AKI's new cel-shaded wrestling game has a bit of a surprise in store for wrestling fans, but not in a good way ...
AKI is back with a new “wrestling” game based on the “Kinniku Man” cartoon, known as Ultimate Muscle in North America. The cartoon revolves around Kid Muscle (Kinniku Man) and the Muscle League and a group of evil wrestling villains known as dMp. If you’re not familiar with the cartoon, but the characters look familiar, it could be because the tiny pink wrestlers (under the name M.U.S.C.L.E.) were popular toys back in the 80’s, and are experiencing a bit of a resurgence due to the popularity of the wacky cartoon.
Despite everything about the game being dressed up like a wrestling game, and AKI’s reputation for creating one of the best wrestling engines in No Mercy for the N64, Kinnikuman is nothing more than a simplistic 3D fighter. Wrestling moves are pulled off by basic button presses, with the wrestling moves being very simple, albeit very cartoonish and over the top. The “specials” are a lot of fun to watch, and are part of what makes the game so entertaining to watch
There is a lot of Japanese in the story mode, and it’s going to be fairly impossible to follow unless you know Japanese. That said, there are no choices to be made other than which character you want to complete the story mode with, so you can simply keep pressing “A” until you get to the fighting. If you’re a fan of the cartoon series, it would be a good idea to wait for the US version so you can follow the story.
Finishing the Story Mode with each character will unlock more characters to play with, as does collecting a certain number of “Toy Capsules”, those little bubbles you get in vending machines that have the pink toys in them. That’s a nice touch, and it adds decent replay value.
The game engine is pretty fast, and the characters all have a cel-shaded look very faithful to the cartoon. When spectacular moves are performed, the game will cut away to a more energetic camera angle, or go into a quick fully animated cut-scene. These can be skipped, but considering they are all that really sets the game apart, you would be ill-advised to skip the animations.
The music is very Japanese in style, and quite goofy. The opening “song” is sung a cappella, and is about as goofy as anything you’ve ever heard. The music in the game is fairly non-descript and boring, and the few sound effects are overused.
The game’s one saving grace is the multiplayer mode, which is fast and furious in four-player mode. Being a fairly simple fighting engine actually helps keep the action high in this regard, but four-player fighting is handled with more care in many other games. This might be a good rental during a gaming party, sort of a palette cleanser in between games.
That’s where this game ends up when everything is said and done, you have a game that really doesn’t do anything well except exploit the Ultimate Muscle license. Much like Dragonball Z Budokai, this game will probably be well received by fans of the show. Everyone else will likely let out a resounding yawn. AKI fans looking for the next coming of the No Mercy engine are going to have to wait and see if Def Jam Vendetta will fill their needs, as Kinniku Man II seems to be just a chance for AKI to make a little money cashing in on a popular license, rather than the heir-apparent to AKI’s wrestling series. There is very little depth, and although the multiplayer mode holds promise as a fun pick-up-and-play diversion at parties, there are better wrestling games, and better fighting games to be had.