(previously published in Bunneh3000's personal blog)
Wrestling is REAL...ly enjoyable y'all! Even wrestling games are fun for those who don't even follow wrest...*cough* I mean sports entertainment. For years gamers have enjoyed over the top fighting and beat em up games with 'pro' wrestlers thrown in as marital arts contestants. There have even been a chosen few, like Def Jam Vendetta/Fight For NY/ICON, that have taken the love for wrestling to new heights!
Beat 'em up games back in the 90's were popular thanks to the love for local co-op games found in arcades. Games like Streets of Rage, Final Fight, Double Dragon, and so on were all the rage before 1 v 1 fighting games like Street Fighter, Tekken, and Mortal Kombat brought about the competitive spectacle they've become today. Still, the genres feel and are quite different. Nowadays, beat em up games are few and far between. You'll see the occasional Dragon's Crown and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World from time to time, but all in all, the scene is pretty quiet.
Wrestling games, on the other hand, have been a part of gaming almost since the genesis. I remember playing arcade games like Nintendo's Pro Wrestling, WWF Superstars, Taitio's Mat Mania, and Konami's The Main Event. I absolutely loved these quarter eating imitations of what has become the WWE2K sports entertainment wresting sim. Surprisingly enough, I've not really played a WWE2K game that faithfully felt as good/fun as the WWF games on the N64. Ask other wrestling fans and you'll also hear Super Fire Pro Wrestling as a game that needs to be revived as well.
With that said, the Def Jam fighting games were more of a wrestling 1 v 1 fighting game more than anything. They didn't play like a Street Fighter game with complex special moves and lengthy combos. The combat was basically a wrestling game merged with a bit of a beat em up thrown in.
I think, for me, that this game held a soft spot in my heart because of the fighting engine was pulled from the old WWF No Mercy engine from N64 days. Considering there are slim to no wrestling games outside of WWE games, that kind of leaves a diversity void in the genre that needs to be filled in my opinion.
Def Jam FFNY and its predecessor Vendetta had a unique niche due to adding over-the-top finishing moves, street fighting flavored environmental interactivity, popular hip hop music, wrestling, local coop, rpg elements, and a simplistic story that pulled you from fight to fight in order to meet and beat all of the recognizable hip hop and celeb characters featured in the game. The appeal of unlocking popular 90's hip hop stars like Method Man, Redman, Snoop Dogg, and then pulling off these hilariously painful finishing moves on each other was beyond satisfying. The controls were great and the battles were difficult if you didn't use the environment around you to do extra damage to your foes. I loved how all of the moves looked and sounded so painful. Throw in the timely trash talk from all of your foes and you've got a franchise that felt liked it fell off before it really even got started.
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Of course, if you think about it, with the 'Def Jam' label, there would be problems in the future with artists leaving the label and hip hop fans wanting to play as other artists that aren't even on the label. I can imagine arranging the contracts and dealing with licensing the music became an expensive chore. Still, I feel as if the franchise could use a reboot.
Imagine this. A new game with an updated engine, graphics, and everything featuring generic hip hop characters voice acted by indie artists not on a label. In some of the games even popular actors and actresses had fake emcees created that they could voice over to add to the appeal of the roster. Possibly get it sponsored by a hip hop website or something of that nature and you at least have a start! You keep the over the top moves and fighting styles (such as 'street fighting') and then you do things a little different..
In the ICON game (which was a tragedy of a game by the way), there were two attempted innovations that seemed like a good idea but failed due to poor execution. The use of the environment and 'beat detection' for all music played during the fights made for an interesting dynamic. In theory, if you had your character's music playing and he landed an attack on the beat, there would be extra damage. ICON also allowed you to change the track and rewind and such in the midst of the battle to change the beat timing and so forth. This is an interesting kind of 'taunt' or 'crowd hype' tactic that could balance the playing field for weaker characters in the game or players that aren't quite as skilled. In a flashy kind of way, this innovation could add depth to the fighting system... if the system was any good.
The other innovation was the 'Build a Label' feature where the player basically 'signed' emcees he defeated and then built a release 'budget' for individual singles. This would then lead to a fake Billboard chart mini-simulation where you'd see the performance of the single on the charts leading to additional income. This little 'music industry' sim could be a good little strategy-rpg sim to incorporate in the game to spice up the between fight downtime. If done correctly, maybe the 'Build a Label' mini game could become a mobile game that feeds rewards into the main game.
With so many games taking on a multi-player role, this is where the new game could shine even more. While the fighting portion would have its challenges over the network (as evidenced by EVERY WWE2K game having issues), if resolved, a healthy community could be sustained. Imagine players creating their faux emcees and crews to battle much in the same way NBA2K MyCareer players do. Labels (aka clans or factions) could be created and formed with the intent of 'dominating the charts'. Matches could be virtually graded for entertainment value which would add to the popularity of each emcee and label beyond just flat out wins and losses. This is already a dimension that the WWE 2K games use that push the competition between a plain win or lose dynamic. Then, somehow, the multiplayer could incorporate some kind of lootable reward system (maybe cards since that is the 'in thing' in games today) that could be used in lieu of acting out music or album creation in the game. Like I said before, the integration of music and reminder that these are all emcees/producers/dancers/whatever could be worked in to add depth and interest.
As so many other franchises have seen, the addition of RPG elements allows the player to customize their avatar to whom they like to allow them to play how they like. That is a powerful tool to make good games better through replayability. The 'Dominate the Charts' multiplayer RPG would need to have ways for players to collaborate (features if you will) in fights (tag team style) as well as in the 'song/album creation sim'. I see rewards, tournaments, and events likened to the NBA 2k My Park and My Player community as a great template to build from.
Regardless of what innovation is done, this franchise is sorely missed (the early ones that is). The THQ style wrestling beat-em up games faded and disappeared stateside and we've yet to have a return to that game style (even in a WWE game) yet.
Here are more that want a return of this franchise:
- Petition for a sequel
- Gaming Illuminaughty - Flashback Friday article
- Bring It Back - GeeklyNG.com
- Goombastomp Article
- Necessary Sequel - kinja.com
- Best Rap Video Game Ever - noisey.vice.com
- Petition Follow up Podcast
- Will We Get A New DJ:Vendetta - Gamerations article
- New Gamer Nation article