Two of the luchadors in Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes Del Ring that you have heard of. I have no idea what the hell is happening in this picture otherwise, however.

I have a problem when it comes to wrestling video games. That problem is called WWF No Mercy for the Nintendo 64. Since playing the bejesus out of that game for years, I found myself unable to really enjoy later wrestling games, particularly WWF/E ones, because No Mercy was just too goddamn good. Everything after that just seemed… wrong. The Smackdown games were okay, but had arcadey weirdness like being able to hit people with an elbow drop after they stood up. Fire Pro Wrestling for the Game Boy Advance was the next best thing to No Mercy, although I only recently came to fully appreciate how brilliant the Audience Match concept is, but the wrestling games on consoles still didn’t stack up to the increasingly awful-looking (by comparison) but still outstanding N64 classic.

Recently, perhaps just because I haven’t played No Mercy in several years, I have become more accepting of wrestling games. I’ve gotten back into Fire Pro Wrestling and embraced the aforementioned genius of Audience Match mode, but I’ve also played some console wrestling games and found myself much less harsh in my judgement of them. WWE ’12 was genuinely enjoyable, although not to the point where I wanted to spend $60 on a game where the online servers still don’t work a year later. The wrestling game on the XBox Live Arcade, Action Arcade Wrestling, was crude but also a ton of fun and reminded me of the old WrestleFest arcade game. It probably didn’t hurt that it was, like, a dollar. The most recent wrestling game I’ve played was Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes Del Ring. I hadn’t heard good things about it, but a friend of mine bought it for five bucks so we decided to lace up our masks and throw down.*

*We didn’t have actual masks. I wish we did, though, that would have been awesome.

My first impression, upon being told the controls, was that there were a surprising number of buttons dedicated to striking, which made me think it would have a more fighting game-y feel. Against a human player, it kind of does, as a lot of time is spent trying to hit the big B button strikes (we played on Xbox 360) while making liberal use of the reversal button and occasionally using one of the light grapples if one got lucky. Against the computer, however, both grapples were able to be utilized because they were much worse at reversing things that humans. Despite only being able to use light grapples with any regularity against human opponents, we were still able to hit some pretty big moves as the light grapples included, inexplicably, an ace crusher variant of an Osaka street cutter.

In what is an accurate portrayal of lucha, as far as I can tell, the wrestlers move quite slowly when not making gravity their bitch and kicking people. I’m going to talk about that a little bit more in a bit, but as a result of the sluggishness of the luchadors, the run button got used quite, not just to throw dropkicks and leg lariats and stuff but often as a way to close the distance to do grapples and things. Performance and appeals to the crowd are important in lucha, and as a result the taunt buttons have pretty marked effects on the N64 style spirit meters which fuel your specials and determines which moves you can do. Many high level grapples are tied to your spirit meter, so if you don’t have the spirit you can’t do the move even if your opponent’s body is essentially non-functioning. In a nice touch, Rudos got extra spirit from brawling on the floor, cheating, and taunts outside of the ring while Tecnicos got their bonuses from being in the ring and upholding the rules. Once your special was activated, both human opponents and the computer AI would bail out of the ring as soon as was physically possible and run frantically around it in circles while waiting for the special to fade out. This naturally led to the opponent with the special attempting to time a dive to the floor so that your panicking opponent would run into your torpedo attack. The actual result of this tended to be smashing head first into the ringside barricade or splattering on the floor as your opponent gets halfway around the ring in the time it took you to fly through the air.

A lot of the reviews I read of Lucha Libre AAA really hammered the game over how slow the luchadors were, claiming that real lucha libre is fast and furious with the luchadors bouncing and flying all over the place at breakneck pace. I’m pretty sure these reviewers have never actually watched lucha. It’s actually not that fast. The rules are structured to make it SEEM fast, but nobody is actually moving at lightning speed most of the time. In that regard, I think the speed of Lucha Libre AAA actually does an excellent job of capturing the pace of lucha, because while the characters are kind of slow, they end up doing a lot of running between spots, which involve a lot of flips and big moves. So while the physical speed of the characters is sluggish, the action moves at a fairly good pace.

Aside from a bizarre system for saving created wrestlers that links them to Gamer Tags in a move that makes sense only to whoever’s idea it was, Lucha Libre AAA was surprisingly fun, and worth the $5 my buddy spent on it. It was DEFINITELY worth the $0 that I spent to play it.