Movies / TV
Videogame Review: Kinnikuman/Ultimate Muscle
Posted by Jay Spree on Feb 8, 2003, 16:32
KINNIKUMAN II: New Generation vs Legend
AKI are generally considered the best developer of wrestling videogames. Sure, the Fire Pro and even Giant Gram faithful would contest that, but those are Japanese franchises that have never had the impact and penetration into the US market that the AKI-developed games WCW/nWo World Tour and Revenge, WrestleMania 2000 and No Mercy, and even the import-only Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 have had. The AKI engine is the ultimate blend of simple, instinctive control, arcade-style play mechanics combined with enough simulation-style gameplay to allow gamers to truly wrestle in different styles you can just brawl the fuck out of people, or you can take your opponent to the mat and work individual body parts.
So in short, AKI are the greatest fucking developer on Earth and I love them like a good woman. But it’s been a long time since the last AKI grappler (and most people are STILL fucking playing No Mercy today) how is the series holding up?
Okay, what the hell is Kinnikuman? Well, back in the eighties if any of you kids can remember the eighties the Pokémon of the day was Kinnikuman. Released in the US as Ultimate Muscle, and in the UK as Musclemen, they were a series of, like, 300 different two inch, non-posable wrestling figures, complete with their own ring. I’ve no idea whether the original animé was ever aired in the US to accompany the toys’ release, but I know that we never got it in the UK, and they kind of created a vague backstory on the back of the boxes the only thing I remember about it is Kinniku Suguru was given a bunch of Freddie Blassie’s catchphrases.
Anyway, after a long hiatus, the series is back for the new generation (as is the trend with old animation these days), and the new series is/will be airing on Fox Kids. It’s worth checking out if nothing else for the not-so-subtle WWF references, such as the dMp stable and one of its members, Kevin Mask (both of whom are in the game), a parody of the nWo and Kevin Nash. Other than that, well I’m not entirely sure, but everyone I talk to says that the show is frigging awesome, and especially fans of pro wrestling who’ve seen it say how cool it is, and how much better booked it is than the WWF. Go figure.
Now, although I’m reviewing the game, I have to admit that I’m not a Kinnikuman/Ultimate Muscle fan. That’s not to say that I don’t like it, I just haven’t seen it although I do own a bucketful (literally, there’s a bucket full of the little fuckers up in the attic) of the Kinnikuman figures. No, the reason I picked up this title is because it’s an AKI wrestling game, and anyone who’s read me knows that I mark BIG TIME for AKI titles I own every wrestling with the AKI engine, from Virtual Pro Wrestling 64 and WCW/nWo World Tour to Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 and No Mercy. The way AKI tends to develop stuff is that they do a wrestling game for the Japanese market, and then release another version of it for the US. So, I was amped to fuck when Def Jam Vendetta was announced, but where the fuck was the Japanese version? Then I saw this little baby on import and it all fucking clicked.
So apologies if you’re a hardcore Kinnikufan (ho ho ho) looking for some insight on how the game relates to the show, because you’re out of luck. If you want to see how this AKI game stacks up to the others, read the fuck on.
While Kinnikuman uses the trusty AKI engine, the controls do differ from other AKI titles in some subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
Firstly, there’s no run button. Crazy, huh? You’d have thought in a balls-out, arcadey grappler like this, running attacks would have to be pretty immediate, right? Well suffice it to say, if I big part of your game was running clotheslines, you’ll be changing it pretty quick; here you don’t really run, but you have a kind of dash/charge that only covers a short distance. Using the evade button (B) while pushing forward, you dash towards your opponent, and from here you can do a dashing attack (like a lariat or a shoulderblock) or a dashing grapple (which is one of your string grapple moves). You can also dash into and come off the ropes to add a little juice to your attacks. The evade button is also used to block, and (surprise surprise) to evade attacks or grapple attempts, either by sidestepping left or right, or dashing forward or back. Since you can’t climb the turnbuckles, X is your jump button, and will let you pull off simple flying attacks (missile dropkicks, diving shoulderblocks) and flying grapples (flying headscissors, sunset flip powerbombs). You can even jump off the middle of the ropes (as in, the actual ropes, not the turnbuckles) to get bigger air on your attacks, or to get out of a pummelling in the corner.
