The original Backyard Wrestling game was released last year, and despite the fact that it was an all-around poor effort, it still showed the slightest glimmers of hope that maybe, just maybe the franchise could eventually become the entertaining, hardcore alternative to standard wrestling games that it aspired to be. With Backyard Wrestling 2, it's now apparent that those hopes and dreams have been almost completely dashed. The sequel suffers from basically being the exact same game that came out last year...but with a couple of half-baked gameplay changes thrown in that just make the game even easier than it was before. Furthermore, there's an arduously long and dull career mode that could only be less entertaining if it were capable of giving you a painful rash of some sort. This game is just flat-out bad in most every way you can think of, and for a franchise with such promise and potential, that's a truly disheartening thing.
Let's start with what actually has been improved in this year's game, since there's not very much of it. The game's roster of wrestlers features more than 20 combatants, including several notable hardcore grapplers, like Mad Man Pondo, Vic Grimes, Vampiro, New Jack, Sick Nick Mondo, Ruckus, Sandman, and, of course, the Backyard Wrestling cover boys Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J, the Insane Clown Posse. But, of course, this wouldn't be Backyard Wrestling without a couple of other random celebrity personalities thrown in for good measure, and in There Goes the Neighborhood, these personalities come in the forms of adult film actresses Tera Patrick and Sunrise Adams and the always mind-blowing metal head Andrew W.K. The overall lineup is much more recognizable than the one found in last year's game, but it's still mostly geared toward those who actually follow and understand underground wrestling.
The gameplay engine features a couple of added mechanics, though they don't end up making a lot of difference in the game. The basic additions to the highly rudimentary wrestling engine include submission holds and a block button, both of which were absent before. There's also a new type of environmental attack, appropriately titled an "enviro-mental" attack. These contextual attacks occur during grapples, when you're positioned in just the right area. With the simple press of a button, you'll be whisked into a cutscene that will have your wrestler doing something crazy, like powerbombing your opponent through a picnic table or repeatedly slamming his or her head into the trunk of a car. While no one will argue that these aren't laudable bonuses to the gameplay, the simple, glaring fact remains that the wrestling engine is still terribly underdeveloped.
Everything about the wrestling in Backyard Wrestling 2 just feels incredibly sloppy. The striking mechanics and the grapples... Both are so basic and repetitive that after about two matches, you'll have mastered the entire game. Then again, the whole point of Backyard Wrestling is that the wrestling is almost totally secondary to hitting your opponent with whatever trash is littered throughout the environment. Chain saws, weed whackers, bricks, and pieces of broken tables... These are just some of the things you can use to beat your opponent senseless and bloody. But, just like last year's game, these weapons simply can't salvage the gameplay. All the weapon hits just seem so halfhearted and underwhelming. You rarely ever get that sensation that just makes you want to cringe in pain, because none of the weapon hits are cringe-worthy. They are just too quick, and the sounds of blows or cuts barely register. A mere chair shot in a typical WWE game, or even a simple body slam in Def Jam: Fight for NY, sounds about a hundred times more brutal than a fluorescent light tube crashing over someone's skull or a brick thrown across a fight zone and into someone's face in Backyard Wrestling 2. Considering that this game is supposed to be all about total brutality, this comes across as pretty pathetic.
There are also a lot of glitchy, generally dumb things that hinder the gameplay even further. For starters, the hit detection is just awful. Weapon tosses that miss a wrestler, seemingly by several feet, will still register hits. Characters will sometimes just somehow magically fall out of grapple positions and transport themselves back to standing positions elsewhere. Anytime you're in a multileveled environment (like in the game's swimming pool area, for instance), and you're standing on the upper level--while your opponent is on the lower level--you can just stand while facing your opponent with a weapon in your hand. Then you can swing the weapon. The strike will inflict damage on him or her, even though you're several feet above your opponent. The enemy artificial intelligence is also quite bad. Enemies will just run around a level, periodically swinging at you or trying to grapple you. But thanks to the game's incredibly easy countering system, you can almost always get out of a grapple. And even if you have trouble countering, it doesn't matter, because all you have to do is either take advantage of any of the game's collision exploits or just keep punching and grappling over and over again to never lose a match. The AI just can't keep up with an aggressive pace, so it's just entirely too easy to roll over it constantly. As a result, no match should ever take you more than a couple of minutes, tops. You can also play two-player matches. However, even without the lame AI in the mix, the game still isn't any fun.
