ECW, short for Extreme Championship Wrestling, is a federation that prides itself on acrobatics and danger. Unlike the soap-opera-style antics of the WWF, the average ECW broadcast better resembles a low-budget action film. Limbs get broken, blood spurts everywhere, and wrestlers hurl obscenities with potty-mouthed abandon. Acclaim's latest, ECW Anarchy Rulz, tries to bring this same level of excitement to your Dreamcast, and while it isn't necessarily faithful to the ECW mentality, it's still worth a look for ECW fans.
Without a doubt, the main draw of ECW Anarchy Rulz's is its feature list. Three wrestling modes, 12 match types, 34 wrestlers, a custom wrestler editor, customizable locations, and a plethora of match options give the game an extraordinary amount of variety. Fan favorites Tommy Dreamer and Justin Credible top a cast that includes such notables as Dawn Marie, Super Crazy, and Tajiri. Should these stock personas prove inadequate, the game's outlandish create-a-player mode enables you to create one or more wrestlers of your choosing. Skin color, eye color, body type, facial features, hairstyles, clothing types, logos, personality, and move selection are just some of the many traits you can adjust in this mode.
As far as modes go, the game's exhibition, career, and tournament modes provide plenty of alternatives in their own right. In exhibition, there are 12 match types, such as versus, tag team, tornado, and battle royal, all of which may be completed in single-elimination or nonelimination styles. You can also alter the match type, length, win style, and arena design. In career mode, you'll participate in a year's worth of location, televised, and pay-per-view matches until the season ends or until you manage to come away with a belt. Tournament balances the two, which gives you a ton of options but limits your ability to earn acclaim. The game multiplayer support is also commendable. Up to four players at a time can take part in tag team, battle royal, tornado, or lumberjack matches in any of the game's modes.
Unfortunately, where Anarchy Rulz stumbles is in its gameplay. Acclaim added table, barbed wire, and tornado matches and even went so far as to improve CPU AI, but it didn't bother to change the moves, the moves system, or the overall feel of the game a single iota from WWF Attitude. For a federation that stakes its reputation on high-risk maneuvers and takedowns, the game instead emphasizes grapples, throws, and other "low impact" moves. In addition, high damage moves aren't as effective as simple takedowns or punch and kick combinations, a fact which further limits the game's excitement factor. If you can look beyond this discrepancy, though, ECW Anarchy Rulz has a decent amount of playability. Punches, kicks, and reversals execute fluidly, while special moves break up the cookie-cutter feeling somewhat. The game isn't for everyone, but staunch ECW fanatics or newcomers to the genre should be satisfied.
As far as presentation, ECW Anarchy Rulz makes a utilitarian showing. Wrestlers are large, highly detailed, and colorful, but the game's character models bear more similarity to those found in WWF Attitude than actual ECW personalities. Arena detail has increased over the prior ECW - logo shirts, fan signage, and flying objects are more colorful and visible than before, but the usage of 2D audience sprites and a lack of ringside amenities gives the game a plain Jane sense of atmosphere. Thankfully, though, the camera issues that plagued the PlayStation version of the game are long gone. On the audio side of things, prematch character taunts, a few grunts, and sparse commentary by Joey Styles and Joel Gertner provide the gist of the game's soundtrack.
As is appropriate with wrestling games, the best way to consider ECW Anarchy Rulz is as a serialized sports game. Each year, Acclaim takes the current roster, wraps it in a few more features, and remedies a number of problems from the previous release. Thus, if you're new to the scene or you enjoyed last year's ECW Hardcore Revenge, Anarchy Rulz should keep you occupied until the next installment. On the other hand, if you're a hard-core video game wrestling fan with a cadre of game systems, there are better choices.