Just fucking wacky.
Counters and reversals are present and correct, though they’re a bit more tricky to pull off. This is thanks to both the faster pace, and the fact that in an arcadey game like this, it’s less about intricate blocking, and countering than it is about hitting a Level 3 max special that lets you hit an eight-point joint lock into an Inverted Tarantula Tombstone from fifty feet in the air. Holding down B (the evade button) will block attacks, but if you time your press to coincide with an incoming strike, you’ll be able counter it and follow through with your own. If someone is trying to grab you, a well-timed stab of the A button will shrug off the attempt, while holding down A will not only shrug off the grapple, but shoulder-roll you behind your opponent so you can get a back grapple (while they do the patented AKI “Where do he go?” head gesture). If counters and reversals were important in the other AKI games, they are VITAL here, because there are no pinfalls, DQs, or (since you can’t leave the ring) countouts; bouts are won by KO only, which means when you’re down to your last sliver of health, you better block every damn attack thrown at you.
The grappling itself will be familiar to AKI heads, but has been altered slightly enough for you to have to learn new tactics. You’ve still got the strong and weak grapples (depending on how long you hold down the grapple button, Y), although there are far less moves from these two positions than AKI’s previous titles. Since the game is so much faster than before, it initially feels very random, and like you aren’t really in control of what moves your character executes, because it’s so quick that you pull off your move literally as soon as you connect with your grapple attempt. Which means that you have to go for a grapple and immediately program what move you want to do, which is initially awkward, but definitely adds to the frantic pace of the action.
A dickless, walnut-headed Samoan head doing a 5star on a spiky golem. Hmm.
Like running, the Irish whip control scheme is different too. To whip your opponent, you have to perform a weak grapple and immediately hit A in order to dropkick the other guy into the ropes or the turnbuckle. He’ll then rebound back to you, out of control, where you can either catch him in a suitable grapple (like a powerslam or German suplex) or charge up a strong strike and smack the shit out of him. If you’re in a back grapple, you can whip them into the ropes so that they rebound towards you back-first. There are few things more awesome than catching your opponent from behind, dropkick ingthem in the arse and catch them running back at you backwards with a sweet Backdrop Driver. As well as whipping from a grapple, you can also hit X to lob your opponent in the air, alley-oop style. From there, you can jump up and catch them with a flying attack, or even catch them in a midair grapple, which is usually a catching-powerslam or a catching-piledriver of some sort. Very cool stuff.
Where the game has changed the most is with the special meter, which has evolved to accommodate the arcade stylings of Kinnikuman. As you charge up your special meter by hitting moves and combos and picking up the powerups your manager tosses into the ring (alas, there is no taunting in the game), your meter fills up to Levels 1, 2 or 3 (max). At each Level, you can pull off a different signature move using L+Y. This is where it really becomes apparent that all the standard wrestling holds powerslams, piledrivers, powerbombs are nothing more than transition moves in Kinnikuman; the real moves that the game is geared around are these power moves. This is where the whacked-out, arcadey anime flavour truly becomes apparent, as a typical Level 2 power move is alley-ooping your opponent thirty feet into the air, leaping up and catching them in a torture rack, cracking their spine, and then sending them back down to the mat in a Burning Hammer with ridiculous hangtime. But the BEST fucking aspect of this game are the stupid and insane Level 3 max specials that are (literally) right out of an anime. When you’re maxed out, get in the vicinity of your opponent and hit L+R. Words can’t really do justice to them, so here’s a bunch of screenshots:
Killer Dickwheel followed by a Great Pyramid and an Arc de Triumphe
Alley-oop the fucker, then come off the ropes with a Spear to the spine
Human Basketball, Slam Dunk, and a Stink Face with follow-through
Suffice it to say, it’s a bizarre hybrid of the battle scenes from Pokémon, Fist of the North Star and (obviously) Kinnikuman, with bold, primary colours, “power lines”, and amped-the-fuck-up, crazyass specials. Sunshine turns into his giant spinning top thing and knocks the shit out of the opponent before flying into the sky and turning into his inverted pyramid and impaling them on the mat. Check Mate turns into his half-horse character and hoofs the shit out of his opponent. Brocken Jr. unleashes a flurry of flaming explosive punches, Buffalo Man goes apeshit and charges the hell out of the other wrestler, and Terry Man turns into a giant condor and gets medievil. Crazy, crazy, crazy shit, and if you’re even remotely amused by the Pokémon scene in the Clerks cartoon, you will REALLY appreciate the wackiness of these moves.
