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Videogame Review: DEF JAM VENDETTA, April 13, 2003
Guest_TSMAdmin_*
post Jun 19 2003, 04:59 PM
Post #1





Guests







Videogame Review: DEF JAM VENDETTA



Developer: AKI~!

Publisher: Electronic Arts (EA Big)


Supplied by: Steve Fiocco





(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/deftitle.jpg)




Note: The following review is based on the GameCube version of the title. However, the PS2 version is virtually identical (the only real differences are longer load times, better quality FMV cutscenes, and less polished graphics/animation/framerate), and so this should provide a good overview for both versions.





Before we start, I want to give a major shout out to Steve Fiocco who hooks me up with all my US games, and the occasional hard-to-find DVD. He’ll have a full website up soon, but for now I urge you to check out his latest deals here. As someone who’s been active on the UK grey import scene for nearly 12 years, I can’t recommend him highly enough – the latest titles are only £37.99 including delivery to the UK, which takes anywhere from three days to a week. The hell with the ridiculous prices domestic importers charge – go save yourself some money.



Now, No Mercy 2 Def Jam Vendetta. When EA first announced the title, I had frightening visions of Hulk Hogan’s Rock & Wrestling-style campness. Then I found out AKI were developing it, and I didn’t care if it was a bunch of fags swatting each other with handbags – I was THERE. As you probably know, I’m a HUGE AKI mark (hell, I was even contemplating picking up that new Japanese puzzle game thing), so a new AKI game is like Metal Gear 3 or Grand Theft Auto 4 to me.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/methpose.jpg)
"This game is the bomb, fo shizzle. My nizzle."





BUT, I have a couple of real issues with the game, most of which can be found towards the end of the GAMEPLAY section. So if you’re like me and you usually skip most of the review, I would strongly advise you at least read that section, because there are a couple of problems that I’m sure other people will concur with.



So then, click one of the following to jump to a specific part of the review, or just scroll and enjoy.





Knowledge

Gameplay

Story

Gimmick

CAW

Graphics

Sound

Competition

Overall







KNOWLEDGE





Traditionally, AKI have been the developers for THQ’s Nintendo wrestling licenses – originally WCW with WCW World Tour and WCW/nWo Revenge, then the WWF with WrestleMania 2000 and No Mercy. However, with THQ being the developer-unfriendly company they are, tensions were growing between them and AKI. When THQ fired Sanders KeelAKI’s chief supporter and a VERY good friend to internet fans in the way he would listen to feedback and release information – the decision was made to sever ties with the company responsible for developing the best wrestling game engine, and the license was given to Yukes!, who were the developers of the better-selling, yet thoroughly inferior PlayStation Smack!Down series.





This came as a HUGE blow to fans of AKI’s grappling games – with ECW dead and gone (and Acclaim for now owning the residual rights, should there be any chance of another ECW game being released) and WCW recently bought out by the WWF (and the rights to the WCW license thusly transferred back to THQ and Yukes!), it seemed as if the chances of another AKI grappler were slim.





How wrong we all were.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/redbackdrop.jpg)
Back body drop FROM THE HOOD.





AKI took everything in their stride. After all, they owned the best grappling engine in the world – they’d surely get a deal somewhere. And indeed they did. While rumours of another Virtual Pro Wrestling instalment went up in smoke along with All Japan’s financial future, AKI struck a deal with Bandai to develop a title for the Kinnikuman/Ultimate Muscle license. The result was a lightning-quick, arcade grappler with an evolved version of the No Mercy engine that delighted anime and AKI fans everywhere. But Electronic Arts, having lost their WCW license, were looking for another way to cash-in on the lucrative wrestling game market, and wasted no time in picking up the phone to Japan. AKI would be coming back to the US but – like their return to Japan with Kinnikuman – it would not be with an official promotional license, but rather, another pop-culture staple: music.





