Five Star Wrestling gives each of its wrestlers an extremely accurate moveset, putting WWE’s games to shame in that regard. You move with the left analog stick and grapple with the right. Each direction will give you a different move, and you can access more by holding down L1, L2, or R2 and moving the right stick. Additionally you have a dedicated “illegal move” button by pressing the right stick in, which will give you an illegal flag. Get three and you’re disqualified. It’s a good system and it allows you to really feel like a heel during a match.
Another great aspect of Five Star Wrestling is the damage system. Each wrestler gets a doll by their name that shows how damaged each area is. As you target different body parts, they’ll go from white, to yellow, to orange, to red, and finally to black. The more damage you inflict on your enemy, the more bruises and damage you’ll see on their wrestler and it really makes matches feel more impactful. I’d love to see that feature brought into the WWE games in the future.
In addition to visible damage and a susceptibility to submissions, lowering an opponent's leg condition can provide other benefits. Sometimes they’ll start to mount a comeback and Ragnabrök will pick you up for an F5, only to have his knees buckle underneath him and drop you. It’s a small thing but it really adds to the feeling that the match you’re having is meaningful.
There are 8 different match types ranging from a normal match to a submission match, but nothing as exotic as a ladder match. Indeed, you’ll only ever have a two person contest, no tag teams and no handicap matches or royal rumbles. There’s an exhibition mode, but you probably won’t be spending much time here as all you have unlocked is the regular match type and the training gym location. To unlock more you’ll need to complete matches in the Challenge Mode, which is where the majority of your playtime with the game will come from. The challenges span all the different match types, including wrestler specific challenges, and there are over a hundred to complete.
In a challenge match you will be given a specific wrestler vs another specific wrestler and, much like WWE’s Showcase Mode, you’re required to meet three objectives during the match in order to complete the challenge. This could be a punch combo, performing a finisher, a springboard move, making the opponent bleed, or many more. There are two main issues with the challenge mode though. The first is that it often requires you to damage a specific body part on the opponent until it is red, but tends to give you a wrestler who only has one attack that hits that particular body part. This causes you to spam the same move over and over to complete the objective, which gets old fast. The second problem is that each challenge gives you around 1,000 currency, with a bonus for higher star rated matches. The issue is that it takes 46,000 to unlock a costume, 92,000 to unlock an arena, and the match types range from 161,000 to 230,000. So don’t expect to be playing the exhibition mode much.
Another area where 5 Star Wrestling falters is the AI. It’s really dumb and doesn’t provide any challenge once you figure out the controls, even if you crank the settings up. Lastly and perhaps the worst of all are the glitches. These range from small things that I can overlook, such as wrestlers not being in the right place while moves are performed, or sliding across the mat while lying down, all the way to match-ruining glitches that force you to restart. In a longer challenge this can be extraordinarily frustrating. Collision detection is also near broken at times, and you’ll need to wait until your opponent is completely standing up before trying to grab or hit them, otherwise you’ll go right through.
The game has a rating system, as I briefly mentioned before, and if you can get into it, you could spend a long time figuring out it’s intricacies. Ideally you’re supposed to use ring psychology, pacing, excitement and more to create an epic match. This means stopping and letting your opponent get some offense in sometimes, coming close to losing just to make things more exciting. Anyone who's heard me talk about WWE 2K15 knows that I love a match rating feature in a wrestling game, so it’s welcome here.
I haven’t touched on the graphics yet because there’s not much to say. 5 Star Wrestling looks like a bad PS2 game at times. The lighting is fine, but the wrestlers often look horrifying, and the stages are bland. There are no crowds either. It’s serviceable, but often quite ugly. The sound is better than the graphics, with the music for wrestler entrances obviously being inspired by their real life versions. While the game lacks commentary, I feel like that’s a better option than including poor commentary that repeats often.
Overall what do I think of 5 Star Wrestling? For the first couple hours I absolutely hated it, but I pushed through to try and find something to enjoy in the game and it worked, kind of. The game just feels unfinished due to all of the bugs, and some of the challenges aren’t hard so much as tedious. I did have fun with the game while playing it, including getting sucked into doing multiple challenges when I just turned it on to capture some quick footage for this review. Still, I doubt I’ll be coming back to this game at all, and I certainly wouldn’t pay the $25 that their asking for. I give 5 Star Wrestling a 2 out of 5, with an extra star if you’re a huge fan of wrestling and the game drops in price by at least $15.