When I reviewed the original Backyard Wrestling
some thirteen months ago, I thought that it had real potential. Though it was never quite decided if it was a wrestling game or a fighter, Don't Try This At Home
still fostered a few interesting ideas that, while not fully realized, had definite room to expand. Of course, it was no secret that the game lacked the technical depth of something like Def Jam Vendetta
or WWE SmackDown
, but it did manage to boast a rather compelling pick up and play element that made it ideal for a weekend rental. Beyond that, however, there just wasn't much to it and for fans in search of WWE-alternative wrestling titles, a more complete McMahon substitute just wasn't in the cards.
Unfortunately this year's follow-up Backyard Wrestling 2: There Goes the Neighborhood fares even worse than its predecessor. Though it certainly boasts several new modes, features, and gameplay elements that the original game didn't have, it just doesn't hold up as well when thrown in against this year's superior list of competition. Keep in mind, that 2004 has been a year that's seen a crazy number of wrestling titles; SmackDown vs. RAW, Day of Reckoning, Ultimate MUSCLE, Rumble Roses, and Legends of Wrestling have all brought new and effective things to the table. And while some are definitely better than others, each and every one of them are a step above There Goes the Neighborhood.
At first it didn't seem as though it was going to go that way, because on paper Backyard Wrestling 2 has a pretty respectable lineup of features. For starters, it boasts more than 20 licensed wrestlers (including guys like Vampiro, Shaggy 2 Dope, Violent J, and New Jack), along with a healthy selection of created guys and even a few porn stars (Tera Patrick and Sunrise Adams specifically). In addition to that, the game also includes a brand new "Enviro-Mental Gameplay Engine" that allows players to violently interact with stage objects for more realistic destruction. There's even a more meticulous body damage system, an expanded create-a-character mode, and the addition of several key elements that were missing from last year -- including submissions, pins, limb-specific damage, and a block button.
Now you'd think with those kinds of improvements that Backyard Wrestling 2 would be significantly better than its predecessor, and on a technical level it is. It certainly looks better anyway, the matches last quite a bit longer, and there's a whole lot more you can do in terms of moves. To be fair, there can be some pretty entertaining moments along the way too. The over-the-top Super Finishers, for example, have a number of really neat combination moves that you'll never see in a WWE game and almost rival Def Jam's similar match-enders. There's a certain amount of satisfaction that can be had from throwing your opponent into various realms of suffering too, be it into a boiling-hot fry cooker, off the top of somebody's roof, or into the trunk of an old dilapidated car. These moments can truly be fun.
But then comes the real problem with Backyard Wrestling 2: having to play it. To put it bluntly, the game is so clumsy with its gameplay mechanics that it's almost a chore to play. So while on the one hand, it's great that Paradox and Eidos listened to their fans and included the sorely needed block button and submission maneuvers, what's the point if it the game still isn't any fun? More advanced than the original as it may be, each contest still pretty much boils down to two things: Circling around your opponent and waiting for them to approach you for an almost always-automatic grapple priority and performing super moves over and over again.
That's right, as cool as they may be the Super Moves are far too easy to pull off (simply press two buttons together when your quickly-filled meter flashes and your character is good to go). Unfortunately they're the only real way to cause a hefty amount of damage to your opponent outside of constant environmental attacks. Everything you have at your disposal in-between either does too little damage or is so easily reversed that it becomes too tedious to play otherwise. It also doesn't help that the moves aren't that different from one another other than the aesthetics. So while each move may look somewhat dissimilar in appearance, the end result of each assault type (grapple, slam, or whatever) almost always provides the same amount of damage to your foe when it's all over.
Another big problem is that there are a number of strange collision issues that allows opponents to grab or hit you when they shouldn't be able to. This particularly is a problem when a foe is jumping off of something for an air shot -- as they'll frequently clip you by some unknown means and force you down to the ground when there was an impossible distance that separated you. There's also the issue of weight -- any character can lift any other character in the game with no effort whatsoever, and they do so without any kind of believability or density. When coupled with the very loose response time times on the controller, it feels as though every combatant were made of feathers and cotton balls rather than flesh and bone, and it just doesn't feel very good.
Perhaps the strangest decision of them all, however, is the fact that players won't be able to customize their controller to fix the awkward default setup (though admittedly, this is more of a problem with the PS2 version rather than the Xbox, thanks to a better distribution of commands on Microsoft's controller). Then again, customization isn't one of Backyard Wrestling's strong points anyway. Because although the created character feature was definitely expanded since the last game, it's still so basic and limited, it can in no way compete with any other character creation system in the genre.
One aspect I did like, though, was the cleverly assembled career mode. Broken into several different neighborhoods, the structure of this mode does a great job of progressively making things more interesting between matches. At first, you'll start in your own neighborhood fighting local jobbers until you earn enough in specific preset missions. Once you've done that, you can then move up in class and start participating in challenges against established licensed personalities before getting your shot at a neighborhood's title. Your eventual goal is to unify all the titles from all the districts into a single belt, and spend the money you earn along the way to grab some unlockables and new clothes. It's a great idea to be sure, but because of the unappealing lineup of unlockable features and the unflattering gameplay system, the fun element of your quest is quickly lost.
There are a myriad of other problems worth mentioning that really drag Backyard 2 down into the mud as well; The audio effects are pretty buggy and will actually fade out at some points for no apparent reason. The voice-overs are pretty bad too, and the repetition of what your opponents say when they're punched consecutively in a fight will probably drive you nuts (I know it drove me to sticking to grapples only). Graphically the game doesn't fare much better with its ugly textures and character models, but the environments are nice and there are some cool particle effects here and there.
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