In a most peculiar arrangement, EA had signed a deal with Def Jam Records to produce a hip-hop fighting game. In retrospect, it was an ingenious move; rather than sign a deal with a smaller, lesser-known wrestling promotion (such as Ring of Honor, NWA:TNA, XPW etc.), EA realised that the AKI had a diehard fanbase who had followed the developer for years regardless of promotional license, and would essentially buy a Barbie fighting game if AKI developed it. So safe in the knowledge that an AKI title would automatically sell to a wrestling audience regardless, EA made a deal that would also draw considerable interest from the music industry – both the teenie-bopping Puff Daddy/Eminem twelve year-old demographic, and the hardcore, Source-reading heads who were down from the start.





All the pieces have fallen together pretty much perfectly. And regardless of what you think (or don’t think) of hip-hop culture, Def Jam Vendetta is indeed the second coming of No Mercy… albeit with a couple of warts.







GAMEPLAY





If you read my review of AKI's previous GameCube grappler Kinnikuman, you’ll remember my sentiment that the gameplay was significantly evolved, while at the same time retaining much of what made the original (No Mercy) so great. Kinnikuman was much more arcadey – no pinfalls/submissions, no fighting outside the ring or even climbing the turnbuckle, but a lot more emphasis on wild special attacks and powering-up your player to unleash killer moves. Of course, this came at the expense of the simulation aspects of No Mercy that are the main reason everybody loved the title – working specific body parts, and a perfect balance of realism and arcade-style gaming.





For the many of you that were turned off by the sound of that, fear not – Def Jam Vendetta is basically No Mercy 2. With rappers.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/3angryrappers.jpg)
Somebody gon' get they cap twisted back.








Tap the grapple button (A), you grapple weak. Press it, you grapple strong. Hit a button with a direction on the stick and you pull off one of a vast number of moves for each character – this is AKI, alright, and the transition from N64 to GameCube controller is smooth as silk. Hit L to shrug off a grapple attampt, R to counter or block a strike, X makes you run, B controls your striking (tap it for weak strikes, hold it for strong strikes), and the C-stick taunts and performs your Blazin’ specials. So if you’ve played No Mercy, you can play this. Unless you’ve invested hours in Kinnikuman, that is, in which case you’ll be trying to counter grapples with B and getting your ass handed to you for the first few hours. But apart from that, this is the N64 goodness we remember, right down to the old AKI idiosyncrasies that are found in all of their titles: CPU opponents are overwhelmingly vulnerable to springboard attacks, you can win tag matches by focusing on the CPU character stood on the apron and continually run attacking his partner who won’t block, if you manage to dodge the CPU until his special meter runs out, it’ll charge up again REAL quick, and so on.





That isn’t to say that things haven’t changed since No Mercy. Firstly, the game is much speedier than the last N64 incarnation – not quite as fast as Kinnikuman, but faster than before, and this is even more noticeable thanks to the fact the DJV doesn’t suffer from NM’s terrible slowdown woes. There are new moves and wild, WILD specials to pull off, from Edge’s Faceplant to Suwa’s INSANE 360 Powerbomb to outrageous finishers straight out of Kinikuman (in fact, many of the new moves come from AKI’s previous title). The Spirit/Attitude meter is now the Momentum meter, and works in much the same way – as you connect with moves and taunt your opponent(s), the meter rises. As you get taunted or take punishment, it depletes. When it’s full, you can pull off a Blazin’ special. Now, this is where things start to change. The meter is built up by equal parts taunting, gaining the upper hand in the bout, and pleasing the crowd. Repetitious moves will start to build up the meter less and less, while constantly varying your attacks – using different grapple moves as well as using different means of attack, such as turnbuckle moves, running moves etc. – will kickstart the meter big time. Another way of building up the meter quickly is with combos. Each character has a few combos, and they’re not just a matter of punch-punch-kick; in fact, they can be as varied as weak strike-strong strike-strong grapple-running ground attack. Not only do combos build up your meter fast, but they also yield far better points, and thus more money (see STORY MODE).



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/mosesbomb.jpg)
CRUCIFIX POWERBOMB~! FROM THE HOOD!









