strategically deep. The more powerful moves have a much lower chance of success that doesn’t seem to increase much according to the momentum of the match (maybe they do but the frequency values remain the same in the game). Because of this, a lot of matches result in a stalemate, where both competitors are exhausted but can’t execute higher moves to finish the match. The chance of getting a pinfall is essentially zero unless you execute a finishing move, but finishing moves only have a 10-20% chance of succeeding, and they are only available after successfully hitting medium and high moves with only a 30-50% of succeeding. Wrestling Spirit 2 is not a much a strategy game but a game of chance, where the luckiest person who happens to land the higher moves will win the match. As an example, I had full momentum and both wrestlers were tired. My opponent hit two moves (I pressed “block” on both, but since it’s all chance it didn’t really change anything), pinned me and won. It seems like you can just pick the higher-percentage moves and dominate the match, and I could have a computer do that for me. I like the idea of the matches in Wrestling Spirit 2, there just has to be a better way of executing them.

Wrestling Spirit 2 comes with an impressive list of features, including MOD support, deep season mode, and interesting tournaments. It’s too bad that you actually have to wrestle in the game, as the matches are underwhelming. If you can get through the click-heavy matches, Wrestling Spirit 2 has a remarkable set of features for a sports management game. You could always download the demo and see if you find that the match play is better than I thought. Maybe I just stink at the game or I don’t understand the underlying strategy of Wrestling Spirit 2, but the matches just seem devoid of any real strategy and full of clicking and lucky play. I never felt like I was making any difference in any of the matches while I was clicking away, choosing attacking and defending moves that landed according to the hard-coded percentages. Guiding your wrestler through a career is fun, but the matches themselves are too blasé to be of any interest.