Arm Wrestling League
Sports simulations are a staple of computer gaming. There are plenty of football games, millions more football management games (each year sees the same ones released again!), snooker, tennis, golf, even ice hockey... I haven't seen many cricket simulations out there, but I'm sure EA Sports are working on one. Even indie developers have a crack at them, often on the more fringe sports - Bytten has reviewed a boxing management simulator, a curious mix of baseball and golf and five-a-side football.
Perhaps taking the concept of fringe sports to the extreme - no, I don't mean performing stunts and wearing torn baggy jeans while playing them - is this offering from Enigma Games. Arm Wrestling League sees you... well, actually, the title says it all. You have an arm wrestler. You play a tournament against a range of opponents. As you play you'll score points to improve your skills.
An immediate question that sprang to my mind (and possibly yours) is how exactly you arm wrestle on a computer. This is simple. There are three moves available to your wrestler - the Hook, the Toproll and the Press. Each of these is strong against one and weak against another of the other two. Each "turn" you and your opponent choose a move and, depending on the outcome, either you or your opponent will gain ground.
This may sound familiar - it should. This is, in essence, a game of paper/scissors/stone. There's a bit more to it than that, however. Your stamina has an impact - the more stamina you have, the more effect your moves have. A strong skill in one move improves the effect it has, including in a tie - if you and your opponent do the same move, the one with more skill and stamina will still make headway. If you win a streak of moves, you also get the chance to do a special move, which will beat anything.
Controls are simple. Either press the arrow keys or click on one of four buttons to select your move - do so quickly, as there are only a few seconds in which to decide. Winning moves reduce your opponent's stamina, making your own moves more effective. A bar at the bottom depicts how you're doing, though the wrestlers' arms (and your opponent's expression!) also tell you how the game is going.
Cartoon graphics are the order of the day - you can tell at a glance that this is a bit of fun rather than a serious sporting simulator. Bizarrely we never get to see the face of "our" wrestler, the most normal looking (from the back, at least) of the entire motley crew! I particularly like the police officer - though strangely, when he lifts his arm in victory, the badge on it appears to be reversed.
Sound is limited. A couple of music tracks accompany the action - one for menu sections, one for bouts - but sound effects are virtually non-existent. A few grunts and groans from the wrestlers would add atmosphere here.
This is a very easy game to pick up. The key to victory is in learning the pattern of moves that your opponent makes - learn those, perform the countermoves, and you've got them beaten. Amateur league players have simple patterns, while professional league players have longer, more complex ones. This does all mean, however, that you can figure out and defeat all wrestlers in time simply by memorising their patterns. I am unsure if these patterns change each time you play, which would be an effective way to extend the game's lifespan.
Arm Wrestling League is a bit of fun and certainly very different from the majority of games out there, but ultimately it is too thin a premise to make a lasting impression. While simple game mechanics work for match-3 puzzles and other continuous games like them, here there's a distinct stop point and little progression in difficulty to match. Aside from seeing what the next cartoon wrestler looks like, there's little incentive (and that one alone will fade once you've seen 'em all). A curious game but, when push comes to shove, I doubt it has much stamina.
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