Now, that may all sound “all good”, but there are a couple of minor flaws. Firstly, there are less specials in the game. In No Mercy, you had front grapple specials, back grapple specials, Irish whip specials, turnbuckle specials, top rope specials, and ground/submission specials. In DJV, this has been reduced to just front and back grapple specials and top rope specials. Not a huge loss, but a loss nonetheless. More of a loss is the fact that there are a few less move possibilities – for example, the only turnbuckle grapples possible now are one weak and one strong, rather than the two weak, two strong, tree of woe, belly-to-back, and whip to the opposite corner we’re all used to. Another point that will no doubt annoy some is the fact that there’s no blood in the game. On the surface, you’d think that blood doesn’t matter a damn, but thinking back to busting someone open in No Mercy, or the way matches would end with a bloodsoaked mat in Legends of Wrestling 2, it becomes apparent that blood adds more than you might think. There are no weapons either. Any number of hip-hop related tools could’ve been included – platinum records, 40-ounce bottles, ball bats, iced-out chains, gats (well, maybe not) – but it wasn’t to be, and since every AKI game since WCW/nWo Revenge has had weapons, it’s kind of a glaring omission. And while the controls are overall great, a very niggling problem is the button used in tag matches etc. to change focus between multiple opponents is the Z button. It’s just SO unintuitive, since unless you use the R button with your middle finger, you’ve got to juggle the pad and switch fingers whenever you want to change focus, which is a real pain. Now, Kinnikuman and LoW2 both used the C-stick to change focus, and it was far from successful (and DJV uses the C-stick for specials, anyway). A better solution would have been to use the D-pad to change focus, since it’s too small and no-one uses it for main control anyway. Again, it’s only a little thing, but all these little things are adding up.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/rapperselect.jpg)
44 grapplers, 12 of them rappers. And no HGH to hold them down.







Then there’s the submissions, and AKI’s patented “work a specific body part”. Yes, this has made it over intact, though AKI have altered it slightly – and for the worse. Now, when you work a body part, an individual health meter for that particular part, separate from the main health bar, appears. As you work the part, the health goes down, and only after it’s been fully depleted can you get a submission. Sounds good, right? It is. The problem is that AKI have implemented the dreaded button-bashing meters last seen in WCW/nWo Revenge’s horrid Roman knucklelocks; when someone locks you in a submission hold or a pin attempt, a “break meter” appears and you have to manically smash the buttons as fast as you can to get free. I HATE HATE HATE button-bashing in any form, and this is a severe pain in the ass for me personally. It totally takes away from bouts being decided by true gamesplaying prowess, as now winning depends rather heavily on button-bashing to break free from holds. And trust me, the computer will use them A LOT, and if you don’t break free quickly, they’ll wear you down ridiculously fast. Foley’s turnbuckle flurry punch, for example, is wildly unfair, as even the most rampant button-smashing won’t be quick enough to stop the CPU wearing down half your energy. I don’t like random button-bashing, I like precision GAMEPLAY. If I want to hammer the shit out of my pads, I’ll go dig out my copy of Track & Field. Smashing up my WaveBirds isn’t what I bought DJV for. Yes, AKI games have traditionally required a little button-tapping to break holds or reach the ropes, but they weren’t measured with specific meters and certainly didn’t require the amount of mindless bashing as here. This may not matter to most people, but I find it a real pain. Incidentally, the patented Track & Field “put your shirtsleeve over your palm and rub the buttons like crazy” technique works a LOT better than trying to tap with one finger.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/buttonbash.jpg)
Button bashing = cheap losses and broken pads







All of that said, it’s still damn good fun. Despite a few gripes, this really is the closest thing to No Mercy 2.








