The last time Steff and I played a rap-music-related game, we were caught by surprise. I figured that 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand at best would be ironic fun, but it turned out to be a fairly solid game. Steff, who isn’t into shooters at all, really got into it. It was good enough that I went out and picked up my own copy so that we could play co-op.
When she saw Def Jam: Icon at the store, she was hoping that it would be the fighting game equivalent to Blood on the Sand. Instead, the game broke her heart after the very first fight. In her words, the game was, “Utter disappointment.”
Before we dive into the failures of Def Jam: Icon, let’s dive into the history behind the game. Def Jam: Icon is the third in a series of Def Jam fighting games. The first two Def Jam fighting games, Fight for New York and Vendetta, were created by AKI Corporation, who are best known for the awesome Nintendo 64 wrestling games like WCW vs. NWO: Revenge and WWF: No Mercy. Those first two games were built off of the same engine. Def Jam: Icon however, was made by the team responsible for Fight Night Round 3. They ripped out a lot of the wrestling mechanics to make combat play out more like a street fight with fantasy elements, such as rhythm based hazards that you could trigger yourself by mimicking a scratching motion.
Steff was the first to play it, and she was immediately put off by it. Even though we were playing in the game’s story mode, it never stops to tell you what to do or how to do it. She was throwing out random punches and kicks and being mercilessly beaten down by the computer, who was throwing her into exploding speakers. There was no in-game tutorial or any sort of HUD to indicate how well she was doing. The only feedback the game would give her was that the screen would change colours if someone was about to lose.
To be fair, most fighting games don’t show you the ropes at all. Maybe going straight to story mode wasn’t the best option for us. However, I don’t see why an in-game tutorial of some sort couldn’t have been placed at the beginning of story mode. This is the mode where most players are going to start, so why not ease them in? Also, the lack of a heads-up display has its pros and cons. I know that Fight Night Round 3 also went HUD-less during this same time period, and it also had the same issues here. It can be tough to tell exactly what’s going on without proper feedback. I would have preferred to have the HUD on-screen and ‘break the fourth wall’ rather than not have it and have no idea what’s happening.
After one fight, she handed the controller to me, and I was equally unimpressed. The first match I played, I just tried to figure it out for myself, which ended with my guy lying on the floor unconscious. Before starting it up again, I read the instruction manual to get a better idea of what it was I was supposed to be doing. By the third match, I was able to beat the computer, but it wasn’t fun at all. The actual fighting mechanics felt shallow, clunky and not very fun. The move sets were limited. It didn’t require any sort of advanced technique to complete moves or combos. It did not look or feel good to connect an attack, and the strategy behind the fighting wasn’t very fun to play. What the game boils down to you knocking your opponent down, then using the scratching and beat-flipping move to trigger some environmental hazard. This process didn’t feel like it required much skill, nor were the environmental
From what we saw and played, the entire Def Jam: Icon package felt dumb and forced together. It’s a game where rappers square off in one-on-one battles, using sort of realistic striking and wrestling moves, while triggering fantastical hazards such as exploding speakers or falling lights. It’s also a game where you have to check your email, buy jewelry, pick up ladies and run a record label. It feels like the creators of this game just threw all of this into a blender, and the concoction that came out at the end tasted horrible. None of the elements mix well and each element in isolation isn’t very good to begin with. To top it all off, the game takes itself way too seriously. You won’t even get any ironic fun out of this one.
It’s a shame that this game sucks. The previous installments of the series I’ve been told were quite good. This one however, is quite the stinker. There are other, better rap-music-related games out there.