If you have the means to import and play Japanese games, and you're a fan of wrestling, King of Colosseum II belongs in your collection.
- Incredibly deep gameplay design with an excellent grappling system
- Opponent AI plays beautifully
- An excellent roster of play modes, and a bevy of unlockable wrestlers
- Nice looking player models
- More create-a-wrestler content than you'll know what to do with.
- Certain game modes can be somewhat restrictive in setup
- Bad sound effects, voice sampling and music
- Some stiff, occasionally glitchy animation.
IMPORT REVIEW--It was a sad time for wrestling fans everywhere in 2003 when Spike released Fire ProWrestling Z for the PlayStation 2. Not because the game was bad, mind you, but because it was the last in the company's devoutly followed 2D wrestling franchise that spanned multiple decades and console generations. Six months before Fire Pro Z's release, Spike put out King of Colosseum for the PS2, a game that purported to be a 3D realization of the Fire Pro style of gaming. Although King of Colosseum was met with somewhat lukewarm reactions, Spike made it clear that it was going in a 3D direction. Fans could only hope that the eventual sequel would deliver a deeper experience. Boy has it ever. King of Colosseum II for the PlayStation 2 is a near-revelatory experience at times, effectively capturing the same great methodology of wrestling gameplay that the Fire Pro series utilized so well, yet still managing to keep enough 3D wrestling conventions mixed in to balance the overall experience. This is by no means the perfect wrestling game, as the presentational components could certainly have used some additional work, but all told, this is easily among one of the best wrestlers to come out of this console generation.
King of Colosseum II doesn't really feature very many wrestlers you're likely to have ever heard of, unless you follow Japanese pro-wrestling, or "puroresu." Unlike the Fire Pro games, Spike has actually licensed a host of real Japanese pros from several major promotions, including New Japan, All Japan, Pro Wrestling NOAH, Zero-One, and World Japan. The Fire Pro games featured rosters of entirely fake wrestlers, which happened to be just slightly different than real-life wrestlers (so as to avoid any infringement within the Japanese copyright laws). However, there are nearly 150 real wrestlers available in this game, almost all of which are available from the get-go. On top of all of these, there are 125 unlicensed wrestlers and mixed martial art fighters to unlock, which are just marginally different from real-life competitors, ranging from the likes of Giant Baba to Mike Tyson.
Again, even with this insane number of competitors to choose from, unless you ardently follow Japanese wrestling, you won't see a lot of familiar faces. Most of the American wrestlers in the game are made up of former mid-carders who have made it big in Japan (Scott Norton, John "Earthquake" Tenta, Mike Awesome, and so on), but there are also a few unlockable popular American wrestlers, like Hulk Hogan, Chris Benoit, Brock Lesnar, Rick and Scott Steiner, and Andre the Giant. Even if you aren't a big puroresu fan, there are still some notable American wrestling names (or, at least, faces, since the characters have been slightly altered to get around having to actually license these guys) to play around with.
Honestly though, there's no reason why the lack of familiar grapplers should hinder you one bit. For starters, the gameplay is so good that the roster should be practically incidental. The face buttons on the controller represent specific attacks on their own, each of varying degrees of strength. However, if you press each one of these buttons when you lock up into a grapple, it will set up a specific type of grapple attack. The grappling engine actually works differently from the Fire Pro series, in which you'd simply walk up to a wrestler and automatically lock up with him. Here, by pressing the R1 button in conjunction with any of the face buttons, you'll attempt a grapple. Depending on the face button pressed, you'll go into a different animation, which also depends on what types of attacks a wrestler has assigned. So, for instance, pressing the square button with the grapple modifier could either set up a suplex or a strike of varying strength, depending on the wrestler's move setup.
Once you're in a grapple, you'll then have to time a second button press to actually execute your attack. This is where the similarity to the Fire Pro games pops up again, as the timing required to make the attack happen is fairly precise. You'll also need to take into account where you are in a match. If it's early, going for a big move isn't likely to work and it will most likely be reversed. The reversal works on a similarly timing-based system, but it also plays into how much stamina your wrestler has. If you're still in good shape, then you're far more likely to reverse an attack. Conversely, if you've been worn down, it'll be much tougher to reverse your opponent's maneuver. The cool thing is that the game uses Fire Pro's fatigue system, or at least a close approximation of it, so as you go through a match you'll actually see your wrestler start to get winded. This feature ties into how much energy you put forth in a match too, so you'll want to be strategic with your attacks, as throwing a lot of missed strikes and grapples will cause you to get tired more quickly. You can recover stamina by standing still and holding down the L1 button, but it's better to just not waste energy to begin with.
All of the above is enough to make for a deep and enjoyable wrestling game, but there is still more to the gameplay system. The opponent artificial intelligence really stands out, as it works absolutely brilliantly. There are several different difficulty levels in the game. Anything level five and above should start you off with a solid challenge, and the higher you go, the more brutal they become. Even better than the challenge is the level of realism you'll see in the behaviors of your opponents. The logic for each wrestler, just like in the Fire Pro games, has been finely tuned to mimic the real-life strategies and methodologies for each wrestler, and it shows. High flyers will go for their big spots, submissions wrestlers will typically try to keep you on the mat and make you tap out, and the big men will lumber around the ring, trying to power their way through you. The pacing of the action is so beautifully balanced and really emulates puroresu-style wrestling with amazing accuracy. And while that might not be as flashy as American wrestling games typically are, it's a hell of a lot more competitive and also a lot more fun than most of them tend to be.
On the play mode side of things, King of Colosseum II is pretty well stacked. The actual number of available match types isn't huge, but for an exhibition bout, you can still choose from single, single (with manager), tag team, handicap, triple threat, four-man battle royal, and five-versus-five elimination bouts. You can choose varying rule sets, including everything from American-style matches to mixed martial art bouts, and you can even pick what ring announcer or referee you want working the match. There is also a series mode, which lets you hold various league-style tournaments, as well as a title match mode that lets you compete for or defend any of the 20 different championship belts featured in the game. There are also a few nonstandard play modes in the game, including the survival road and matchmaker modes.