Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 (N64) Review

Here we have the only Japan-exclusive game on this list, thanks to importing games being expensive at the time combined with me having no money (plus getting imported PS2 games to work was a pain in the arse). I actually played VPW2 long after No Mercy, I was desperate for a new AKI engine game so imported this, and was thrilled with the results as thanks to the new-fangled higher-speed internet I was finally watching a lot of Puro that I’d only ever read about (or seen in EWR/TEW). Looking back it also now feels like a combination of AKI games and Fire Pro, my other major Wrestling game love, so that’s a big plus in my book! Let’s take a look then, at the second-to-last AKI game…

Background:

Giant Baba, complete with twig arms!

Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 was released in Japan on January 28th 2000. It was never taken to the west due to the lack of familiarity with the playable roster and the fact it is, for all intents and purposes, a modified WWF WrestleMania 2000.

The game features All Japan stars Giant Baba, Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Jun Akiyama, Toshiaki Kawada, Yoshinari Ogawa, Big Van Vader, Akira Taue, Yoshihiro Takayama, Stan Hansen, Johnny Ace, Masahito Kakihara, Kentaro Shiga, Takao Omori, Hiroshi Hase, Jun Izumida, Manuakea Mossman, Mike Barton (who never appeared in a WWF game, despite being Bart Gunn), Gary Albright, Johnny Smith and Giant Kamala as playable stars with the correct names and costumes, and then a whole bunch of stars from New Japan, FMW, Michinoku Pro, Osaka Pro, Toryumon, RINGS, Pancrase, Pride FC and a bunch of Legends, from Andre the Giant to Mil Mascaras.

Due to the abundance of Puro games released since the NES, I don’t know who made their debut in this game and who didn’t, especially if you factor in the “blatant who they are, just change the name and one or two colours on their attire and there you go” characters. The old excel file I use for the other games in this countdown only includes western released games, presumably because at the time that it would’ve meant an extra couple of hundred Japanese wrestlers who I didn’t really know…

Gameplay:

A triple threat match! … A.K.A. something that didn’t exist in Japan at the time… or now, really…

If you’ve been following this rundown you’ll know the AKI controls by now: light and heavy grapples, light and heavy strikes, running strikes, top tope moves, diving moves, strikes and grapples on the floor, and finishers activated when your “Spirit Meter” gets built up enough via hitting moves or taunting that you can entre “Special” mode and the flick the analogue stick when your character is in the right position to do whatever his finish is. As I always say, the moves are so impactful and heavy, same for the strikes… it just makes everything “feel” like it hurts, and is extremely satisfying.

Controls-wise, VPW2 varies more than WM2000 as it first re-adds the test-of-strength and grapple-based strike combinations that were removed from the western games after Revenge, plus adds in a running grapple along with the strikes, which adds a whole new and fun move to pull off. The other big thing is where this game starts to feel very Fire Pro is that they have a shoot fighting mode, and is you play as one of the many selectable MMA stars they have move sets with more strikes and loads of MMA takedowns that lead into ground and pound or submission situations. I can’t tell you how many times me and my friend did random Rumbles and panicked when a shooter came down, we knew we could be instantly KO’d or submitted at any time.

As hinted at just now, you can edit the Rumble in this game to be pin and submission only, which while not as fun as the pin and submission Hardcore falls count anywhere Rumbles me and friends did endlessly on No Mercy, it’s still great fun. The Cage and First Blood rules introduced in WM2000 is not present in the more serious land of Puroresu, but the career mode is nearly identical in terms of look, though obviously a year in AJPW is vastly different than a year in the WWF, full with round robin tournaments and the like. The CAW mode is also a bit better in VPW2, giving your more options (especially with masks, given the near-complete lack of masked wrestlers in the 1999 WWF compared to Japanese wrestling), more slots and the ability to play around with A.I. logic to they do certain spots at certain times, something I thought was exclusive to the Fire Pro series.

So at the end of the day it feels like what it is: a half-way between WM2000 and No Mercy, but based on the Japanese pro-wrestling scene in 1999, rather than the booming WWF. That’s no bad thing, that’s for sure!

Graphics and Sound:

A tag match goes out of control!

Graphics are the same as you see in WM2000 and No Mercy after it, chunky models, faces “tattooed” onto the wrestler’s heads, some textures nice and smooth, others extremely jagged and 2D if looked at too closely. The Tokyo Dome arena has a ramp that connects to the ring apron which you can do moves on, so that’s also an extra bit of accurate visual flair, but the entrances are just “walking in the back, walks to the ring and gets introduced while standing in the corner”. Not much to them, but again compared to the WWF, there wasn’t!

Sound is good enough, hitting, slamming and submission rubber-cranking sounds are all just as good as usual, and the AJPW themes are here in their digitised N64 cartridge glory. The rest are generic themes, while menu themes are extremely similar to WM2000, not-so-oddly enough…

Thoughts Then:

Not including WWF In Your House (*Shudder*) this was my first time playing as Vader officially in a game!

As I said, I brought this… I want to say mid-to-late 2000s, after me and my friend were starting to grow tired of occasional No Mercy rumbles but still wanted some of that sweet AKI goodness. This filled that gap nicely for a few years before Fire Pro Returns came to Europe…

Thoughts Now:

That’s a mighty square arse Vader’s got there!

Now? I love it, possibly even more than I did then. I’m now fully into wrestling from around the world and especially from the 90s/00s, and I love the mix of AKI engine and MMA/logic stuff from Fire Pro. If only it didn’t take 15 tries to get the import cartridge to recognise VPW2 and actually play it I’d play the game more… Well, that and Fire Pro World exists…

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