Publisher: EA Sports Big
Developer: AKI Corporation
Released: April 2003
Genre: Pro Wrestling
Capabilities: Memory Card Compatible
Review Written: April 5, 2003
It has been over two years…..
No No No, let me rephrase that….
It has been too damn long!
The last superb wrestling game released in North America was WWF No Mercy on Nintendo 64, which was released towards the end of 2000. Since then, I have been spoon fed crap title after crap title like I was the freaking Gerber baby! The pair of Smackdown titles on the PS2 was noble efforts from the people at Yukes, but the average two minute bouts got boring faster than an episode of Smallville.
Ditto for Legends of Wrestling 1&2.
Ditto for Wrestlemania X8.
Do not get me started about the heaping pile of crud that is RAW on X-Box.
Suffice to say, you can see why I have still been playing No Mercy for the past two and a half years. It was developed by Japan-based AKI Corp, who is apparently the only people who can make a good pro-wrestling title. EA picked them up and they were working on a brand new WCW game, but then the former WWF (now WWE) bought them out, and well…. **** happens.
EA still had AKI contracted to develop a game for them, and they tossed around what group they can base their wrestling game on since the only major wrestling organization (WWE) was already licensed to THQ. EA managed to snag the DefJam Recordings license and threw out the idea of having the major label rap artists appear as wrestlers, mixed with the underground environments of Fight Club, and told AKI to get to work. What resulted was the latest EA Sports Big title, DefJam Vendetta. Fans were in awe when they first heard of this combo. Some cried “blasphemy” others proclaimed “genius.”
I was just happy that the tried and true AKI game play engine remained in tact on the next-gen platforms. I was somewhat worried on how the controls would transfer over from the N64 controller to the unique GameCube controller. I can assure you that they did a remarkable job, and I adapted to the GCN control scheme in no time. Everything pretty much remains the same, except the game engine runs several times faster than its predecessors. It is just a hair under the blazing speed of game play in the SmackDown games.
Tapping and holding the A buttons still activate your weak and strong grapples, respectively. B button is your main striking button, and it too is pressure sensitive where longer button presses result in powerful attacks. Instead of the old Special meter, there is now a “Blazin” meter, along with a standard health bar. Both meters flow up and down depending how well you progress during the bouts. Unlike the previous AKI games, the new Blazin specialty moves can only be performed in front and back grapples with a wiggle of the C stick (they could’ve been performed from several other locations in No Mercy). They are also easier to pull off because they can now be performed from weak grapples to boot. These specialty moves aren’t the common Pedigree’s and Rock Bottom’s of old, they are extremely exaggerated super moves that the pros couldn’t be capable of pulling off. They look amazing, and fit the EA Sports Big theme perfectly. For the noobs of AKI games, the said developer has thrown in several tutorial videos to get you use to the controls in no time.
AKI added some new modifications to their stellar engine in DefJam Vendetta. These following changes were more or less included to comply with the EA Sports Big label on the game. The first noticeable one is that all the moves now have hip-hop type names. For example, the common jawbreaker is now called a “hangover” and a head butt is now dubbed as “Bow Down.” Then there are pin and submission meters where I have to button mash to fill it up so my brawler can kick out of a pin or submission.
It takes a while to get a submission victory because there are now health meters in four categories: Body, Head, Arm, and Leg. The meter gradually goes down a couple of notches with each submission hold applied, but the ever cheap little brother or annoying lackey can take advantage of this and keep doing the same hold over and over until your meter depletes and you are forced to submit. While I welcome this addition, it does take away from the element of surprise that was strong in AKI’s previous efforts. Finally, combos can be executed, not like the failed combo system found in Revenge, but more like a link of moves. Like an Irish Whip into the ropes, followed by a clothesline, and an elbow drop. Each character has a few sets of combos which results in bonus points when executed perfectly.
I am as happy as the next guy to finally slug it out in the classic AKI engine, but the developers added some faults to its previous impeccable engine. For example, there are no weapons to be found whatsoever. Also, reversals happen way too often. There are double-reversals seen here and there, but the tides of battle changes so many times from the frequent reversals that it’ll be bound to frustrate even the most relaxed gamers (I’m looking at you Shaq!). The computer AI takes advantage of this to the extreme, and within moments from delivering my special, I found myself at the other end of the stick from the cheap AI. One last straw was the inability to not customize match rules such as toggling the ever-annoying rope break rule off, or having matches set to Pin or Submission only, it also means you cannot toggle on or off the random KO’s that result from the Blazin moves.
Initially, there is only several of the 44 characters available to you in DefJam Vendetta. Most of them are phony fighters made by AKI, and a few that appeared in other EA Sports Big titles such as NBA Street. There are only twelve rap artists from DefJam Recordings that appear in here, but most of them are the main players such as Ludacris, DMX, Method Man, Redman, Scarface, and Keith Murray, among others.
