By Richard Li 01/18/2007 Tampering with a winning formula is a dangerous gambit, but Electronic Arts is banking on the switch from Aki Corporation, of the awesome N64 wrestling games, to EA Chicago (developer of Fight Night 3) to launch the Def Jam franchise to billboard-smashing status. But will the changes be a turn-off for fans of the series? At a recent EA press event, we got a second look at the game mechanics of Def Jam: Icon.

The most significant change is the new game engine. What was once an offshoot of Aki's solid wrestling engine has evolved into a semi-3D fighting game akin to Dead or Alive. Now, matches aren't dominated by grappling but by striking. With three different attacks -- quick, power, and directional -- there's greater emphasis on being offensive and attacking the opponent using a combination of quick combos, takedowns, and environmental hazards.

You can mix down your opponent's song, and mix up a track of your own. Click the image above to check out all Def Jam: Icon screens.

But, don't expect Icon to be another combo-happy game. Despite the changes to the game engine, the way the characters move, at this point, appears surprisingly stiff. Most of the combos seem to use basic set-ups, involve only two or three quick hits, and end with a directional strike that sends the opponent flying to the edge of the ring. Then, to capitalize on the downed-opponent, the attacker performs a DJ scratching motion on the right analog stick, triggering one of five environmental hazards around the milieu. It looks excitingly fresh at first (the integration of the backgrounds with the fighting is impressive), but we wonder if the same repeated tactics will quickly wear thin, and end up feeling too repetitive.

Oddly, during our time with Icon, EA didn't allow us any hands-on time, despite our playing it on a press tour months earlier. Could this be a sign of weakness -- an admission that Icon still needs a bit of polish before its release? It's not as if Icon is in development infancy, either. Scheduled for an early March release of 2007, Icon should be in its final stages. Under these circumstances, let's hope Def Jam: Icon is ready for hop's next round of vicious beefs.

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