Review: WWE: Legends of Wrestlemania (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Legends of Wrestlemania
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Yukes
Genre: Wrestling
Release Date: 03/24/2009

More than 93,000 are screaming their lungs out at the Pontiac Silverdome as millions more watch with bated breath through closed-circuit television or pay-per-view. The tension between “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan and “The Eighth Wonder of the World” Andre the Giant has reached its boiling point as the two stand face-to-face in the biggest main event in sports entertainment history. Both competitors’ fists clench with fury as Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler hype the match. After an exchange of words, Hogan unleashes a fury of punches and lifts the 500-plus pound giant to deliver a massive shoulder breaker. Hulk Hogan hoists Andre to his feet, licking his chops at his chance to body slam the giant and pummel his face through the apron with a trademark leg drop. However, Andre shifts his weight during the body slam to fall on top of his opponent, pinning him to the mat as the referee administers a three count for the victory.

Of course, nearly none of the above actually happened at Wrestlemania III, but similar paradoxes run abound in THQ’s classic-infused grappler WWE: Legends of Wrestlemania (released also for the Playstation 3). The company’s newest entry in the long-standing WWE franchise brings iconic wrestlers such as King Kong Bundy, The Ultimate Warrior, The Rock, “Ravishing” Rick Rude and more back into the limelight to relive moments from Wrestlemania I through XV. While Acclaim had a less than stellar run with the premise, THQ has made it a point to spotlight such legends as unlockables in its Smackdown! Vs. Raw cash cow, thus it would appear the company is merely looking to milk the teat a little more by doing nothing but substituting a legendary roster in the SVR engine. Thankfully, though, LoW is a whole new experience with a uniquely simple control scheme and arcade-like mechanics. On that same token, however, with little substance to the game’s modes and its heavily unbalanced game play, LoW looks pale in comparison to SVR and serves up an enjoyable rental at best.

To mix things up, LoW ditches the traditional season or “story” modes found in the typical wrestling game, instead offering up bite-sized scenarios in its Wrestlemania Tour mode, which allows players to relive, rewrite or redefine historical WWE bouts. As imaginable, relive puts players in the role of recreating actual events of main event Wrestlemania bouts, rewrite encourages players to take the role of the loser of actual events and redefine thrusts classic feuds into new situations. To provide a “storyline” in LoW, prior to each match, players are treated to minutes of archive footage detailing the events leading to the classic bout as well as match highlights. The footage will no doubt be a treat any wrestling fan and the ability to unlock extra videos and watch any video previously viewed through the game’s menu really takes the game’s classic presentation up a notch.

While playing through the mode, though, players are tasked with triggering events – in the relive mode, these task emulate scenarios that actually occurred in the real-life match such as busting King Kong Bundy open in Wrestlemania 2’s steel cage match or driving The Rock through an announcer table and spitting water in his face at Wrestlemania XV. Each scenario awards the player points and by reaching a set amount of points in a match, the player is given a gold medal, and usually some sort of unlockable feature, for the bout. While the relive mode’s scenarios offer up unique and challenging requirements, the feature goes south in the rewrite and redefine modes with lazy and incredibly generic tasks such as performing a taunt or getting in the match’s first attack. Furthermore, each mode only offers up around half a dozen matches and fails to make use of most of the game’s roster, cutting down the time most players will spend in what is easily the game’s most attractive game mode.

LoW also offers up the obligatory exhibition mode with single, tag, ladder and cage matches, among others, which can also be played in bare-bones fashion online via Xbox LIVE. If the game’s 38-wrestler roster isn’t enough, players can import the Smackdown! Vs. Raw 2009 roster or create a rookie grappler in the Create a Legend mode. The creation mode is blatantly ripped from the SvR series so while it will remain familiar to fans of the series and allow players to create wrestlers that didn’t make the cut in LoW, a few of the diva creation tools are still in the game even though there are no female wrestlers. Created wrestlers are also put through the wringer in the game’s legend killer mode, which puts players in gauntlets of predetermined wrestlers in order to earn experience points and score unlockables.

THQ has always been huge on its presentation and LoW doesn’t fall too far from the tree in regard to its visuals. The wrestlers and their animations look clean and fluid and the time line is followed perfectly in regard to the game’s environments and graphical overlays, which imitate the actual event to the T. While some liberties are taken with the character models to place six-pack abs or hair where they don’t belong, each wrestler looks just as you remember them from their prime. The game satisfies the eyes overall, but some close-ups can reveal blurriness and jaggies, collision detection on the limbs is still an issue, character models still go through the ring (this is most evident during pins), the crowd looks ugly as sin when it is highlighted and hair still looks as hokey as it has since the original Smackdown! release on the Playstation (One).