Another big problem with Backyard Wrestling 2 is that the whole thing just gets extremely old, extremely quickly. This is mostly because there's hardly a thing to do in the game, thanks to its paltry selection of play modes. Apart from the obligatory exhibition match, the only other mode in the game is the career mode, which is an effective replacement for the terribly lousy talk show mode in last year's game. The career mode features a simple premise. Backyard Wrestling has come to your town to offer up a $1 million prize to any backyard grappler who can plow his way through the competition and win all the regional championships in your previously peaceful burg. Sounds like a neat enough idea, but that's ultimately about all it amounts to.
First, you begin by creating a new wrestler via the game's limited create-a-wrestler mode. Granted, there's far more to customize here than there was in last year's incredibly sparse create-a-wrestler mode, but all the different costume customizations you can make are just patently ridiculous. Ever wanted to make a spiky-haired, morbidly obese wrestler with a tutu, night-vision goggles, and a pair of flippers? Then you're in luck, friend! Otherwise, though, there aren't too many options that come outside of the goofy side of things. So if you just want to make a tough-guy wrestler, your options are limited.
Once that's out of the way, you'll find yourself with three areas on a map of the town unlocked. In each of these three battle areas, you'll find yourself presented with a number of missions that you'll have to complete to unlock that region's title tournament. These objectives run the gamut from performing a specific number of counters in a match to performing a specific number of special moves. That's it. You don't even have to go on to win the match. Once you perform the objective required, you can just quit the match and go on to the next objective. Eventually, the game does run out of ways to make you perform specific numbers of moves specific numbers of times, so then it starts throwing some curveballs. Even then, it's still mostly very simple and boring stuff. Basically, you'll have to keep doing this stuff over and over again in each area to keep unlocking title tournaments to participate in so you can win belts and so on.
What this all boils down to is the plain and simple fact that the career mode just has little to no entertainment value whatsoever. The missions are all terribly lame, and apart from some side matches you can take on to earn extra cash for the game's shop area--where you can unlock additional silly outfits for your created wrestlers, as well as some crazy real-life wrestling footage--there's just nothing else to it. Computer-generated cutscenes periodically rear their ugly heads between regions and totally fall flat. Whether it's the Insane Clown Posse jawing at you because...well, just because...or whether it's New Jack taking a second to stab a reporter in the face with a fork for no particular reason, there's just no coherency to any of these sequences. So they're completely skip-worthy every single time. Actually, skip-worthy pretty much sums up the whole game.
Graphically, Backyard Wrestling 2 represents a marginal graphical improvement over its predecessor. The models are a little less blocky-looking, but considering how ugly the models looked in the last game, these models are a pretty weak step up. The animation is just as bad, if not worse, here than it was in the previous entry in the series. Nasty environmental clipping, glitchy moves, and otherwise unpleasant-looking problems plague each and every match. The wrestling environments are probably the best aspect of the game, visually, but that doesn't mean they're all that good. Just like in the last game, they're all thematically designed after one trashy location or another, ranging from a simple backyard, to a trailer park, to a brewery. Each has interactive elements, as well as plenty of weaponry scattered about, and aesthetically, each looks as well as it should, though there's nothing markedly impressive about any one of them, either. Neither the Xbox nor the PlayStation 2 version has a leg up on the other, and the game looks roughly the same on both platforms. So, basically, neither looks good.
The audio is another big point of contention in the game. Though, once again, Eidos has gone out and licensed a collection of name bands for the soundtrack, including Andrew W.K., Kool Keith, the ICP, Bad Brains, Body Count, and Hoobastank, this offering's soundtrack isn't as consistent as the last one. It lacks the decisive theme that the last game's soundtrack had, and some of the music actually feels a little out of place. Of course, a slightly out-of-place soundtrack is like pure gold compared to the game's consistently terrible sound effects. Even when they work properly, the effects here are so underproduced and cheap-sounding that they completely wreck any impact they should have on the overall action. But then again, that's only when they actually work. There are plenty of sound effects that actually seem to be completely missing altogether, which leads to big dead spots where some sort of punch or slam sound should be heard. There's also some exceptionally bad voice acting from the wrestlers and celebs, but, unfortunately, it actually works...unlike the sound effects.
In short, you don't want to play Backyard Wrestling 2. This game is everything you hated about the last one, but it's been spray painted over with a few cheap gimmicks to try to gussy up what ultimately amounts to a pretty pitiful package. If you like hardcore wrestling, go buy some videos or DVDs, because most all the brief snippets of video found in this game can be found just about anywhere else in extended form...and in better-quality format. And when you factor in that these snippets of video are about a billion times more entertaining than this game, you're really left with no reason at all to entertain the notion of picking up Backyard Wrestling 2.