The Xbox has a bad track record with wrestling games. From THQ’s execrable WWE Raw series, to multiplatform dross like Legends of Wrestling, it’s easy to see where that negative reputation comes from. But as it turns out, there is one decent wrestling game for Xbox called The Wild Rings; an import game I’d never heard of until recently.
This wrestling and mixed martial arts simulator was a first-party Xbox title released only in Japan. Featuring quality 3D graphics befitting an Xbox exclusive in 2003, The Wild Rings is a well-presented game. Character models are nicely rendered, a 3D crowd reacts convincingly to the in-ring action, and the various wrestling holds and MMA takedowns are also nicely animated.
Collision detection is overly precise, but it establishes a solid game engine for striking, which is important when so many fighting styles are showcased. This includes pro wrestling (of both the Japanese and American varieties), shoot fighting, and even Sumo. Fire Pro Wrestling is a clear influence here since Paon Corporation is comprised of staff who worked on games for that same venerable series.
The Wild Rings splits its focus between wrestling matches featuring pin falls, and “total fighting” bouts focusing on knockouts and submissions. This means the variety of moves is much lower than other pure wrestling games. However, the grappling system is intuitive once players understand the basics.
Grabbing an opponent causes a meter to move at the bottom of the screen. Your character’s moves are represented by markers, with players needing to stop the meter close to one before their opponent does the same. Heavy attacks are spaced further away, thus requiring more damage on an opponent before they can be reliably executed. Kickboxers and Karate experts tend to favour strikes over holds, so their markers are further spaced than a grappler’s markers would be.
It’s a solid system spoiled by the meter’s absence in multiman matches. This is done to preserve screen space, but it makes grappling feel random when players can’t see what they’re aiming for. It really spoils these match variants, which is a huge shame because battle royales support up to eight players (plus a referee) in the ring at the same time, and is quite the spectacle otherwise.
Luckily the game has freely scalable difficulty options. The deliberate gameplay is not as twitchy as other wrestling games from this time period either, and there is a timeless quality to its basic formula of wearing down an opponent. The game visibly tracks damage done to a character’s head, torso, arms, and legs, meaning submission experts will always know which limb to focus on when seeking a tap out victory.
The fighting system is supported by a comprehensive creation mode containing a good variety of costume pieces and body parts for custom characters. Again, the number of holds is low because of the split focus on fighting over pure wrestling, but the numerous disciplines let players create diverse characters nonetheless. There’s also several facial models resembling real world performers, with some of the default characters mimicking American stars like The Rock and Chris Jericho. Unfortunately, players aren’t able to create female competitors, and the default roster is single-gendered much like real Japanese promotions of the time.
The game is limited in other ways too. While there are some bonuses to unlock here and there, the single player modes are extremely basic and don’t offer the sort of longevity a game like this really needs. On the other hand, The Wild Rings is easy to get into, and it’s a reasonably friendly import for English speakers as well. An unofficial translation patch still comes highly recommended for English speakers with a modded Xbox because it makes navigating the menus a smoother process, even if a few labels remain hardcoded in Japanese.
Being the best wrestling game on Xbox is such a low bar to clear, The Wild Rings achieves it despite being a hybrid fighting game. Nevertheless, Paon Corporation showed huge potential here, so it’s a shame they didn’t get a shot at making another wrestling game after this impressive debut.