Retro Respawn – ECW Hardcore Revolution (Game Boy Color)

We’ll be finishing off our sojourn down Grapple Avenue this week with one more wrestling game before I bring my buddy, Adam, back next week for a special feature. Sadly, ECW Hardcore Revolution on the Game Boy Color is by far the worst of the games I have played over the past month, and when you consider that one of those games was WCW Nitro, that almost becomes some kind of a sick achievement. Hardcore Revolution is a truly miserable game to play and not a remotely good advert for handheld gaming. It’s one of those games that is bad even when weaknesses of the hardware are taken into account, and I’ll do my best to explain why.

Backstory

ECW was the third company in the “Big Three” of American Pro Wrestling during the latter half of the 1990s. ECW never had the budget of the WWF or WCW, and often those two companies would pillage the smaller promotion for its biggest stars. The WWF even went so far as to poach ECW’s “Extreme” brand of profanity-laced overly sexed up violent wrestling and renamed it “Attitude”; thus, essentially robbing the smaller outfit of its unique calling card. However, despite the larger companies regularly messing with it, ECW kept plugging away and managed to develop itself a loyal cult following, of which I was a member. ECW was finally able to make its way into the world of pay per view in 1997 and was eventually able to bag itself a one-hour TV show on The Nashville Network (which would eventually go on to change its name to Spike TV). Along with the TV deal came other marketing opportunities, one of which was a video game.

ECW was in luck as a developer with previous wrestling game experience had suddenly found itself without a wrestling company to work with. Acclaim had enjoyed a decent run as the video game purveyor for the WWF, but the WWF had decided that it wanted to get into bed with THQ, thus screwing over both Acclaim and WCW as Acclaim lost the WWF license, and WCW lost its own video game developer. WCW would end up going with Electronic Arts and releasing Mayhem on multiple platforms, and Acclaim made the decision to give ECW its first official trip to the video game world in the form of Hardcore Revolution. Released for the PlayStation, Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast, Hardcore Revolution was mostly just WWF Attitude but with ECW wrestlers and some slightly more violent matches, such as barbed wire bouts. It was hardly a rip-roaring success from a critical perspective, with Play magazine in the UK giving it a score of 70%, and this was a magazine that gave Nitro an 80%!

However, Hardcore Revolution sold well enough that Acclaim was willing to release a sequel later in 2000 called Anarchy Rulz, and it wasn’t just restricted to the home console market either as Acclaim outsourced a Game Boy Color port to Crawfish Interactive in Croydon, who had also handled ports of the WWF games when Acclaim still had that license to play with. The WWF games were hardly head-cracking successes from a critical perspective, and neither, sadly, is Hardcore Revolution. A quick look at Crawfish’s rogues gallery reveals that they worked on fighting games quite a lot, with Game Boy ports of Ready 2 Rumble and Street Fighter being amongst their releases. I can’t say whether they butchered the gameplay of those series’ as much as they did with Hardcore Revolution, but if they did, then Yee-Ouch!!

Gameplay

Being that it’s a Game Boy Color release, Hardcore Revolution has only a two-button setup, but that’s not a catch-all excuse for how bad the gameplay is. Button A allows you to kick and grab an opponent, whilst B allows you to punch. Once in a grapple, you can press one of the two buttons and a direction to perform a generic selection of moves that every wrestler in the game seems to have. Up and A will see you do a vertical suplex, for instance, whilst pressing down will see you do a powerslam into a pin. When you knock an opponent down, you can pin them by pressing A or stomp on them by pressing B. Despite numerous attempts, I don’t think it’s possible to apply any holds to a downed opponent.

As you successfully perform moves, you will build a finisher bar underneath your wrestler’s health bar, which will allow you to deliver a pulverising finishing move by pressing A and B together. Often though it feels totally random as to which wrestler is going to grapple the other, with you really only finding out once a move is delivered. This leads to matches coming down to boring games of chicken when you get close to grapple and just hope that the game allows your wrestler to be the one who is able to perform an attack.

In a bizarre choice, your wrestler will face in whatever direction you move in, meaning that when you try and back away you will instead just turn around and give your opponent your back, allowing them to attack you at will. What often happens is that once you find yourself on the defensive, it’s incredibly difficult to turn it around as the computer will just drain away your health with consecutive attacks. This happens a lot if they get your back and just keep delivering an atomic drop as you won’t bump from it, and it will allow the computer to keep grabbing you as you desperately try to get your wrestler to turn around to face them once again.

