A little more than one year ago, Bandai teamed up for the first time with longtime wrestling game gurus, the Aki Corporation, to bring out a game based upon the popular Ultimate Muscle Saturday morning anime wrestling series. Titled Ultimate Muscle: Legends vs. New Generation and released exclusively on the GameCube, the offering was something of a surprise in that it managed to blend together Aki's style of wrestling gameplay with the wild and frenetic themes of the cartoon shockingly well, thus making for a wholly unique wrestling experience. Now, the effective follow-up to Legends vs. New Generation is here in the form of Galactic Wrestling: Featuring Ultimate Muscle for the PlayStation 2. Galactic Wrestling isn't so much a sequel to its GameCube predecessor, but, rather, it almost feels as though Bandai simply wanted to start anew for the franchise's debut on the PS2, stripping out the GameCube game's storyline and signature graphical style in favor of a more multiplayer-focused experience. On its own merits, Galactic Wrestling is a solid grappler. But anyone hoping for a real step forward from the first Ultimate Muscle game is going to be a bit disappointed.
Only in Galactic Wrestling can you see a half-man, half-airplane fight a half-man, half-walrus.
If you missed out on Legends vs. New Generation for the GameCube and have never played an Aki wrestling game in your life, the basic gameplay mechanics featured in Galactic Wrestling may take a bit of getting used to. Your wrestler has basic strike and grapple attacks, as well as the ability to jump around and perform dodge moves to get away in a pinch. When striking an opponent, you have the option of either performing a weak strike by tapping the button or performing a stronger one by holding it down. Grapple moves are performed using the grapple button and holding a specific direction on either the left analog stick or the D pad to specify a certain maneuver. You can perform submissions by grappling an opponent while he's laid out on the mat, and you can execute varying levels of special, signature moves for each wrestler by building up a meter near your wrestler's health meter. Throw in a highly brisk pacing and a sometimes arduous reliance on timing your attacks, and that's essentially Galactic Wrestling's gameplay in a nutshell. It's a fun system, but if you happen to have played last year's Ultimate Muscle game, this might all seem just a bit too familiar to you.
That's because almost nothing at all has changed gameplay-wise from last year's Ultimate Muscle game. Aside from the addition of a few more moves per character and a more merciful overall difficulty level, playing Galactic Wrestling is extremely familiar territory for those who played Ultimate Muscle on the GameCube. Of course, that doesn't make the game any less fun, and if it makes any difference, Aki has never been known for making huge leaps and bounds between gameplay designs from year to year in its games. However, even by comparison, Galactic Wrestling almost feels just a bit too steadfastly rooted in its predecessor's gameplay design--especially when you consider that there isn't quite as much to do in this game as there was in the previous game.
While Ultimate Muscle on the GameCube was a more story mode-focused game, Galactic Wrestling doesn't have a story mode at all. The only story bits you'll find in the game come from matches between specific wrestlers who have had major rivalries on the TV show. During the game's introduction, they'll spout off a few lines to one another, giving you a smidgen of background as to why they don't especially like one another, and that's pretty much it. While this likely doesn't mean much to a casual player just looking for a unique wrestling game, fans of the show will likely be disheartened by how little service the game pays the show's colorful storylines.
The game's included modes are a basic versus mode, a tournament mode, a team battle mode, and a survival mode. The team battle mode is essentially just a five-on-five series of single matches, where the last team with remaining wrestlers is the winner. Survival mode has two distinct versions--single and two-versus-two. Single is pretty self-explanatory in that you just pick a wrestler and go through as many continuous opponents as possible. The two-versus-two mode is more novel in that you can only choose two specific characters--the team of Neptuneman and Big Budo--and your goal is to take down the many masked wrestlers of the game and commandeer their masks in the process. This is certainly an interesting mode, especially since the rest of the game is so blatantly straightforward. Aside from this mode, there's really not much lasting single-player value to be had in Galactic Wrestling once you've unlocked all of the hidden characters and the bevy of M.U.S.C.L.E. action figures featured in the game's toy collection mode (which, incidentally, doesn't really take all that long). However, this is not to say that all is lost, because, from a multiplayer standpoint, the game is fun enough and features just enough variety to keep you and your friends playing after you've unlocked everything.