Preview: Wrestlemania XXI (XB)

Publisher: THQ / Developer: Studio Gigante / Genre: Sports / Release Date: 03-08-05

The tickets for Wrestlemania 21 are all sold out and fans are eagerly awaiting April to witness Wrestlemania’s beer chugging birthday (could have been two years ago if you were in Canada, but hey, nobody’s perfect).

For those who missed out on the tickets, or want to get into the action a little sooner, Wrestlemania 21 is coming out for the Xbox in March. Fans of wrestling, and the gaming series, have a lot to look forward to with this game.

WWE SmackDown! and WWE Raw each have a fair amount of history on the PS2 and Xbox respectively, though SmackDown! has traditionally received more acclaim. Wrestlemania hopes to change that with some great depth of play, impressive graphics, and the ability to take your fighter online with Xbox live and challenge other players to Pay Per View, Raw, or SmackDown! fights.

Creating a fighter and making them a champion is a deep and involved affair in Wrestlemania 21. Studio Gigante has fashioned a character creation and development system that allows players to create a ‘legend’ in the making and raise them up to wrestling greatness. Characters can each be quite unique, with a player customizing expertise (Aerialist, Power, Technician, Traditionalist), weight class (Cruiserweight, Lightweight, Heavyweight, Super Heavyweight, and Dr. Phil’s Weight Loss Challenge Weight… ok, kidding on that last one), appearance, and even the wrestler’s home town. The Shopzone offers a bevy of outfit choices, as well selling attribute increases. Each wrestler is rated on six attributes (Charisma, Countering, Speed, Stamina, Strength, and Submission), which can be increased by purchasing them at the Shopzone. While the wrestler doesn’t start out with funds (hmm maybe the tights went over budget?), they can train against other wrestlers and work themselves up, not only to other arenas of play, but also to better stats and apparel. The Shopzone offers several different categories of items to purchase:

  • Arenas- purchase different arenas for online play
  • Attributes- the aforementioned stat boosts
  • Create-a-Belt- make your own shiny shiny Champion’s Belt!
  • Create-a-Superstar- various extras, extra accessories, new entrances, special moves etc.
  • Diva Photos- Ooh Ooh! Like Celine Dion??
  • Legends- earn WWE characters and items
  • Misc.- er…
  • Movies/Screens- bonus scenes
  • Weapons- well, they promise blood as well as sweat splatter, so I’m sure there should be something good there.

The wrestler has specific goals in Career mode, including, earning 50 000$, purchasing an unlockable item (the aforementioned, coveted, Celine Dion photo), winning 20 matches, and winning one of each: tag, table, and triple threat matches. Each of these ‘Rising Star Tasks’ allows the wrestler to gain notoriety in the Wrestlemania 21 world.

Once the player has a champion on their hands, they can either play one of several traditional Wrestlemania style matches, or go on Xbox Live/4-Player System Link. Traditional matches include: and I cringe at this first one, Bra and Panty, Battle Royale, Single, Tag, Triple Threat, Fatal 4-Way, Handicap Royal Rumble, and Last Man Standing.

After using the ‘Create-a-Belt’ option, players can take their own Championship Belt and Title online and other players can compete for it. Personally, I think this is a super nifty option, it will be neat to see if people really take to it and how it develops in terms of building real live status with fellow players. Though players had best make sure their wrestler can kick some ass, once that belt is lost, nothing can be done but try to whoop the guy who took it and take it back.

To ensure greater control over the wrestler, Wrestlemania 21 has two reversal and grappling buttons, quick taps and holding allowing for different types of grapple. Beyond the basics of fighting, a player can adjust the controls to make the moves a little more flashy to watch, this game will really try to bring the Hollywood style drama of wrestling into the game. A ‘Heat’ metre measures how wild the player’s fine foxy creation is making the crowd, and when it’s full up and they’re ready to cream, the player can trigger a special move, pretty close to a fatal blow (but not quite) and purty to boot. Just defeating the opponent isn’t enough to get the full benefits of the game, a wrestler has to look good doing it- pulling off fancy moves and playing to the crowd. The Heat metre can vary as the wrestler’s favour with the crowd does. No one likes a guy stuck in a crotch grapple getting taunted by his opponent. It’s just not sexy.

In an attempt to thoroughly quash the loathsome button mashers, Wrestlemania 21 has a Pro Reversal System that can turn the finest of fist smashes into mat-pounding pain. Like any special move, the reversals aren’t hard to learn, but timing is essential and mastering them will be the real challenge. Again with the drama, as the fight wears on, wrestlers will get sweatier (and shinier?), especially devastating moves can even draw blood. With proper dedication, each fight can be a sweaty spectacle of man grappling and uhm… that’s what wrestling is all about?

Many of the changes present can be credited to a new developer. Anchor is old news as Studio Gigante tries to breathe new life in the wrestling game (hopefully giving the Xbox a bit more of an edge when it comes to stacking up against the PS2). The cinematic features, fancier fighting, deeper story and character elements, more voice acting, etc are evidence of Gigante’s influence. Headed up by John Tobias of Mortal Kombat and Tao Feng fame, Studio Gigante’s developing role promises rich visuals, not only on the pretty wrestlers, but the action as well. Wrestlemania, WWE and the like are known for being well-choreographed entertainment and there’s no reason with the technology available that the games should lack style in the game play. By the looks of things, Studio Gigante is going to deliver. (If not, you can always model wrestlers after John and do terrible things to them in pink tights. I’m just saying.)

Wrestling games have been done and done, and I daresay it’s time for a change. Wrestlemania 21 could be up to the challenge (god, even I kind of want to make a wrestler, and I think wrestling is too dramatic and Xbox is the devil), but it will be up to the true fans to tell. The combination of character development and involved fighting system should certainly have mass appeal.

On that note, I’m off to design the ultimate Butterfly Championship Belt. Damn right, Butterfly. I’m going to be a f*cking Xbox Live legend. Just you wait!