Another outrageously annoying aspect of the gameplay is that it’s incredibly difficult to dodge an opponent who attacks you from the top rope as opponents can leap the entire length of the ring with laser point accuracy. The computer knows this too and will absolutely cheese the heck out of matches by just climbing up to the top rope and leaping from one side of the ring to the other, annihilating your health bar along the way. Yes, Crawfish are kind of limited by having just two buttons to work with, but surely there’s a better way to do a wrestling game than this? In fact, there is as Pro Wrestling on the Nintendo Entertainment System has only two buttons and is loads more fun to play than Hardcore Revolution, and that game is over a decade older!

Crawfish do try and play up to the “Extreme” nature of ECW by introducing weapons and a barbed wire option, with one of the weapons even being a sword! Despite the fact you can straight up run your opponents through, there is no blood in the game, and Hardcore Revolution doesn’t even carry a mature rating certificate. The barbed wire match is the dampest of damp squibs as well as the wire doesn’t look that impressive, and all you can do is whip your opponent into it, at which point they’ll take a bloodless bump before popping right back up. This feature is admittedly pretty rubbish on the home console versions too, but at least there’s blood in those ones, and the wrestlers give off a mild suggestion that the wire hurts a bit more than a normal attack.

Occasionally, the fight will spill outside, but there is a count from the referee, and the computer-controlled wrestler always just climbs back into the ring. You’d think for an ECW game they would remove the count and program the A.I. of the computer-controlled wrestlers so that they would be more up for an outside the ring scrap. I do sometimes wonder if the fine people at Crawfish had ever watched ECW because it certainly doesn’t feel like that when you play Hardcore Revolution.

Graphics

This is one area where I’m willing to give the game a little bit of slack as the Game Boy Color was hardly a graphical titan, and the wrestlers mostly all look how they are supposed to (although Sabu has grey hair for some reason). The arenas you wrestle in are mostly a row of empty seats with a few bored fans watching on, which feels like a real slap in the face from Crawfish to ECW. How many wrestling video games go out of their way to show empty seats in arenas like that? If you didn’t know any better, you’d think you would have popped in an AWA game from the late 80s by mistake (Hey Ooooohhh!).

Visually, the game actually reminded me quite a bit of WWF King of the Ring on the Nintendo Entertainment System, although the moves are slightly better animated here. Don’t get me wrong, quite a lot of them look awful (Mike Awesome’s powerbomb in particular looks like when you try and fail to flip a pancake on Shrove Tuesday), but at least you can tell what most of the moves are supposed to be. Hardcore Revolution is hardly a treat for the eyes, but it’s by no means the biggest issue with the game.

Sound

You’ll mostly be hearing two generic tracks throughout the game, the one from the main menu and the one that plays during matches. Both are pretty boring and forgettable, and it doesn’t take long for you to get sick of them. After a certain point, I just muted the audio and listened to a podcast instead because I knew cutting out the in-game sounds wouldn’t take away from the experience whatsoever. Again, considering games like Super Mario Land had excellent soundtracks, the fact Hardcore Revolution is a Game Boy release doesn’t excuse it for having a super boring and forgettable set of sound effects and music.

Longevity

Hardcore Revolution gives you a selection of 10 ECW wrestlers to choose from, with Mike Awesome, Balls Mahoney, Justin Credible, Lance Storm, Jerry Lynn, Rob Van Dam, Tommy Dreamer, Raven, Yoshihiro Tajiri and Sabu covering most of the company’s top of the card from late 99/early 00. Not including Taz is a shame, but he had left the company by the time the game was released, so it makes sense. Steve Corino, Super Crazy, Little Guido, New Jack and Rhino are probably the main guys missing out that you think would have deserved inclusion, but for a 10-man roster, it’s not the worst.

The main single-player campaign is made up of Challenge Mode and Career Mode, which essentially are both arcade ladder-styled modes where you just defeat a slew of opponents. In Challenge you rise up the rankings, and in Career you beat everyone on the roster twice to win the TV and World Titles. This isn’t any different from standard fighting games, but because every wrestler essentially wrestles the same, there’s very little reason for you to want to complete the game with all of them.

After finishing Career with Mike Awesome, I really had no desire to keep going and found the game to be a real slog. Yes, handheld games probably aren’t intended for long play sessions, but I think they should probably last more than 5 minutes before becoming samey and dull. Again, there are games from the original Game Boy, such as Super Mario Land and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, that offer much richer gameplay experiences and include far more than Hardcore Revolution does. That’s the difference between making a handheld game and making a good game that happens to be for a handheld console.

Would I Recommend It?

Oh, heck no!

ECW Hardcore Revolution for the Game Boy Color is a game swallowed by its limitations and makes little to no effort to rise above them. That basically kills a Game Boy release stone dead before it even has a chance. You have to be canny and ambitious to make a Game Boy game good because there are a lot of hoops you need to jump through in order to get there. Crawfish not only don’t bother to try and jump through the hoops, they can barely be bothered to crawl under them on their bellies. Avoid like the plague or a cheque written by Paul Heyman!

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