So then, the hardcore, psychological, simulation aspects of No Mercy and VPW2 have been totally castrated forget working a body part, don’t kid yourself about being able to climb the turnbuckles or get out of the ring, and get real if you’re expecting ten-minute exhibitions of intrciate move-counter-move. Instead, bouts are generally a few minutes long, consisting of a flurry of strikes, lots of amped-up power moves, and conclude with a ridiculous anime finisher that will leave you on the floor laughing your ass off. If you’re expecting No Mercy 2003, you will be VERY disappointed. This is less a wrestling game than a really far out Japanese fighting game that happens to take place in a wrestling ring.
Rating: *** (Based on being a “real” wrestling game; **** based on being an arcade grappler)
The story mode makes absolutely no sense unless you both understand Japanese and follow the anime. Since I do neither, the story itself is beyond me, although I can tell you it’s a pretty straightforward affair. You choose a character, and you fight through maybe ten matches; each character has their own rivals, who proceed to challenge you throughout. You choose another wrestler to act as your second in each match (which makes no difference in any way other than aesthetically, since your second just tosses powerups to you and doesn’t actually get involved in the match), and occasionally you’ll get involved in a tag match. At the end of story mode, you’ll face either a new, non-selectable boss character (picked from one of the five-hundred or so Kinnikumen), or your nemesis “new generation” or “legend” wrestler for instance, if you play as legendary wrestler Kinniku Suguru, you will face his next generation rendition Kinniku Mantaro. This probably all makes sense if you know the series, but it explains the game’s full title, at least.
When you lose a bout, you get an infinite number of continues with which to try again. You win coins for each victory, which you can use to gamble for Kinnikuman figures in the two slot machines, à la Smash Brothers Mélee. You can then look at your figures in the galleries, which is cool if you ever collected the toys, because you can see them here fully painted and as they were supposed to look.
Gotta catch 'em all!
To be honest, there’s not an awful lot to story mode. If you can read kanji, it’s probably cool to understand what the wrestlers are saying to each other, but aside from that, it’s nothing like as sophisticated as No Mercy’s story mode. There are no branching storylines, and winning or losing certain matches will not affect the path you take. Think Tekken or Street Fighter with cutscenes. Not that it matters, because this is a multiplayer game to the bone.
Um, do tag matches count?
There really isn’t a lot going on here. Straight up one-on-one or two-on-two bouts, and three- and four-way dances are all you get. Again, this IS a fighting game and not a wrestling game, but it would’ve been cool to have a battle royal at least, or maybe a ladder or cage match, given that they’ve already got the coding for them in the N64 engines.
One BIG plus with the tag matches is the inclusion of Level 3 double-team specials. When you or your partner’s special meters are maxed out, you can perform even more ridiculous, spazzed-out special moves like Rockers-style stereo fifty-foot tombstones to a kind of one-potatoe, two-potatoe double storey Kinnikuman Buster. Check it out:
Shit like this is even more far out and on-your-ass entertaining than the solo specials, which is fucking hard to do. Four-player battles on this are almost as much fun as four-player Smash Brothers. Seriously. It’s great too, because it doesn’t carry the stigma of being a WWF game, or even really a wrestling game, so your non-wrestling buddies will be happy to try it out without playing a “shitty fake wrestling” game. College kids, this is definitely one to check out.