STORY MODE






The main failing of previous AKI games has been the story mode. From World Tour up to Mania 2000, the problem was that there wasn’t one, and while No Mercy’s was serviceable, it certainly wasn’t anything too spectacular, and certainly was a lot more linear than it first seemed, and Kinnikuman’s story mode was again very linear. Luckily, the story mode in Def Jam is pretty impressive.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/dmob.jpg)
D Mob, head of Death Row Records the Def Jam fighting circuit







The great tradition of street fighting has been organised into an underground circuit under the control of Suge Knight-alike boss character D Mob and his hip hop henchmen. As the story begins, your buddy Manny owes a bunch of money to D Mob, and has been trying to earn money by fighting. However, he’s had his arm smashed, and he calls you in to earn the bread. It soon becomes apparent that your ex-squeeze is now knocking boots with D Mob, and after you’ve helped bail Manny out of his problems you continue fighting to win her back.





Okay, so it’s not the story itself that’s the great thing about story mode. When you start the game, you can only choose from four generic underdog fighters and a handful of rappers, and a couple of arenas. As you take your fighter through the game, you unlock more and more stuff. As you defeat each opponent, you unlock them for use in the other game modes, and you unlock new stages as you play them, provided you win the fight. It’s not revolutionary by any means, but it’s structured in such a way that if you want to get all the good stuff to use in multiplayer, you’ve got to play the story mode through a couple of times to get everything. EA have ordered the rappers you unlock in a clever way too, as arguably the most popular characters, Method Man, Redman and DMX are towards the end of your journey.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/angel.jpg)
You're risking life and limb to win back this chick? Nice jheri curl.




As you win fights, you earn points based on your performance, which in turn earns you money. Or rather, to use Def Jam terminology, cash money bling-bling cheddar cheese duckets. Homey. You earn points based on variety of moves, health and time remaining and so on. The cash can be used in a Smack!Down Mall kind of way to unlock extra items, but its main use is to beef up your character. Each of the rookie characters starts out with a fairly weak set of attributes, which are broken down into power, speed, grapple, defence, charisma and so on. Their stats are all unique, too – Briggs is a good all-rounder, Proof is quick but weak, Tank is slow but strong and the other guy… well, he looks gay so I haven’t used him, but you get the picture. With the money you earn from kicking ass, you can boost your individual stats to make your fighter better. It’s all basic stuff, but it adds a hell of a lot. When you face slippery fast, counter and reversal-heavy Ludacris, for example, you’ll really need to bump up your speed and grappling levels if you’re going to get any further.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/blingbling.jpg)
Instead of bumping up stats, you should be able to buy platinum chains.





As your fighter’s stats gets better and better, so does his moveset: when you up the power level, you’ll start doing more and more power moves, and some of your older strong grapple power moves can be pulled off from weak grapples. It’s a really neat system and it feels like your character is continually evolving and learning new tricks, and makes repeat play very worthwhile and rewarding to power up all the rookies. There is potential for “cheating” though, since money you earn in non-story mode exhibition bouts can still be used in story mode. Which is good in a way, since if you’re struggling against one of the Def Jammers you can win a few fights and boost your character a little more. AKI have taken steps to reduce the effectiveness of this tactic though, since victories in the later levels of story mode will yield anywhere from $20K-$40K, while victories in exhibitions will only win $2K-$4K, so you can't cheat too badly.




Money can also be used to buy women. Yes, women – excuse me, hoochies, hoes, bitches, skanks, skeezers and tricks. After a few fights, one of the Def Jam ringrats will take an interest in you and become your “valet”. As you win more and more fights, your desirability goes up and more and more women want you. This leads to challenge matches between your chick and others over who gets to go home with you. You select which biyatch you want to keep, and then duke it out. It really doesn’t impact the game at all, since your out to get your ex back anyway, but it’s a neat little touch to have women fighting over you. Well, it’s neat for me, anyway. As you win these fights, you unlock hi-res photo galleries of the real-life models the women characters are based on, and you can use your bling bling to purchase progressively racier pictures (we’re talking “WWF racy” though, not porn star racy).



