Backyard Wrestling Preview

We check out Eidos' upcoming wrestler.

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Now that all the various major wrestling federations have been consolidated into one, Vince McMahon's WWE, the video game wrestling picture has changed fairly drastically. Now, for licensed action based on wrestlers that you can see on TV every few days, THQ's various WWE titles are the only game in town. But this consolidation has also left a lot of room for alternative wrestling games, and 2003 is the year that we'll start to see some of these alternatives come to fruition. EA is leading the pack next month with its rap-themed wrestling game, Def Jam Vendetta. Bandai is following shortly thereafter with its anime-style wrestling game, Ultimate Muscle. And now, Eidos and developer Paradox Entertainment are prepping their own alternative wrestling game for a summer release. With each set of games taking its own approach to the genre, it's definitely an interesting time to be a fan of wrestling games.

Bruised, bloody, and raring to kick some butt.
Bruised, bloody, and raring to kick some butt.

Eidos' game is Backyard Wrestling. The world of Backyard Wrestling, currently being viewed via a steady stream of home video releases and occasional pay-per-view offerings, essentially takes footage of people--kids, mostly--wrestling in the hard-core style in a variety of outdoor settings. It's occasionally brutal and frequently interesting. But the Backyard Wrestling video game focuses less on the kids who are actually doing it and more on the act of wrestling in unorthodox environments. The wrestlers in the game are being provided by Juggalo Championshxt Wrestling, the part-time wrestling league started by Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope of the Insane Clown Posse. Though Eidos is unable to confirm a final wrestler count or the exact names of who will be in the game, the version we've seen contained some wrestlers from the JCW, including the ICP themselves, Josh Prohibition, Mad Man Pondo, and former ECW wrestler Sabu.

Paradox's take on the wrestling genre was designed from the ground up to be extremely easy to learn. Considering the number of objects there are to interact with in the game's environments, even climbing up a pole to jump off the top of a gazebo could have been challenging. But the object interaction has a Power Stone-like feel to it, and you're given one button that will always pick up or put down an item. Interacting with other objects--like tables or climbable objects--is as simple as running up to them and holding the D pad in their direction, causing your wrestler to climb up poles, roll over tables, and so on.

Anything is a weapon in Backyard Wrestling!
Anything is a weapon in Backyard Wrestling!

Coupled with these easy-to-navigate environments is a wrestling system not entirely unlike those featured in previous wrestling games. The controls give you a pair of strikes that can be chained together into various strings of attacks, a run button, and a grapple. Rather than give you the ability to block, the game features a rock-paper-scissors-like system that lets you counter attacks with other attacks. Grapple attempts will reach right through a series of strikes if timed properly, and weapon attacks brush away grapple attempts. There's no button mashing involved in playing the game. Instead, the game uses a timing-based counter system that challenges you to time a button press to counter your opponent's grapples, Irish whips, and so on. Even kicking out from a pin requires you to use this system, and it looks like it could be more rewarding than the genre's current mash-fests.

Aside from the obvious two-player versus mode, the game will have a career mode of sorts, but there currently aren't any details about how it will work. The game will also feature a collection of unlockable videos, but details on those--beyond that they will probably involve the company's collection of Backyard Wrestling footage--aren't available at this time.

The game's graphics seem OK. The wrestlers aren't the most detailed models in the world, but the game seems to animate well enough to prevent the slightly lower poly-count from becoming an issue. The game will use decals to splatter blood around the environment, and in the version we saw, blood flowed quite freely on almost every hit. The game sports a speedy frame rate, even in its current early state. The environment we saw--a mansion's backyard, complete with a hot tub and, strangely enough, a stage full of instruments and light riggings to dive from--was colorful and large enough to give you plenty of platforms to swan dive off and lots of hard surfaces to whip your opponents into.

The environments in the game offer plenty of room to smack your foes around.
The environments in the game offer plenty of room to smack your foes around.

Soundtrack details are currently unavailable, but Eidos hopes to cover a wide range of musical styles on the game's soundtrack. It's also assumed that the Insane Clown Posse will be a fairly major part of the soundtrack. Though it was just placeholder at the moment, the soundtrack in the version we were shown featured a few different ICP songs.

Overall, Backyard Wrestling is taking a decidedly different approach to the genre, but we'll have to wait and see how well the game's various systems come together before passing final judgment. Backyard Wrestling is scheduled for release on the Xbox and PS2 this summer.

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