Audibly, LoW receives the reuse and recycle treatment with key quotes plucked from other installments of SvR, which gives us the questionable commentary team of Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler. The long-time announce duo do their roles justice, however, comments get repeated over and over, there are times the commentary doesn’t match the action (irish whips on the outside at times get a call of “being whipped into the ropes” for example) and the inclusion of a modern commentary team seems completely off. While mouthpieces such as the late Gorilla Monsoon, Lord Alfred Hayes, Sean Mooney, “Mean” Gene Okerlund and more are prominently featured in video clips, they are nowhere to be heard where it counts – amid the action. The game will also catch a few minor audio gripes from fans in the know over some of the entrance themes coupled with the wrestlers, otherwise, the game is filled with appropriate slams, grunts and slaps that are synonymous with wrestling.

In an effort to pull in the casual fan base that remembers wrestling before all of the evil clowns, garbage collectors, plumbers and hog farmers got involved, LoW’s control scheme was toned down to only require the four face buttons (strike, grapple, block/reverse, action) and the analog stick. Even the series’ weapon, cage and ladder match controls are enjoyably scaled back with simplistic commands while still allowing for a number of possibilities. The scheme allows nearly anyone to jump into the game and pull off impressive maneuvers on a whim, but it also hinders the game play. Mashing everything onto four buttons, players will no doubt come across instances such as pressing A to drag an opponent up the entrance ramp will instead pull off a grapple. Simple maneuvers such as running or taunting require double button taps or special situations, wrestlers are limited to a mere handful of moves based on a momentum meter and key moves rely on chain grappling instead of strategy or planning.

The new chain grappling is an interesting mechanic, which requires, as the name suggests, a chain of commands to make one move flow into another in “combo-like” fashion. Unfortunately, these chains are handled in a quick time event format, with some, most specifically the corner tie-up, taking forever to finish up. The string of animations can really try one’s patience when they are looking for action and waiting for a long animation to play out before you can “control” your character really takes players out of the game. While the chains do limit the player’s interactivity, they can be a treat to watch as the next move goes to whoever can hit the onscreen prompt first, allowing the defender to quickly gain the upper hand as fast-paced (unless it’s the corner animation), classic wrestling unfolds on the screen.

Unfortunately, the game’s simplicity also carries over into its modes, leaving the player with very little to do after a few bouts of game play. I personally uncovered every unlockable, received every possible gold medal in the game and unlocked all 1,000 achievement points for LoW in roughly seven hours and after facing all 38 wrestlers in a supreme gauntlet for the final accolade, I had little interest in picking up the controller for more. The majority of the game is available from the get go, with unlockables only consisting of minor details such as alternate costumes and videos, and the lack of a “season” mode creates an extremely linear one-player experience that serves as a satisfying trip down memory lane while it lasts, but being stuck with only multiplayer or online competition after only a handful of hours, one might be left wondering if LoW is worth a full $60 investment.

The single-player process can also be a monotonous one as LoW has one of the tamest AI difficulties I’ve ever encountered in a wrestling title. The default normal difficulty is a complete pushover, serving up predictable opponents that can be bloodied in 10-15 seconds and pinned or submitted in around a minute. I won nearly every match in the 38-man gauntlet by repeating two strong strikes and a strong grapple ad infinitum until the opponent had no health and won by submission with a Boston crab. In the odd instance the opponent would actually reverse a move, they would either approach for a grapple or hit the ropes for a running strike – which I would reverse and then continue with my game plan. The normal difficulty CPU also falls asleep at the wheel during chain grapples as the only time it ever won a command was when I pressed an incorrect button or purposely let the computer win the command (you’ll need to let The Rock execute a finisher in the Wrestlemania XV relive mode). Anyone who has ever touched a Smackdown! Vs. Raw title in their life will have to bump the difficulty up to find any challenge in the title and, even then, there’s nothing wrestling game vets will find overwhelming.

The game’s mechanics aren’t exactly fleshed out so much either. Chain grapples add way too much to a wrestler’s momentum meter, allowing them a high-powered finisher after only a couple of moves. With no specific limb damage, submissions are only useful to make an opponent submit and the momentum meter determines the damage of the move as opposed to the nature of maneuver. Wrestlers with a lot of meat on their bones such as Yokozuna and Andre the Giant can be lifted and tossed around like a pillow and, oddly, seemed to be put at a disadvantage as when the CPU controlled them, they had a harder time recovering from a knockdown. Even the wrestler’s stats seem to hardly matter all that much as the absence of different wrestling styles don’t allow specific stats to shine through. Having created characters with maxed out stats really defeats the purpose of the stats, anyway, and even though a rookie starts out with virtually no stats, pumping up the character’s strength and resilience is all that is necessary to mold a champ.