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/bootyshots.jpg)
Scantily clad ladies gallery # 1







However, there are a couple of issues. Firstly, you can’t use any of the rappers in story mode. It’s not a huge deal, but what it comes down to is that you can only use four characters in the story mode, which might disappoint some who were looking forward to playing as their favourite rapper. That said, you probably won’t play the story mode more than four times all the way through, as it’s really just an elaborate means of unlocking everything, and not a genuine season mode as in Smack!Down. Also, the way the game is structured – win money and power up/customise your character – would mean that either rappers would become ridiculously powerful, or you’d have to play the game forty times to power up every character. As it is, it ain’t no big thang. It’s probably also worth mentioning that a lot of people were expecting the rappers and generic characters to simply be known WWF wrestlers with different names and outfits (as was the case in previous AKI games with the generic and Japanese wrestlers), but this is not the case. Each character has a varied moveset that isn’t really identifiable with any actual wrestler – Briggs does the Vertebreaker and Ludacris the Sliced Bread #2, but they sure don’t play like Shane Helms or Spanky, so if you were expecting WWF workers in disguise, you’ll be disappointed. That said, a number of characters certainly draw parallels with WWF gimmicks, like the awesome Moses, a Reverend D Von-style preacher, and Ruffneck, who IS Jamie Noble.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/mosesposes.jpg)
"TESTIFY!"






There’s no two player story mode, which again is a bit of a disappointment. Most of the multiplayer fun in AKI games is found in the versus modes anyway, but seeing as a number of the traditionally popular multiplayer matches are absent – ladder matches, battle royales etc. – it stings a little bit more not to have a co-operative story mode. And while I like the money system as pertains to boosting your fighter’s attributes, I feel they really could have done more with using it to unlock bonuses. How about extra clothing/jewellery or alternate outfits for each rapper? The rookie characters have each got an alternate outfit or two, but not the rappers. What about using money to buy new songs? I’m sure they could’ve put a few extra tracks as unlockable extras. You can buy glamour photos of each of the girls, but what about the rappers? Um, wait a minute, I don’t mean glamour photos of the rappers, but promo pictures, concept art or even album covers. And this is all off the top of my head – there’s certainly a lot to exploit.



And while the Def Jam stable is represented by some of the label’s best and most popular artists, they only make up 12 of the 44 playable characters. There are some very glaring omissions: LL Cool J, Run DMC, Jay Z, Slick Rick or even Russell Simmons – these would all have made great characters, but they’ve been overlooked. Maybe the main female that you're going after in the game could’ve been Eve. Given his feud with DMX, Ja Rule would have been an obvious candidate for the game so we can all beat the shit out of him for perpetrating. Even Public Enemy and Onyx, who actually provided tracks for the game, are nowhere to be seen, although in fairness, they probably have to save some stuff for the sequel.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/jamienobleboy.jpg)
"Jamie Noble boy!"





In all, the story mode is a mammoth step forward for AKI titles, but certainly isn’t anywhere near as deep as Smack!Down.








GIMMICK MATCHES





Hoo boy, there isn’t really a lot to choose from here. There’s the standard one-on-one, tag team, handicap and survival modes. And not much else.




No ladder matches, cage matches, table matches, ironman matches, battle royales, first blood (well, there’s no blood anyway), eight-man tag, Hell In A Cell, gat-on-a-pole… it’s a disappointment, to be honest. It’s annoying, too, that in the standard “exhibition” fights, you can’t change the rules like you could in No Mercy. So you can’t turn TKOs on or off, you can’t have a time limit, you can’t turn rope break off… you can’t really do all that much.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/redpose.jpg)
"Where all the wild matches at? What the dilly yo?"






The game will undoubtedly have a sequel, and it will undoubtedly have many of these extra matches. But the fact is that you can’t cut a title slack based on the fact that in a year we’ll be able to pay some more money to have them resolved. Particularly for PS2 owners, where Smack!Down rules the roost and it’s just loaded with match types, it’s something that can’t be overlooked.








CAW




Um, the what now? Create-A-what? Nah, none of that here, mate.”



