Can I get a why why?
Or even a bling-bling? That’s obviously the motivating factor behind the marketing machine known as Def Jam Vendetta. What else could justify a wrestling game featuring the music, attitude and likenesses of hardcore rappers?
Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that. We’ve seen all kinds of wacky marketing gimmickry over the years, from the deluge of games based on movies to the Army’s free brainwashing tool to the Gummi Life-Saver catastrophe in Croc 2. Edible mascots Chester Cheetah and the 7-Up dot even had games, so why should there be anything wrong with giving some props to hip-hop’s top rhyme droppers?
Nothing…unless you don’t like hip-hop. Def Jam Vendetta is so steeped in contemporary hip-hop flava that your appreciation of it will definitely be tied to your love or hatred of the music, making it a tough game to really be objective about. But I’m an old-school fool, so I’ll try to break down this New Kid like the O.G. (original gamer) I claim to be.
The game was developed by Aki (who have done a few other wrestling games) under the EA Big umbrella, the same studio that brought us such sweet gaming crack as the SSX games and NBA Street. But while those titles were chock full of interesting gameplay ideas, this one is basically just a hip-hop version of any decent wrestler.
The gameplay consists of trying to grab your opponent, perform lots of varied, brutal moves, and then either pin him, KO him with one of your two specials or weaken one of his limbs enough to make him submit. Unlike the other EA Big games, there isn’t much in the way of complex trigger combos.
In fact, combos are sort of hard to come by. There are none listed in the manual; rather, you have to find them yourself by playing the game and experimenting. Plus, you won’t be able to link more than 3 moves together at any one time. It’s a little annoying.
The main benefit of pulling off a combo is that it gives a nice boost to your Momentum Meter. When the meter is ‘Blazin’, you can grapple your opponent and perform a special move. If you do this while your opponent’s health is in the ‘Danger’ zone, you’ll score a KO. Though there are only two per character, the specials are admittedly really, really entertaining. Watching fictional wrestler Moses grab his opponent over his head and slam him down so that he’s propped up emulating a cross, after which Moses actually kneels down and prays to it, is enough to send even the most mild-mannered gamer to heathen heaven.
The control is done well, particularly the touch-sensitive grappling. Press lightly for a weak grapple or hard for a strong one, both of which lead to different moves. If you get the timing down, you can also block punches, kicks and grapples by using the L1 or R1 buttons, which can leave the opponent open or even take them down.
The whole thing works together pretty fluidly, though you’ll find yourself at times frustrated by the computer’s occasionally uncanny ability to reverse everything you throw at it. Getting the timing down for some reversals also seems a little suspect, definitely not as intuitive as the system found in the DOA series.
But there’s more here than just mindless wrestling – there’s a mindless single-player Story here as well.
Somewhere, sometime, there’s an underground fight club/dance party scene headed up by a mack named D-Mob, where thugs, hos, b-boys and playas gather to shake some ass and beat the crap out of each other, which, I suppose, isn’t so different from a typical MTV Spring Break special. But you won’t find Madonna or Blink 182 here – it’s strictly for new school rappers and their legions of adoring fans.
In Story Mode, you play as one of four preset characters lending a helping hand to Manny, your tattooed buddy who’s already embedded in the scene. Since Manny busted his arm, you take his place in the brawl and find that it suits you.
As you progress through the ranks, you’ll take on 12 Def Jam Recording artists and a slew of fictitious opponents who cover just about every stereotype under the sun. DMX, Ludacris, Method Man, Redman and Scarface are just a few of the rappers here, and while for fans it’s pretty sweet kicking DMX’s ass, it’s a bummer you can’t play as any of them in the Story mode.
You’ll find that with success comes a certain about of female action, since the tough guy always gets the chicks. You’ll eventually win the affection of a lovely ho or two, which also nets you a few pictures of her, more of which can be unlocked. And yes, you testosterone-guided-missiles you, you’ll even get the chance to fight as your current girl against a rival hoochie. Finally, a next-generation catfight.
So that covers respect and bitches, but no hip-hop game would be complete without a cash money incentive. Winning matches gives you cash – the better you do, the more you’ll win, with which you can upgrade 6 skills. Or is it skillz?
There are a few other modes here as well, including a 1-4 player Battle, Survival, a Handicap match and a Tag Team, which doesn’t work very well due to the lack of a good targeting option. Pretty straightforward stuff, though wrestling fans will be miffed by the omission of any other kinds of matches. No Ladder matches, no table matches, no cage matches, no Battle Royales…it just doesn’t hold a candle to the wrestling competition.
However, once nice inclusion is the ability to use your User ID in any game mode. If you need more cash to upgrade in the Story Mode, just bounce over to another mode, win some matches, and spend the dough back in Story.
Unfortunately, Def Jam drops the mic again by not providing any sort of Character Creator. You have to take on the Story using the preset guys and cannot build your own at all. Considering the nice creator in NBA Street, I think it’s a shame they opted not to do one here as it would have livened things up, especially since the Story mode is pretty short. For that matter, the preset characters all go through the same exact story, which doesn’t do any wonders for the replay value.
But while it should have bitten the style of other wrestling games in its missing creator, it definitely gets the party started right with its cool graphics. From the accurate character animation and the thoroughly professional cut scenes to the smooth textures and realistic faces, Def Jam has better looks than the pool scene in a Snoop video.
It sounds pretty good too, particularly if you dig Def Jam music. They even threw in a Public Enemy track, though you won’t find Chuck D. anywhere, which sucks.
And as I said before, how you feel about the music will probably dictate how you feel about the game as a whole. The mechanics are there and the delivery is strong, but the subject matter totally drives the game, and if you’re not into the rappers, the bitches or the ‘tude, then you’ll probably grow tired of it after a day or two, which is about how long it takes to beat the Story mode. More match types, different Story modes for the different characters and a player creator would have really helped out. Still, this is bigger and deffer than I thought it would be, proving that sometimes it ain’t just about the benjamins, yo.