However, it must be said that, much like Legends of Wrestling 2, the C-stick is a poor replacement for the N64’s C buttons when it comes to facing different opponents in a fray. It’s just horribly random, and there’s nothing worse than seeing a guy sneaking up on you and being totally unable to turn around and twat him. The good news, however, is that AKI have eradicated any trace of the foul stench of multiplayer slowdown, as the screen can be full of powerups, commentators and wrestlers pulling off crazyass special moves, and there’s no slowdown at all. About fucking time, too.
Ouch. Again, we get burned here.
There’s a kind of, very pseudo-CAW, where you can name your own grappler and give him some moves, but you can only build him out of the body parts of about 12 Kinnikumen. Sure, you can change the colours, but ultimately, there really isn’t much point as the characters you build don’t end up anywhere near as cool-looking as the ones already in the game.
There seems to be enough free slots to build about a dozen “CAWs”, but I had problems saving any of mine which I would usually attribute to my inability to read Japanese, but since I tried every option a few times, it's probably down to the game trying to tell me not to bother.
The cel-shaded graphics really make this game. As you can see from the screenshots, the wrestlers still retain some traditional AKI DNA, but are superb renditions of their anime counterparts. Everything is so smoothly and slickly animated, with no slowdown it’s become a clichéd phrase in gaming, but this truly is like playing a cartoon, because that’s essentially what you’re doing. When my girlfriend first saw it, she said “The graphics aren’t very good, it just looks like a cartoon!” Which is good if you like the way cartoons look, bad if you don’t.
"Now who's shitting a brick, dickwad?"
Kinnikuman must be the first wrestling game to get around the problem of bland, generic backgrounds. You’ve got your standard, RAW/Nitro-style wrestling arena, a sprawling, teched-out 2354 Tokyo Dome, a broken down deathmatch stadium with shattered glass and spikes bathed in sunset, a frozen wasteland surrounded by glaciers, even the famed dMp arena. The crowds are similarly the first I can remember in a wrestling game not to look like utter crap, because they are totally animated and kept at a comfortable distance so you don’t get a chance to see their 2D-ness (being as you can’t get out of the ring and all). In fact, the crowds are a lot like the animated characters in Shaolin Soccer, which only a few of you will understand, but it’s pretty accurate.
There is also a commentary team as a permanent fixture in each match. They are seated at their table at the top of the screen, and since you can’t leave the ring,, you can’t get to them (so no beating them up and/or putting anyone through their table), but they are VERY animated and react to what’s going on in the match. It’s funny seeing the Japanese incarnation of Jim Ross go into shill mode whenever something big happens… like the specials, which are just SO superbly executed.
"BY GAWD! HAVE MERCY ON THIS KID'S SOUL!"
The game’s intro is typically superb for an AKI game remember how the awesome openings evolved from Revenge, to No Mercy and then to VPW2? Well, they’ve gone one better again. It’s totally animéd out, and looks completely in tune with the series, but remaining totally AKI at the same time.
There’s not a lot else I can say that isn’t reflected in the screenshots, so just scroll around and enjoy.
The music is a mixed bag of musical tastes. The intro features the Kinnikuman theme tune “Hustle Muscle!” and is your typical Japanese cheese-rock anthem. There are a couple of other such karaoke-esque tunes, particularly at the end credits, but the good news is that the in-game tunes are the usual, inoffensive AKI fodder.
Man, puro's fucked up. Which one's Misawa?
There’s a lot of speech in the game too, although obviously, it’s all Japanese. In story mode, there’s a lot of talking going on that would no doubt pad things out nicely and explain why people turn into condors. The commentators have a lot to say for themselves too I wouldn’t exactly call it play-by-play, but they’re certainly talking more often than not. And they REALLY get open when the action heats up, although sadly I didn’t hear one “LARIATOOOOOOOOOOOO!” The cool thing about the commentators talking in Japanese is that, unlike just about every other game with commentary, since you can’t understand what they’re saying, you don’t get bored of what they’re saying. In fact, the commentary really adds to the whole wacky flavour, much like watching puro tapes. I was just listening to the McTiernan commentary on the Die Hard DVD, and he put it really well it doesn’t matter that you can’t understand what they’re saying, because the sounds themselves perform a narrative of their own. Well, it sounded more profound when he said it, but I’m sure you understand.
