When it comes to judging whether or not a wrestling game is worth your while (or any game for that matter), what aspects do you hold to the highest importance? Quality or quantity? Would you rather have a game with a ton of wrestlers, arenas, storylines, career modes, and an extensive creation suite? Or would you rather have something with less to play with, but something that has a solid gameplay mechanic? Maybe you think there should be a wrestling game that has the best of both worlds?
I think most of us would prefer the third option, but in a world of “woulda, coulda, shoulda,” very rarely do we get that perfect game with everything that everyone wants. In the case of 5 Star Wrestling, we’re not dealing with the largest roster or number of arenas. We don’t currently get weapon attacks, and there is no creation suite.
What you DO get, however, is a fundamentally sound gameplay system (give or take a few hiccups here and there), and more challenges than I have ever seen in a wrestling game. What 5 Star lacks in quantity, it more than makes up in quality. The best analogy I can give is one that the hardcore wrestling fan should understand very well, and it has to do with my decision to cancel my WWE Network subscription. After Wrestlemania 31, I am cancelling my subscription to the WWE Network. The Network gives me a ton of content, ranging from NXT to original specials to every PPV between WWE, WCW, and ECW. In terms of sheer quantity, it’s hard to compete with that the WWE Network has to offer, which is essentially anything and everything.
However, the more I watch the product that’s on my TV every week, the less I like it. So what’s the alternative for me? I just subscribed to Ring of Honor’s Ringside membership. RoH is a smaller promotion and is not a household name like the WWE. It has only been around since 2002, and its video on demand service doesn’t even have all of their top shows and PPVs. You don’t even get iPPVs included; those still need to be purchased separately on top of the monthly subscription fee. So why make what appears to be a stupid decision?
It all comes down to quality. I can get a year’s worth of WWE PPVs included in my Network subscription with only one or two that I truly like, or I can get less in terms of quantity with RoH, but I enjoy virtually everything that’s available to stream. This is how I feel about wrestling games and 5 Star. WWE 2K is tremendously fun for me, but at the end of the day, like Madden, it’s a very familiar game year after year. I get lots to play with, but by next year, I’m going to have another iteration that’s 80% the same game. 5 Star Wrestling is smaller, has less to play with, and doesn’t look as good as WWE 2K, but I have a hell of a lot more fun with it. It’s my Ring of Honor of wrestling games (or at least Lucha Underground; Ring of Honor might still have to go to Fire Pro Wrestling).
Now that we’ve gone on that weird tangent, let’s get back to the game at hand. Before I start gushing about how much I enjoy this game, let’s talk about some of the issues. First off, the directional awareness is a little off. It works most of the time, but every now and then (a bit more than I would have liked), my wrestler would grapple thin air, which then gives my opponent a nice window to launch their own attacks. Picking my opponent off the mat then taking the extra few second to make sure I’m actually able to grapple him breaks up the pace a bit. Second, I ran into a few technical glitches, including one hilarious one where HarVee Dee, who was lying prone on the floor outside of the ring, suddenly started sliding on his stomach back into the ring, through the ringpost, and back onto the ground on the opposite end of the ring where he comfortably sank halfway into the ground. Another instance saw Andy Organ being whipped into the turnbuckle only to completely sink into it. It was a disturbing image of Andy draped over the post with ring ropes sticking out of his body like some Eli Roth torture porn film. Also, the high flyers like Gregg Hearty and HarVee Dee tend to climb to the top rope and sit there waiting forever for you to walk into their attack. If I’m waiting in the opposite corner and I see HarVee perched atop the ropes, there is no way in hell I’m going over there. It can get a bit awkward at times.
Other than those few instances that stuck out, the game didn’t have anything that was so wonky that it reached Assassin’s Creed Unity levels of frustration. I would say give or take a few of the above instances mentioned, the game runs pretty darn well. It won’t be the best looking game you’ll find on the PS3 (probably not even the PS2 if I’m honest), but given that it’s not really going for WWE 2K15 levels of detail and accuracy, it’s not the end of the world. What especially impressed me were some of the larger arenas. The designs are very creative, and even though there are no crowds packing the arenas, they were still very well designed. Honestly the empty arenas don’t bug me that much. For one, you’re not focusing on the crowds anyway, as the match itself will take up all of your attention. Second, The Rock and Mankind had an excellent empty arena match in 1999, so I will too.
