It’s that time of year again. Where we all gather around with our friends and family to celebrate the warmth and good will of the Holiday season. Of course I could only be talking about Festivus! As some of you may remember, I reviewed one of my all time favourite fighting games to mark the occasion last year. But this time around, I have decided to do things a little bit differently. I will still be reviewing a fighting game (well a wrestling game is similar enough), so the celebration of conflict is still in tact. However, instead of reviewing a title I happen to really love, I will be reviewing a game that I absolutely despise. So set up the aluminium pole and prepare to be blown away, as I rain many verbal blows down upon this abomination in a true feat of strength during this airing of the grievances!
Showdown: Legends of Wrestling is the third installment of Acclaim’s (RIP) Legends of Wrestling series and was released in 2004 for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. I was not actually going to buy this game when I first saw it in the bargain bin at my local Music World (RIP). I already had the first game in the series and didn't think too much of it but when I looked at the front and back covers and saw the game’s roster (Ultimate Warrior, Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Owen Hart especially), I was expecting a good deal of improvement. But that’s not what I got.
First, let’s talk story. Yes. I know that this is a wrestling game but most of them actually do feature a storyline of some kind and Showdown is no exception. The Showdown Challenge Mode will have you fighting through each era (70’s, 80’s and 90’s) to claim each of three decade championships, before facing off with Hulk Hogan on New Year’s Eve 99 for the Showdown Heavyweight Championship. The storylines for each decade are actually not shown through cutscenes but rather a series of still images made to look like a vintage wrestling magazine. This is a pretty cool idea but the storylines are pretty weak, ranging from “I hate you, so I’m going to re-arrange your face” to “You stole my girlfriend. Prepare to die!” I know these corny plot elements have been used hundreds of times during Professional Wrestling’s history but it would have been nice to see a little more effort put into the storylines. I also don’t like the fact that the belts aren’t shown at anytime during this play through and the fact that the ending scene is nothing more than a still image that says Congratulations is a bit of a let down. Luckily this mode only takes about an hour and a half to complete, so the blow is softened a little bit.
In terms of graphical presentation, Showdown actually does a fairly good job. The classic venues like Madison Square Garden, The Cow Place and The Omni (just to name a few) are decked out to look like vintage pay per views like past Summerslams and Wrestlemanias, as well as modern day wrestling TV shows like Raw and Smackdown. There is even an area that looks similar to the Hammerstein Ballroom, which hosted a few Raw, ECW, TNA and ROH shows. The character models for the wrestlers actually look pretty good to, with each of them having four alternate costumes that actually cover the span of their respective careers, which is actually a nice touch. I will also note that most of the wrestlers on the roster don't sport the ludicrously over-muscular body templates that were used earlier on in the series. For the most part the bodies do look as they should but there are a few that look too big and a few that even look too small or skinny. I should also point out that the fans in the crowd look pretty bad for an Xbox/PlayStation 2 game. I know that this is a minor gripe but still. These systems were capable of better, so why not use them to their full capabilities?
(Sting and The Ultimate Warrior having a little Blade Runners reunion)
The audio aspects are actually not that bad but there are still some flaws. The music in the game is mostly composed by “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart, which would explain why so many of the wrestler themes are actually close enough to their originals without there being any legal problems. There is also a nice cover of Quiet Riots “Metal Health” that is used as the game’s main theme. Former NWA ring announcer Bobby Cappetta provides the introductions for each wrestler as they prepare to square off in the squared circle. As always he does a good job but he’s no Howard Finkel. Another nice bit of nostalgia offered up in Showdown is the commentary team of "The Brain" Heenan, Tony Schiavone, and "The Living Legend" Larry Zbyszko. It felt as if I was watching an old episode of WCW Monday Nitro, which was pretty cool for the first few matches but after awhile they begin to repeat the same history lessons, road stories and one liners. So, even though the commentary is good, it gets old pretty quickly.
(Sabu playing his favourite Festivus carol for Dory Funk Jr.)
Hmmm. Where should I begin with the gameplay discussion? I guess could start with my opinion of the game’s roster. This is probably the most impressively stacked roster I have ever seen in a wrestling game. I mean you have a huge assortment of 73 wrestling legends to choose from. I mean you have guys like “Macho Man” Randy Savage (my all time favourite), The Road Warriors, “Ravishing” Rick Rude, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, “Hot Rod” Rowdy Roddy Piper, Eddie Guerrero and Curt Henning, just to name a few. Hell, even managers like Jimmy Hart, Bobby Heenan and The Grand Wizard have been added to the roster, along with legendary comedian Andy Kaufman (the Inter-gender Champion of the World). So yeah, I really dig this game’s roster and as I said before, some of the new additions were the main selling point for me. But there a few omissions that have me scratching my head. Where are Ric Flair and the Four Horsemen? What about Sgt. Slaughter? Lou Thez? Shawn Michaels?