That being said, there is still fun to be had in facing off against human opponents, which is where the chain grapples truly shine in intensity. The fast-paced “arcade” nature of title is perfect for passing the controller along to another buddy in a group of players after a quick match and the historical montages are so well done, anyone who knows anything about wrestling will enjoy the slices of history they have to offer. Skilled players will fire off reversal after reversal and taunt bonuses can turn the tide in even the most one-sided of matches. Even if someone wasn’t around during the “golden times,” the import feature allows any current fan the opportunity to control their favorite 2009 grappler. While the days of dreaming about WCW vs. WWF clashes came to an end in 2001, there’s always something appealing about “what-if” scenarios spanning the decades of history. Looking at the roster, it’s almost sad to see how many wrestlers have passed away before their time, however, the game’s presentation does their memories justice and seeing Rick Rude stroll down the aisle to face off against The Ultimate Warrior for the Intercontinental Title one more time should bring a smile to any longtime wrestling fan’s face. Even among wrestlers still in the spotlight today, matching legends such as Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker and Ric Flair in their prime is a fan’s dream. In essence, there is a ton of appeal in LoW’s contents as it tries to pull the best of the “Ëœ80s and “Ëœ90s into one package and the nostalgia factor is bar none the game’s biggest selling point.

We can count on wrestling games coming out on an annual basis, so LoW is no huge shockwave to the gaming industry; however, the game does serve as an interesting companion to the Smackdown! Series. While the title could have been a SVR rehash with a subbed roster, it scores some originality in its simplified mechanics and throwback theme. Even though the idea isn’t new, this is the first time the idea has had the WWE’s blessing and likenesses and, more importantly, this is the first time the execution has been a wholly bearable experience. The game might do little for those who do not follow professional wrestling outside of its games, but wrestling nuts will be glued to the screen – at least for as long as it takes for them to dive through what the game has to offer, which, admittedly isn’t as much as other games in the genre.

Looking at the package as a whole, the overall experience is enjoyable for the most part, but there are a glaring amount of items to nitpick over such as the omission of title variants, the fact there is no referee present in the match (ref bumps can be crucial to a match’s flow and could have added more to the relive series of matches), for some reason there are no rope breaks for holds or pins, the camera can be extremely annoying at times (especially during Rumbles where the action is completely broken up every time a wrestler is eliminated or a new wrestler enters the match), there is a lack of weapon variety and so on and so on. In fact, a few of those nitpicks were key things many fans grilled Midway’s TNA iMPACT over, so they have to be exposed in this game as well.

The roster itself, while a huge selling point for the game, is also very debatable as more of a “who’s still in favor with the WWE” as opposed to an actual who’s who of wrestling and only two words can prove that – Macho and Man. No offense to Kamala, but I highly doubt he tops anyone’s top 10 list of who should be in a legends wrestling game. While most of the huge names are there, it would have been nice to see at least a few older names pre-Wrestlemania and it’s just my personal opinion that we’re really jumping the gun with Hunter Hearst Hemsley’s inclusion. It also would have been nice to see the inclusion of at least a few females and more managers, as Paul Bearer bashing opponents with the urn or raising it to give The Undertaker a small health boost adds a whole new dimension to in-game wrestling managers. If THQ gave the players more control over the managers and provided more of them to work with we could see an excellent addition to its line of games.

Lastly, we’re way long overdue for a wrestling game to offer us fully fledged organizational modes, which allows a group of friends to maintain a federation of their own. There is so much online potential to be had with wrestling games, but, yet, we’re continually fed bare-bones material.

The Scores
Modes: Above Average
Graphics: Good
Sound: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Bad
Originality: Decent
Addictiveness: Poor
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
On paper, WWE: Legends of Wrestlemania has a lot of things going for it and longtime fans of wrestling couldn’t ask for more in a roster. With as many low points as I’ve pointed out in this review, there are still a number of facets included in the package that will please wrestling game fans for at least a handful of hours. I applaud THQ for changing up the pace for the release instead of rehashing Smackdown! Vs. Raw’s tired engine and the simplicity allows casual players who remember the Hulkster’s heyday to jump straight into the game. However, narrow single-player modes, lack of replayability, nonexistent AI, shoddy balance and a number of inconsistencies zap away what could have been a truly legendary wrestling entry. Falling back on a more arcade-style pacing, LoW provides quick action, but it lacks the longetivity to keep players glued to the system beyond a rental.

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