If 1970's sex-ploitation filmmaker Russ Meyer was reincarnated as a Generation-X videogame developer, I have a strong feeling he would have created something like Rumble Roses. Konami's title is a tawdry pornographic take on the pro-wrestling genre featuring an all female cast of ridiculously sexed up vixens. In addition to the aforementioned Meyer, Rumble Roses also appears to cribbed notes from the voyeuristically perverse Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball, the cat fighting Miller Light girls, the comic theatrics of the WWE and the kung-fu tournament cliché from Enter the Dragon.
The title of Rumble Roses refers to all women's pro-wrestling federation where 10 scantily clad beauties compete for their own personal intertwining reasons. The plucky Japanese cutie Reiko is trying to find her sister, who disappeared after joining the Rumble Roses. Blonde bombshell Dixie wants to follow in the footsteps of her wrestling idol, Kamikaze Rose, who happens to be Reiko's mother. The bootylicious, Beyonce look-alike Aisha is looking to prove herself superior her childhood rival Dixie. You get the idea.
This setup is played out in a standard one-player Story mode where players contend in a linear succession of one-on-one match-ups. Sparse cut-scenes with laughably bad voice acting and scripting develop in between each match to flesh out the campy plotlines. Eventually, players reach the final "boss" character and players are rewarded with a storybook resolution and an reverse alter-ego for that character is unlocked with its own quest there by increasing the content by two-fold.
Aside from the Story mode, Rumble Roses features an Exhibition mode that is rather unique. In addition to the usual standard match-ups players can arrange on demand, there's also a feature called the Vow System. Before a match, a player can commit to up to three actions that must take place during the match (for example, not being thrown out of the ring or preventing the opponent from taunting). Without going into too much more detail, the success of achieving these vows changes a character's alignment to either heroic "face" or villainous "heel" and in doing so eventually leads to championship title shot. Championship victory will unlock a gallery mode where players can ogle the ladies of the game in various states of dress (or undress) via a player-controller camera—complete with extreme zoom lenses.
Given the feature-rich tradition of wrestling titles, Rumble Roses is surprisingly lacking in content. While most male gamers that this game is targeted at will be giddy that there is a mud-wrestling feature, there's little else in the way of diversity. There are no tag-team matches, no steel cage matches and there are only four arenas. Don't even think about a create-a-wrestler mode. The main motivation for playing becomes unlocking the scandalously revealing alternate costumes and the wrestling action. How much enjoyment, motivation and/or embarrassment one gets out of this will depend on each individual player and their sexual orientation.
The in-ring action and animation seemed a little stiff at first, but being that Rumble Roses was programmed by one of the Gods of wrestling game development, Yuke's, it doesn't take long for the quality and experience to shine through. The smooth and quick wrestling action feels very familiar to anyone whose every played any of the WWE Smackdown! games that have spanned the PlayStation and PlayStation 2. The system of attacks, grapples and counters, though decent, isn't as complex as some of its contemporaries. But where Rumble Roses turns heads is that the blatant sexual innuendo in the wrestling action and boy do the developers play this angle up!
The effect is amplified to such an extreme degree that little is left to the player's imagination. Almost every wrestling attack results in gratuitous fan service panty shots, compromising spread eagle positions and many other sexualized S&M submissions and holds that make the Kamasutra seem simplistic. The trashiest attacks fill the appropriately titled "Humiliation" meter. Once that meter is filled, the opponent is vulnerable to an outrageously filthy finishing "Humiliation Attack," unique to each character. I can't even begin to describe these "attacks" without having to turn in my critics' license. It's hard to play this game without a devilish grin and feeling a significant degree of embarrassment at the same time. I must admit there's even a hint of shame for even admitting to played this game!
Given the blatant homoeroticism of pro-wrestling, where two men in spandex tights are "grappling" each other and often sticking their hands, legs and faces in the most intimate places that even most married couples barely venture, its amazing that it took so long for a developer to turn the gender table around into a girl-on-girl raunch-fest—perfect for the hetero-teenage boys demographic that the industry so often panders to. You have to applaud the ingenuity at work here…or maybe not. Is this ingenuity or am I thinking from the waist down? Should something so tawdry, so exploitive and politically incorrect as Rumble Roses be automatically deemed bad art?
In looking at Rumble Roses from a moral standpoint, I don't think it's my place to deem this content offensive and degrading to women. There were times where I thought something was objectionable to the opposite sex and I was surprised to find quite the opposite reaction. Women have often commented about feeling empowered by the presence of strong and sexy protagonists. Are the women of Rumble Roses strong? Yup. Am I admiring their strength? Nope.
As an "objective" critic, I'm usually impressed by visuals and experiences that are unique and innovative. The content in Rumble Roses doesn't fit the criteria to a "T," but it does manage to "stimulate" the senses in ways that rare to the medium of videogames. Does it matter that Rumble Roses doesn't appeal to the intellect, but rather the libido? Perhaps this is just a pitiful attempt to justify my horn dog instincts and guilty pleasure in playing Rumble Roses behind some twisted logic. But who could blame me? After all, I'm only a man. My wife, while rolling her eyes, sympathizes.