Ultimate Muscle: Legends Vs. New Generation
If you're a wrestling fan--and even if you're unfamiliar with Ultimate Muscle (part of Fox's Saturday morning cartoon lineup)--you should take note of this GC wrassler. Why? First, it's developed by Aki, the same folks who brought us WWF: No Mercy for Nintendo 64 (considered one of the better games in the genre) and EA Big's Defjam Vendetta (due out this month). Second, this is one of the few recent wrestling games with an arcade-style interface that does it right.
Once you're in the ring, you'll immediately notice how much faster everything moves compared to a typical WWE title; get four players in the ring and it can be hard to keep up. But, to make sure you don't have an aneurysm, control is kept simple. Button-mashers (you know who you are) can concentrate on the one and only attack button, while skilled vets can combine that button with the others to create some new techniques and devastating moves. For example, tap jump (yes, a jump button in a wrestling game) and then grapple to perform an aerial throw, lunging at your opponent and tossing him to the canvas. Can't do that in a WWE game! You've also got a special gauge that, as each of three levels fills, gives you access to more over-the-top moves and a final (third-level) super move with an accompanying cut-scene. For example, during Kid Muscle's final attack, the Muscle Millennium, he tosses his opponent into the air and then flies off the ropes parallel to the mat toward the other side of the ring, crushing his foe against the ropes.
Muscle's cartoon-shaded visuals also help it stand out from the normal wrestling crowd while remaining true to its animation roots. The game's story differs from the show a bit, however, focusing on a battle between Kid Muscle and the new generation of Ultimate Muscle fighters versus Kid's pappy, King Muscle, and the original ultrabuff warriors from the '80s series (there are 14 characters in all).
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Even though this is wrestling, it’s unfair to put Muscle in the same ring with WWf games. The slow, plodding, and overly technical style of your run-of-the-mill wrasslin’ game is gone, replaced by incredibly fast and furiously fun game-play. The object here isn’t to pin your foe, but rather to bust out enough over-the-top moves to KO him flat on the mat. As if that isn’t a different and welcome enough change, Muscle's cool cartoony visuals, whack-ass characters, and absurd plots separate it from the norm even further. Of course, there are still areas to improve: The Story mode is short, there’s no outside-the-ring action, some characters’ attacks are way too powerful, and the Create-a-Character mode is low on options. But I’ve grown so tired of the same old never-changing “sim” wrestling games year after year that playing Muscle is like taking that first breath of fresh air after a decade of being trapped in a bank vault with the smelliest hobo on Earth.
Hulk Hogan, your T-shirt-rippin’ days are over. Games like Muscle prove the HWFs meatheads aren’t essential for superior videogame grappling. You won’t be disappointed with this game’s high-octane pace, simple arcade controls, and flamboyant finishers. But, sorry CJ, not being able to pin opponents, brawl outside the ring, or use weapons lowers my excitement to the middle turnbuckle. Even so, Muscle whups Wrestlemania X8s ass and clearly challenges Del Jam Vendetta for the Cube’s championship belt.
It neither stars Ron Jeremy nor lengthens your wang, but Ultimate Muscle makes for a satisfying weekend nonetheless. And don't let the cutesy tone deter you; after all, WWE wrestlers wear their seriousness on their Technicolor codpieces, too. But I’ll take Muscle's simplistic gameplay over the painfully slow pantomiming of true-to-life alternatives any day. Like the lighthearted rumbles of decades past, it’s instantly accessible and satisfyingly fast. Simple but effective evasion and countering also offset the limited move lists, and Muscle-heads will appreciate the trove of unlockable toys.