5 Star Wrestling has SO…MANY…MOVES. It has so many moves it’s almost unrealistic in a good way. Honestly I can’t recall ever seeing a real life wrestling match where any one performer hit 20+ different moves. Even a technical masterpiece like KENTA vs Low Ki in Ring of Honor has plenty of rest holds and punch/kick moves. And let’s not even mention the WWE’s love of the “Five Moves of Doom” style to their product. In 5 Star, if you were to perform every single grapple with every single modifier variation, you can easily perform upwards of 20-25 distinct grapples. That’s not even including strikes, corner moves, finishers, submissions, top ropes moves, and grounded moves. If any real life wrestler were to do that, their match would instantly become an all time classic. When developer Dan Hinkles told me at GDC that he wanted players to be able to perform every variation of a given wrestler’s moves, he certainly was not kidding.
While movement can often look a bit too robotic, the matches end up have a very nice flow to them. Strikes, grapples, reversals, etc. all string together quite nicely, and it’s hard to beat the drama of having a sequence where Curtis Angel and Dynamite Pegasus are reversing each other’s finishers. You can perform reversals in 2K with relative ease, but here in 5 Star, these moves and countermoves all look and feel a bit more natural. Little touches make 5 Star a more realistic game than others. Don’t believe me? Try to use one of your strong grapples in the beginning of the match. It’s not going to happen; you’re going to get reversed every single time. Try to hit a finisher before your opponent is sufficiently weakened. You’ll see Andy Organ being thrown on his back as he’s in the middle of attempting to hit a RAO. Did you just hit a Jackhammer on your opponent? Now follow up with another one and watch as Iceberg struggles to perform the same move because now he’s gassed. I don’t care that 5 Star isn’t a graphical masterpiece because it’s stuff like THIS that makes the game so unique and wonderful.
Which brings me to my favorite part of 5 Star Wrestling: the limb damage system. In 2K you can target specific limbs and get them all the way down to red damage. But then what happens when Brock Lesnar, whose legs are in the red, goes to hit an F5? He’ll hit the F5 every time you attempt it. He’ll hit it full blast, like he suddenly forgot that his legs are damn near crippled. This sort of thing won’t happen in 5 Star. If your legs are damaged, then they are damaged. This means if you see Ragnabrok’s legs in the red or black, you’re probably not going to hit that powerbomb. Ragnabrok will attempt the lift, then his legs will buckle and he’ll collapse. HarVee Dee probably isn’t going to climb the ropes and hit a Frog Splash if his legs are weakened. This takes limb damage beyond simply beyond targeting a specific limb to apply a submission hold. Now the one dishing out the pain also has to keep an eye on what’s injured to avoid flubbing a move and leaving himself vulnerable. If you’re methodical enough, you could potentially take an entire set of moves away from your opponent. That’s amazing, and adds an incredible amount of depth to what could have easily been a punch/kick/grapple-fest.
There’s no career/story mode in 5 Star, but that’s all made up by an extensive challenge mode. You’ll have a number of parameters to meet throughout various tiers of challenges, ranging from tasks as easy as hitting a german suplex while rebounding from the ropes all the way to reversing a finisher. Successfully meeting these requirements will allow you to earn stars, which can then be spent on unlocking new arenas and alternate costumes for the wrestlers. There aren’t any new wrestlers to unlock, but those are potentially coming in future DLC if sales go well.
At $24.99, the price of 5 Star Wrestling might seem a little steep for some, especially when you consider the fact that it’s on a last-gen system with only eight wrestlers and a handful of arenas. But like I mentioned in the beginning of this review; you get quality over quantity. Eight wrestlers might seem slim, but consider the excellent gameplay system and the wealth of challenges available. On the surface, the game seems bare. But dig a bit deeper, and you’ll find one of the better wrestling games in recent memory. I may have had the same match between Ragnabrok and Curtis Angel a hundred times already, but each of those matches has been unique and epic. I have yet to earn five stars for any match, but I’ve come pretty damn close, and I’ve had a ton of fun each time I attempt the perfect match.