After the latest disappointment in the colossal WWE series, wrestling game fans may have found solace in the knowledge that a fresh contender was on the way to challenge for the genre's crown. Pitched as the wrestling equivalent of Pro Evolution Soccer, Serious Parody's 5 Star Wrestling intended to offer a fun alternative to everyone's favourite grappling simulator – but what we've received instead is an even shallower substitute.
The game features eight strikingly familiar playable wrestlers, each with a particular face/heel (good/bad) persuasion, and a certain skill set including Brute, Technician, Showman, and Risk Taker. With talent including Raging Andy Organ (RAO), Curtis Angel, Mike Iceberg, and 'The Bull' Jonny Miavia, one might wonder how such blatant near-infringement of copyright law hasn't got the big E's lawyers salivating – but the name likenesses are just the beginning.
For example, all of the real life talent's signature taunts and moves are also featured, their entrance music is uncannily similar, and 5 Star Wrestling's own Ragnabrök 'The Conqueror' boasts an eerily similar dagger tattoo to the one emblazoned on Brock Lesnar's real-life chest.
Unfortunately, the gameplay is equally unoriginal, borrowing the controls scheme made popular by the WWE series. X is strike, R2 and L2 are used to counter grapples and strikes respectively, and using the right stick allows you to perform a hold of your own, with various shoulder button configurations allowing for different moves to be performed. When you've built up enough steam, you can perform your signature move with triangle as many times as you desire within a short time period. Perplexingly, one of the only buttons to have its mapping altered is the one used to run, which has been changed to square, making sprinting and performing a strike or a signature move unnecessarily difficult.
Some moves deal more damage than others, and the amount of punishment taken by a competitor can be monitored on models in the respective corners of the screen. The various body parts will slowly fill with colour depending on which are being damaged, beginning at yellow, before progressing to orange, red, and then black. Targeting a particular limb can be challenging, however, as while it is possible to view your performer's move set via the pause menu, there's no proper limb-targeting system, and no way of knowing which area the moves affect.
As appropriate, the fighters will display damage depending on how much punishment they've taken, with bruises appearing over time, and suitably, when the legs of your opponent have been damaged beyond reasonable doubt, they'll no longer be able to lift you for their signature move, collapsing to the floor instead. It's a nice touch, but not something that appears to affect other body parts, and it's incredibly frustrating when it happens to you, as limbs don't appear to recover over time.
As the controls and fundamental mechanics are similar to their competitor's, it's relatively straightforward to pick up and start playing. However, glitches and dodgy animations run rampant, turning what should be a simple, arcade-style wrestling title into a frustrating mess. During our playtime, we encountered issues including rivals clipping through the ropes and mat, moves being performed on opponents when both men were a few feet away from each other, and wrestlers suspended at mat height while outside the ring, as the game appeared to assume that they were still inside it.
The visuals, too, are more reminiscent of a budget title from over a decade ago, rather than a 2015 PlayStation 3 release. The arenas are vacant despite crowd noise, there's no commentary, and the fighters don't make an entrance, but instead are introduced to the ring by an announcer while their music plays. Cosmetic issues aside, these unpolished flaws do actively affect gameplay. We were often left hopelessly flailing at our foes on many occasions because we weren't in the specific location required to make contact, despite being within touching distance. It's true that these kinds of collision detection issues occur in the WWE games as well, but it's only when your opponent is stood on the top rope and you're hammering away at his legs trying to get him to fall that this becomes a real problem.
If you're willing to forgive its numerous grievances, then there's no career mode to speak of, but rather Exhibition and Challenges. The latter sees you fulfilling certain criteria during matches, including performing specific moves in specific locations, as well as winning within a certain time frame. There appears to be no difficulty curve with these, however, as you veer from simple requests like performing a pin attempt three times in a row to completing four specific goals and going on to win in fewer than three and a half minutes. Completing these challenges rewards you with points with which you can purchase new character outfits and match types for Exhibition, as the only one that you get out of the box is 'Wrestling Match'.
While we appreciate that there's only so much that can be done to a tried and tested formula, 5 Star Wrestling has stripped out so many of the components that we've come to expect as a standard from wrestling games that the gameplay would have to be near enough perfect to justify its existence. As it stands, without any online functionality, no creation suite, a litigious gaggle of performers, and dodgy mechanics, this game is all but impossible to recommend to anyone. There's a fine line between parody and rip-off, and if you can imagine that line being a table, Iceberg just Titanic Slammed Gregg Hearty right through it.