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Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes del Ring
Score: 68%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Slang Games
Developer: Immersion Games
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 4; 2 - 4 (Online)
Genre: Sports (Wrestling)/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
I have been a wrestling fan for years. To me, part of the fun of following wrestling is more about the backstage antics or the creative input it takes to have a wrestling gimmick "put over." Having an ordinary guy become a megastar doesn't happen overnight (despite what WWE would have you believe.) It takes a lot of work and passion to create personas and characters that really resonate with the crowd. That's why I love Mexican wrestlers, or Luchadors. These guys put their bodies on the line because they believe in the athleticism and their gimmick, which is often represented by a mask. AAA Wrestling is a huge Mexican wrestling federation, watched by millions around the world, who just created their first videogame: Lucha Libre AAA: Héroes del Ring.

This is the first attempt to capture the spirit of the lucha and bring it to a wider audience. It is also being handled by people that know it best. Mexican developer, Immersion Games, handles the duties of staying true to lucha history and maintaining the proud history of Mexican wrestling.

The look of Lucha Libre AAA: Héroes del Ring is pretty great. The game was built using the Unreal Engine 3 and the wrestlers themselves look pretty good. Sweat glistens, the animations are fluid, and the over the top mask designs are charming in a ridiculous sort of way. Though the faces of many wrestlers look strange sometimes and sometimes not at all like their real-life counterpart (Konnan.) It really doesn't matter that much considering half the roster wears masks, but it was a little strange at first.

If you don't want the AAA roster, you can create your own Lucha Libre brawler in an impressively deep character creation feature. You can edit anything from body build, move sets, knee pads, tights, capes, and (most importantly) the mask. There is a dizzying amount of variety and options dedicated solely to creating a perfect mask for your Mexican Luchador. You can customize the materials used to make the mask, the types of eye-holes, whether the mask uses mesh, horns, wings, you name it. I was able to create a fairly solid recreation of real-life wrestler, El Generico, with a slightly tweaked move list, but the end result was mighty impressive.

It is a nice touch that most of the wrestlers speak Spanish during their promos or video segments. The honest-to-goodness feeling of being in Mexico while playing Lucha Libre is aided by the charming surfer rock soundtrack or the traditional weepy guitars from a by-gone mariachi. Overall, I liked the voice acting from the wrestlers themselves but the announcers and commentary during the main matches are simply terrible.

Konnan and his associate deliver the same few lines of dialogue over and over again, despite which wrestler was in the ring or which move was just used. Konnan himself sounds incredibly awkward and stiff when commentating on the in-ring proceedings. This is strange because Konnan has worked for American promotions numerous times over the years and is rather fluent in English, so it just makes it worse that he struggles so much during rather uninteresting dialogue.

Lucha Libre AAA: Héroes del Ring is a game for wrestling fans -not necessarily WWE fans- but for those of us who follow Chikara, Ring of Honor, Dragon Gate, or (obviously) AAA wrestling promotions. It is very satisfying to see a different style of wrestling game come out in the States, but to be honest, AAA has a long way to go to catch up to Smackdown.

As with any wrestling game, creating your fighter and adventuring through a kayfabe (wrestling lingo for "fake") storyline is part of the fun and charm that draws you into the game. Lucha Libre offers up a pretty good story for both the Technicos (good guys) and the Rudos (bad guys) to explore. Through a series of different matches, the story unfolds and you eventually fight a legendary wrestler and claim the title as the greatest luchador to ever live. I played through the Rudos campaign (I like the bad guys) and I found the writing to be quite good. It was silly and formulaic, but it was perfect for the storyline of a big stable of Rudos.

Your masked wrestler also has to defend his most prized possession at times. That's right, the mask goes on the line in many instances to make match-ups tense. You can even take your luchador online and wager a mask vs. hair match for bragging rights. Be careful, because losing the mask is permanent and you will be forced to perform without a mask for a period of time and earn a new one once you have proven yourself (just like the real AAA.) If the mask match is too much of a gamble, then you can also compete in 8-man tournaments and even "Fatal Facing of Four" matches. The match variety is a little light, but the number of unique moves and performers makes up for this shortcoming somewhat.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where the nice things stop. The actual act of playing Lucha Libre leaves a lot to be desired. It isn't bad. Don't confuse that. The setup of grapples, special moves, and crowd support are generally well implemented. It's the system that is broken. Allow me to break it down.

I was in a Tag-team match, or 2 vs. 2. The match rules were set to 20 second count-outs and disqualifications turned on. My luchador, El Generico, was managing his best outside of the ring hoping to wear my opponent down and win by count-out. As the referee had nearly counted to 20, my other opponent put my teammate in a submission maneuver and the count-out was stopped in order to display the submission meter. The count-out reset! The opponent outside of the ring (who was out of the ring for nearly 30 seconds by now) grabbed a chair, climbed into the ring and hit me in front of the referee. Instant disqualification, right? No. Because the ref was still going through his animation of attending to the submission move, he didn't care. I lost the match and was forced to replay again. When the most basic system of gameplay does not function properly, something is wrong.

That isn't to say that I wasn't enjoying myself. Overall, I was having a good time fighting my way to the top, but it was always with the understanding that it could all go wrong very quickly. I tempered my expectations quickly after the tutorial explaining all the moves and grapples when I noticed how stiff and cumbersome the navigation turned out. Lucha Libre's biggest problem is that it is slow and imprecise. Far too often, you will spend too much time walking over to your opponent, fists ready, only to miss the attack because of poor targeting. I guess that sums up my thoughts fairly accurately; I wanted to like Lucha Libre AAA at every turn, but I found myself being forced to re-evaluate how much fun I was having during every fight.

While the learning curve is fairly smooth early on, make no mistake about it, Lucha Libre AAA: Héroes del Ring is hard. It is hard in the exact way that it shouldn't be hard. You will spend more time fighting the system than opponents and you will inevitably feel cheated because you lost a match through no fault of your own. The grapple reverse system is overused and overpowered resulting in 12(!) consecutive reversals before I simply gave up because I wanted to have a real match. You can set the difficultly during exhibition matches to your preference, but storyline matches are simply a nightmare towards the conclusion.

Game Mechanics:
To be honest, Lucha Libre AAA: Héroes del Ring has one of the simplest and cleanest grapple systems I have ever played. (L2) and (R2) serve as the strong and weak grapple initiations respectively, while the face buttons activate the specific move you wish to pull off. It is basic, but it works. Since all of the grapples are conditional depending on your position in the ring, it also helps that you won't have to memorize specific inputs just to get the move you want.

The crowd meter is also a very nice touch. In order to use your special finishes, you have to win over the crowd or earn their hatred (for Rudos) until the meter is full, at which point you activate the special and perform a grapple to see the big payoff. Be careful, though, because some opponents are smart enough to flee when an over-hyped performer is looking for a finish, making for a game of cat and mouse inside the ring.

At the end of the day, I love the trappings and style that surround Lucha Libre AAA: Héroes del Ring.. Creating my ridiculous wrestling personas was good fun for sure and I also admire the dedication and passion that went into creating the characters, stories, and history of the promotion. The actual game, however, was too unpolished and it seemed to actually interfere with my enjoyment. Lucha Libre AAA: Héroes del Ring is very ambitious, but it may have tried to do too much in a single outing. Like all new wrestling stars, there is an awkward growth period where they have to find a personality that works for them, hopefully Lucha Libre AAA: Héroes del Ring can find its own unique mask and entertain millions of fans in the years to come.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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