This is one of the biggest turn-offs for potential consumers. There have been many arguments for and against the inclusion of a CAW, with as many people saying “It’s not a WWF game, it’s a fighting game – nobody complains that Tekken hasn’t got a CAW” as “It’s not a WWF game, so what’s the point in buying it if I can’t edit my favourite wrestlers into it?” I can empathise with both arguments. When I bought LoW2, since I was already playing No Mercy to death, I made a decision not to create active WWF wrestlers, only workers who weren’t actively employed there. So I’d already divorced myself from wanting to use WWF guys in non-WWF games, and when Kinnikuman came along, it only strengthened that idea (plus, it was announced from the start that the first DJV wouldn’t have a CAW, so I didn’t get excited about having it). That said, I know that the CAW is one of the primary reasons WHY I was still playing No Mercy, and that the feature is to many consumers the most important aspect of a grappling game. True, Tekken may not have a CAW and nobody complains, but Tekken isn’t a wrestling game in disguise – DJV is. And as such, it should have one. Hell, even Kinnikuman had a sorta CAW, and even something along those lines – or even something as basic as the WCW/nWo Revenge edit facility to change names, whole outfit skins and colours might’ve done for now.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/doubleteams.jpg)
At least all the usual double-teams are still here.






It’s not that AKI dodn’t want to include a CAW, they just didn’t have time to, so this is another one that will undoubtedly appear in the sequel. The question most people – particularly Smack!Down owners who are used to an amazing CAW in lieu of actual gameplay – will wonder is why then should they buy this instead of just waiting for the sequel. Well, if CAW is your sole reason for buying wrestling games, sorry, you may as well stop reading.







GRAPHICS



While Kinnikuman took a cel-shaded approach to faithfully render its anime characters, Def Jam goes the traditional AKI exaggerated/stylised realism route, and it’s never looked better. Each rapper is instantly recognisable and remarkably faithful to his real-life counterpart, from Capone’s army fatigues to Meth’s baseball getup to DMX’s Boomer tattoo.




There’s no slowdown and the game runs at a silky, consistent 60 FPS (although the PS2 version does dip occasionally). Many of the move animations will be familiar to No Mercy players, although almost all of them have been tweaked and fine-tuned, and even small moves like “Club To Neck” now have a lot more oomph to them. The new animations, including those for Blazin’ specials that have been taken directly from Kinnikuman haven’t received the same fine-tuning, but they were spot-on already so it’s no biggie. The clipping has come leaps and bounds from No Mercy, to the point where only characters of completely different ends of the size scale (for instance, the stick-thin women and a big dude like WC) noticeably clip. The textures are crisp and clear, and body parts are much more sophisticated and realistic, so no more of that jagged, pointy kneebone syndrome as seen in No Mercy.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/arenas.jpg)
The arenas are indeed very beautiful the shiznit.





The arenas are WAAAAAY improved over No Mercy and Legends of Wrestling 2, largely because they don’t attempt to be nearly as sprawling and packed as the stadia in those titles. Instead, each venue has about forty or so fully 3D spectators (much less detailed and more basically animated) who jump and cheer and react to the action. While the huge arena crowds in Kinnikuman looked more impressive, they weren’t really appropriate for an underground fighting circuit. The arenas themselves solve the age old problem of every wrestling venue looking the same by taking a ring and just putting it in different environments, from N.O.R.E.’s rooftop of Grimeyville to Ludacris’ neon-lit, pole-dancing nightclub to DMX’s dimly-lit junkyard. Each arena is nicely detailed and they all have their own feel, and it’s not at all like the “same building, different ramp” setup of No Mercy.




While Funkmaster Flex runs commentary (and DJ duties) for the game, he isn’t sat ringside with his turntables á la the announce table in No Mercy or the commentators in Kinnikuman. Instead, he’s one of the aforementioned background spectator characters hanging out in the arena at his decks, and you don’t have any contact with him during bouts. Just in case anyone was wondering “can I slam people into his turntables” or whatever.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/bootyhires.jpg)
This pic deserves to be bigger.





