screenshot from "Backyard Wrestling 2"
Eidos, Inc. via AP
"Backyard Wrestling 2: There Goes the Neighborhood" is more approachable for novices but it lacks the visual appeal of "WWE: SmackDown! Vs. Raw."
updated 1/20/2005 4:10:43 PM ET 2005-01-20T21:10:43

Two new video games add more than fists to a brawler's arsenal.

Barbed-wire clubs, tag teams and trash cans, anyone?

"WWE: SmackDown! Vs. Raw" and "Backyard Wrestling 2: There Goes the Neighborhood" are the latest contenders, offering over-the-top antics that are more likely to occur off the mat than on.

Both strive to deliver the blood and sweat, the showboating and over-the-top fighting moves -- albeit in very different ways.

"Backyard Wrestling 2," $30, for PlayStation 2 and Xbox, focuses on brutal underground wrestling, where backyard lawns serve as wrestling mats and fold-up chairs double as instruments of war.

Based on the TV shows, "SmackDown! Vs. Raw" incorporates dynamics of the edgier, raunchier "Raw" with the more conventional wrestling of "SmackDown!"

This produces some interesting results: While playing, you decide what sort of wrestler you want to be based on the moves you perform.

A few blows below the belt will fill up your "dirty" meter, while traditional Irish Whips increases the "clean meter." Once full, these meters provide your wrestler with brief but powerful special abilities such as increased speed.

The M-rated leanings of "Backyard" are highlighted by the many scantily clad women and odd freaks like the lanky "Masked Horn Dog," who adds insult to injury with what I can only safely describe as a pelvic thrust taunt you wouldn't want your kids imitating.

During a recent family vacation, "Backyard" proved to be the more popular of the two for quick pick-up battles against my brother-in-law. But it only took us a few rounds to figure out the ins and outs of grappling, blocking and slamming each other around.

That said, "Backyard" is certainly more approachable for novices and those looking for a more arcade-style experience, where hitting the buttons on the controller as fast as possible often leads to victory.

It definitely lacks the sophisticated mechanics of the much more complicated, and consequently enduringly fun, "SmackDown! Vs. Raw."

The sheer number of defensive and offensive options alone presented in "SmackDown!" make it the No. 1 contender for the long term.

Both games offer customization options galore, but the T-rated "SmackDown!" annihilates the competition with an unprecedented level of control. It's the most complete wrestling game to date.

You can select hair and body styles in both games. "SmackDown!" took my inner wrestler to another level, letting me tweak even minor details like head dimension, teeth color, even age.

Visually, there's no contest. "SmackDown!" wins handily with impressively detailed character models, many of them photorealistic thanks to some very smooth animations. The graphics in "Backyard" aren't bad, just average.

Online brawling would seem a great fit for these wrestling titles, but sadly, only "SmackDown!" has online play. And it's a bare-bones feature with very few options aside from grudge matches.

After many rounds of each game, I'm here to declare "SmackDown!" the winner by a unanimous decision.

Two stars out of four for "Backyard Wrestling 2," three and a half stars out of four for "SmackDown!"

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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