I have to admit, in the weeks since I posted my LoW2 review, I’ve been playing that game significantly more than No Mercy or VPW2. I know, I know, it goes against all my better judgements and it’s a shock to me as much as anyone else, but I… I… I’m actually starting to prefer LoW2 to the AKI games (ulp). I think it’s really more due to the fact that, minor updates aside, No Mercy and VPW2 really aren’t that much different from WCW/nWo World Tour and VPW64. Comparing a state-of-the-art grappler to what is essentially a six year-old game (and trust me, I’ve been playing the various incarnations SOLIDLY for six years), the young whippersnapper is more fun even in a style-over-substance way.
"You won't see this shit on RAW. Maybe Smack!Down...
But whether you accept my newfound love for Acclaim’s series or not, Kinnikuman’s standing really depends on what you want from a wrestling game. As a pure wrestling game, it simply doesn’t, and can’t, stand up to No Mercy or VPW2. As an arcade alternative, it’s certainly far more entertaining, though it doesn’t have nearly the depth, and therefore, the long-term appeal. A not entirely unfair comparison would be to WrestleMania: The Arcade Game. I fucking LOVE that game, but it certainly doesn’t keep me glued to the PSone for weeks on end. It’s great, wacky, goofy fun for a while, and multiplayer is just an absolute fucking blast. But once you’ve killed story mode (which really isn’t that involved and won’t take long), there’s not much here for the solo gamer.
Now, Def Jam Vendetta. The PS2 demo is currently doing the rounds, and by all accounts, DJV is the spiritual successor to No Mercy that everyone has been gagging for. It plays in very much the same way as the other AKIs, and feels a lot more like an EA-esque No Mercy 2003 rehash. So if a truer, more familiar successor to the AKI crown is what you’re looking for, Def Jam is probably your bag. For me, it’s becoming apparent that the AKI engine is starting to run its course. As much as everyone says “Oh shit, I’d just buy No Mercy with the new moves and some new CAW outfits,” it becomes clear when you get into another wrestling game like LoW2 that there really isn’t a lot else they can do with the engine. It’s still fucking awesome, and it’s still the best there is. But if, like me, you’ve been playing what is basically the same game only slightly updated for six straight years, you start to crave a little variety.
THIS is why I love Kinnikuman so much: because it’s still AKI, and it’s still feels familiar at the core, but at the same time it’s SOOOOO different. While Def Jam essentially feels exactly the same as Virtual Pro Wrestling 64 did six years ago, Kinnikuman shows AKI getting a little looser, and fucking experimenting with their shit. Take that for what it’s worth.
Not as Good as: LoW2, No Mercy, VPW2 (based on being a “real” wrestling game)
Better Than: Smack!Down, WrestleMania Arcade
There’s a lot this games has going for it, but coming in as I was (and no doubt as most of you will be) with a lot of traditional AKI expectations, it also has a lot going against it. Which really isn’t fair, because what will stop people from buying it is simply the fact that it isn’t yet another revamp of a game we’ve already got. Most people will choose not to check out this game because it dares to try something new with the series, and that’s just a damn shame: a game that tries not to be a shitty, Madden-esque rehash of its predecessor, that tries to do new and exciting things, and people probably won’t pick it up. That’s not a shame, that’s just fucked up.
Kevin Mask jobs to a sex doll. Look at the mouth!
Come on man, grow some fucking bollocks. It’s still an AKI game, but they’re trying something a little different. It’s still fucking AKI, and it’s still fucking cool even moreso if you’re a fan of the series (and if you are, you’ll probably love this game like a good woman). It’s due out in the US under the domestic Ultimate Muscle brand in May, and you owe it to yourself to check it out just be sure to open your mind and do away with the No Mercy preconceptions.