The FMV cutscenes are superbly animated, although the GameCube version does suffer from artifacting thanks to the disc compression. It’s noticable, but not horrific, and certainly doesn’t take away from the experience as IGN seems to think it does. Why they think a bit of artifacting on the GC version is unacceptable but thirty seconds of load time on the PS2 is okay is beyond me. Anyway… The photos in each of the girl galleries are superb. Um, I mean the quality of them, of course. They’re huge, hi-res pictures that you can zoom in on and scan around, should you feel the need to. They’re only a small part of the game, but it just shows how EA have paid attention to even the smallest details.









SOUND





Well, as far as the music goes, it’s really going to depend on what you think of hip-hop. All the muic in the game – from the cutscenes, to the menus, to the in-game BGM – is bass-heavy hip-hop. There are 18 licensed Def Jam tracks from every artist in the game (including a couple of guest appearances, such as Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg), as well as Onyx and Public Enemy. Now, when the tracks play during matches, they are just instrumental versions with the occasional chorus or hip-hop grunt, so if you’re not a fan of the genre don’t worry – it doesn’t in any way get in the way of the action, and you can quite easily forget it’s there. If you want, you can even turn the music off, so really, it’s not an issue.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/scottypose.jpg)
Scotty 2 Hotty! Pretty fly. For a white guy.






Interestingly, the tracks are censored, radio edits. Which is probably fair enough, as some people may not like the profanity, but then there is swearing in the cutscenes, which makes things a little bit confusing. While some people have suggested that censored and uncensored versions would have been a good idea, I can’t help but think that wouldn’t be viable. A better option would have been to have an option to turn profanity on or off (sure, parents wouldn’t be able to censor the game for their kids, but if kids want this in the first place, they’ve probably already got an Eminem album on the shelf anyway).




The story mode features a lot of dialogue between the characters, and it’s handled very well. The voice acting is professional and largely appropriate, although Manny sounds a bit too weenie and annoying (much like Pretzy in Hercules In New York) which is kind of in line with his character in the beginning of the story, although it’s weird trying to kick ass with someone who sounds like a fag. Each rapper gets a select bit of dialogue too, a couple of lines of pre-match trash-talking, a line for taunts and when the Blazin’ meter is full, as well as a couple of lines for a victory post-match. These are very well done, and really capture the attitude and style of each character. It’s hardly surprising, seeing as most of the guys (particularly Method Man) are such huge wrestling and videogame fans.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/flexdecks.jpg)
I'm crazy for you, Mr. DJ.





Commentary duties are handled by Funkmaster Flex, who also acts as ring announcer for each bout. It’s not exactly constant play-by-play, but it’s just enough to add some substance and not so much as to be annoying. All in all, while hip-hop music may not really be your bag, it’s great fighting music and the furious bass beats really drive the action.









THE COMPETITION





Well, that’s a sticky one.



Legends of Wrestling 2 is available for both systems, and those who give the game a chance generally fall in love with it in a different way than they fall in love with No Mercy. I wouldn’t really say that either game is better, because they’re quite honestly very different. I would certainly rather play Def Jam than LoW2 more often than not, but sometimes nothing is better than the chain-wrestling, rapid-fire Benoit-Angle counter-wrestling greatness of LoW2. But certainly most gamers would choose Def Jam over it in a heartbeat, so I would certainly recommend it as a higher priority purchase (though I would urge you to at least rent LoW2 and give it an hour of play – trust me, it really grows on you).



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/survivor.jpg)
LoW2 is VASTLY underrated.