The key to unlocking the rap artists, costumes, stages, and all the other generic characters is in Story Mode, and what a story mode it is. I picked a wrestler, and found out I was replacing the injured Manny in a one night tournament. I faced Scarface in the finals and unlocked him. The storylines keep getting better as the girls start flocking to me as I won more matches. Some of the chicks will settle it in the ring, and I got to pick which one to keep at my side. Victories earned me cash, which was spent either on raising the attributes of my fighter or on the luscious pictures of the real life women who portray the female characters in the game.
Besides the awesome Story Mode, I regretfully have to report that DJV pulled a RAW on us and only has the bare bones of game play modes available. There is another single player mode dubbed Survival where the rest of the roster of characters takes you on in one-on-one matches until you lose. Then there is the Battle mode which consists of single, tag team, two-on-one handicap, and four-player free for all bouts. That is it, there are no gimmick matches to be found like the popular Cage, Ladder, Guest Referee, Table, and Hell in a Cell matches that are common in most WWE games. Hell, there isn’t even a Create-a-Wrestler to be found. That simply cannot be forgiven. While AKI states time constraints were the reason for no CaW, I speculate it is EA forcing the developers to hold out the good stuff for the expected sequel.
The blocky polygonal characters from the N64 days are gone! Spectacular, fully rendered 3D models now dominate the television screens. Each of the rap artists have a slightly caricature-ish look to them ala Legends of Wrestling yet they still come off looking damn near identical to their real life counterparts. The texturing on them is at amazing levels and is as crisp as can be, and the blurry textures that populated the wrestlers in the N64 games are nowhere to be found! All the phony characters also have their own unique look to diversify them from being just another jobber. DefJam Vendetta is the first wrestling game to have a crowd that is entirely made up of 3D models. This helps things a lot in the long run, and my eyes will no longer be strained after staring at the pixilated crowds that ran wild in all other next-gen wrestling games.
Many of the old animations for the moves in AKI’s past games are recycled in DJV. Thankfully, the developers polished them off to compliment with the rest of the excellent graphics. There are ten stages the characters compete in, and most of them were home brewed from the developers. However, a few of them are actually modeled off of sets featured in some of the rap artist’s music videos. This goes into effect for “The Bridge” stage which is modeled after a set used in one of Redman’s music videos. The in-game cut scenes in story mode look fabulous, and are far better than the cut scenes found in the much-hyped story mode in Smackdown: Shut Your Mouth.
Everything has a very polished feel thanks to the power of the GCN, and the visuals don’t suffer the jagged edges found in the PS2 version of DJV. The frame rate stays fast throughout game play, and the loading times range from three to five seconds. My only peeve with the graphics were some collision detection issues where elbow drops and other ground attacks that appeared to have missed by a good couple of feet still yield damage upon the victim.
As expected, Electronic Arts capitalized on the DefJam license in the audio department in more ways than one. There are eighteen songs featured in DefJam Vendetta. Most of them are recent beats from the artists that appear in the game, but there are also a few old-school tunes to be found from Method Man, Public Enemy, and Onyx. The full versions of the songs are played while you browse through game play menus, unfortunately they are all radio edit versions due to DefJam Vendetta only receiving a Teen rating by the ESRB. For background music during game play, there are instrumental versions of each of the eighteen songs that are continuously looped until the bout is over.
I was disappointed that there was none of the flashy entrances for the characters like there is in most other wrestling games; instead we’re treated to a brief pose from the combatant, complete with actual voice acting from the rap artists! Big props to the rappers on the voice acting too, they could’ve done a haphazard job just to earn their paycheck, but the developers actually made them sound like their about to rip into you!
The story mode can be completed easily within ten hours. However, it doesn’t hurt to play through it a couple more times to make sure all the arenas, characters, pictures, and costumes are unlocked. DJV introduces user win-loss records, which is cool for bragging rights of course. There is a catch to the user records, if you play through Story mode with one profile that means all the characters you unlocked are only available to you. Suffice to say my friends were begging me to use my user record so they can play as the hidden characters. Bad move on the developer’s part there, they should have made the entire roster selectable to everybody once each fighter is unlocked. Even with the lack of gimmick matches, me and my friends still had a blast in standard tag team and free for all matches. It would’ve helped a lot in the long run to include a few of those specialty matches, and the absence of the Create-a-Wrestler is just down-right unforgiving. Let’s just hope you get enough enjoyment out of the personalities of all the rap artists and generics featured in the game.
Game play: 8.5
Replay Value: 7.2
DefJam Vendetta is a gigantic breath of fresh air in the wrestling games market. Gamers bored to death with the latest Smackdown and Legends of Wrestling will eat this up. Even though there are several noted faults to the formerly flawless game play engine, this is still the best working (and user-friendly) engine on the market right now. I’m still quite disappointed with the lack of extras in DJV but its stunning Story Mode, and stupendous game play put it high above the competition on GameCube (which is only the pair of LoW titles and Wrestlemania X8). If you got to own one wrestling game on the GameCube, than by all means pick up your copy of DefJam Vendetta now!
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