For the GameCube, there are currently only two alternatives: WrestleMania X8 and Kinnikuman/Ultimate Muscle (due for US release in May). I honestly wouldn’t recommend anyone waste good time or money on Mania, as it’s a pretty average Yukes! grappler with funny graphics and not enough moves. It’s fun in multiplayer and it’s got a GREAT Hell In A Cell mode, but really, Def Jam’s multiplayer mode is much deeper and way more fun. You could always wait for WrestleMania XIX, but if the reports of the ridiculous storyline and Double Dragon style elements are true, you should probably save your money. As for Kinnikuman, while the two games are spiritually similar, they’re like two brothers – as alike as they are dissimilar. Most people will probably find Kinnikuman a “dumbed down” version of No Mercy, which is partially true. It lacks the depth and realism of Def Jam’s submission-based realism, but it’s a specifically arcade-style wrestling game more akin to the old WrestleMania Arcade Game, based more around crazy special moves and five-minute matches. I personally find it more fun to play, and thanks to it’s true pick-up-and-playability and arcade nature, I can grab any of my mates – wrestling fans and non-fans alike – and kill a few hours. Def Jam, on the other hand, is far more simmy, time-consuming and involved, and only like-minded hardcore players are likely to get the most out of it. So if you want a more arcadey alternative, give Kinnikuman a try, but most people would certainly prefer the realism and depth of Def Jam.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/dmp.jpg)
Kinnikuman: not as deep, but... more fun?





As far as the PS2 goes, everyone knows how much I loathe the Smack!Down series. It’s total flash-over-substance, with great presentation and an awesome story mode concealing a very lacklustre game engine. Some people love it, but I don’t think anyone would realistically claim that it’s better than the AKI engine. That said, everything that’s great about Smack!Down – a really deep, ever-lasting story mode, about a million match types, an amazing CAW – is missing from Def Jam. Well, the story mode is actually pretty cool, but it can’t compete with S!D’s. If you’re all about the front-end, making your own wrestlers and going through a highly organised season mode, and don’t really care if the gameplay is a bit shabby, S!D is for you. If you don’t give a crap about all that and just want an amazingly deep game engine, Def Jam is the one. If you can import, however, King of Coliseum is DEFINITELY worth checking out. I haven’t played it extensively, but it’s to the PS2 what VPW2 was to the N64. Take that any way you will.



In short, I would recommend Def Jam to everyone with a PS2 or GameCube. If you’ve already got one of the main competitors – LoW2 or S!D – and you’re in love with it, you might want to rent Def Jam first. But if this is your first wrestling title or you’ve been stuck with WrestleMania, definitely pick this baby up.









OVERALL





If you’re even remotely fond of No Mercy, you should go and buy this right now. If you’ve got reservations about the “blackness” or “hip-hopness” of the title, it honestly isn’t an issue. It basically boils down to the use of rap songs from the soundtrack and using rappers instead of WWF wrestlers – it’s not going to threaten your whiteness or overwhelm you with street talk or anything, so chill out.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/methbringpain.jpg)
I came to bring the pain...






The deepest wrestling engine is as deep as ever, it looks and sounds gorgeous, the multiplayer is as sweet as ever, and the story mode is surprisingly good. That said, there are a few issues with the game. As you may have gathered, the button-bashing aspects REALLY piss me off, althugh most people probably won’t mind them too much. The lack of CAW is a serious… well, it isn’t exactly an oversight, but the game sure would’ve been richer for it. Similarly, the lack of game modes and match types, and even the omission of blood and weapons hurts it too. It’s certainly an amazing game, but it’s ALL about the gameplay – there’s really very little in the way of bells and whistles.




There’s a lot to build on here for the sequel, which inevitably begs the question “should I wait for the sequel or just buy this?” Honestly, you should go and buy this without hesitation. It hasn’t got the million modes and options or the customisability of Smack!Down, but it’s simply the best wrestling game around. If you sit around and wait a year or so for the sequel, sure you’ll be getting a lot more game, but in the meantime you’ll be missing out on one of the deepest fighting games around. That said, don’t kid yourself that if you buy this, you WILL have to buy the sequel too – this certainly doesn’t represent all that the series can accomplish.



(IMG:http://thesmartmarks.com/artman/uploads/bellytobelly.jpg)
... hardcore for your brain!






I can’t, in all good faith, give this a maximum score, with all that’s missing and knowing that it will certainly all appear in the follow up. That said, on what actually is here, I would rate the game higher than any other US grappler on the market. Word is bond. ****





[[email protected]]
Jay Spree[/email]






Related articles:



Kinnikuman/Ultimate Muscle (GC AKI wrestling game)

Legends of Wrestling 2




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