(The Road Warriors hit Ivan Koloff with the Doomsday Device)
Another selling point for me was that Acclaim also added a few new match types. They have added Tables match, I like this since I have no problems with putting someone through a table. Cage matches are pretty fun to play here but I can’t seem to climb out of the cage (although I can use the door just fine). First Blood and Hardcore matches are OK. Ladder matches (like the Cage matches) are a lot of fun and the mechanics of the match are simple but they actually work pretty well. Tag Team, Six/Eight Man Tag Matches can be played in either one fall to a finish or elimination style. I like the elimination style better, as it reminds of the Survivor Series. However, tagging in and out doesn’t always work properly and calling in your partner to interfere is a good idea but at times it can be non-responsive or he can take his sweet time getting to you. The Singles/Tag Team Tournaments are a nice feature for those who happen to enjoy such events as The King of the Ring. However, playing through a whole tournament in one sitting (if possible. I’ll explain later) can be fairly boring but luckily they have a save feature. Two out Three Falls matches are meh. If you want to pin your opponent twice to win as opposed to once, than this is the match for you. But I guess it can be exciting if you are up against another player. The thought of playing the 30 or 60 Minute Iron Match with these mechanics is laughable (again, I’ll explain later). And finally, you have the Battle Royal, which plays like the Royal Rumble, with more wrestlers entering the match as time rolls on. This match type flat out sucks. Why? Because typically in video games, when you are eliminated from this type of match, you get to take control of a different character and continue the match but here as soon as you are eliminated the match is over. With 29 other wrestlers in the match, chances are you are going to get eliminated eventually. I think I have only made it to the end once because I was Andre The Giant.
(Dusty Rhodes leaves Abdullah the Butcher a bloddy mess inside the steel cage)
One other feature in Showdown is the Classic Match Mode. Here, the player will have the chance to re-write one of wrestling’s most classic matches. Have you ever wanted to see Bret Hart defeat his brother Owen at Wrestlemania X or maybe even see Andre The Giant dethrone Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania 3? Now you can. This is OK but it seems rather pointless, since this could be done in the regular Exhibition Mode and there isn’t any thing to unlock by winning any of these matches either. But they provide some nice background info for each match, although for copyright reasons they do not name the promotion or event in which the match took place.
(Savage defeating Steamboat for the Intercontinental championship at Wrestlemania 3?)
Now that we have all of this basic stuff out of the way, let’s talk about the gameplay mechanics. I have to say. I’ve got a lot of problems with Showdown! First of all, I will admit that even though the control scheme isn’t nearly as complex as a Smackdown vs Raw title, it isn’t too bad. The simple arcade style mechanics mainly consists of your basic grapple, submission and top rope moves and they are responsive. Well, responsive if the game was intended to be played in slow motion. Seriously, all character movements feel incredibly forced and sluggish. Basic strikes move in at snails pace, running lacks anything that closely resembles speed. Oh and good luck trying to land a risk maneuver. By the time you manage to climb up to the top of the turnbuckle your opponent will be right there waiting for you. Ready to knock you off. Oddly enough, it doesn’t cripple things as bad as you would think since your opponent also lives in slow motion. So, its even at least. If you’re planning on playing this for an extended period, play some specialty matches to keep things interesting.
Not only is the gameplay sluggish but there are also a variety of “fun” to watch glitches. Characters will sometimes phase through the ropes or the ring post. Sometimes they will spin around (sort of like that one sprite in Final Fantasy 7); other times they will fall victim to the classic glitch of running in place. But the strangest glitch of all would be how a wrestler can suddenly get picked up and body/gorilla press slammed by some kind of invisible force. It’s rare but it happens. Were the Beta Testers asleep at the switch or what?
But I haven’t scratched the surface of how buggy this game is. For there is one problem that is much more troubling than glitching mechanics and slow character movements combined. I thought rather than ranting and raving about this problem, I would some it up with the following statement:
“There is a problem with your disc. The system can not read your disc. It may be dirty or damaged. Please turn off your Xbox and try again.”
So, yeah. It turns out this game has a habit of frequently freezing up. And by frequently I mean all the damn time! For the purpose of writing this review I played the game for three hours and the total number of times that the game was completely frozen up was eight. While it stalled or was on the verge of freezing another five times. That’s a grand total 13 times in three hours!
At first I thought there was something wrong my copy but it turns out that they all do this. God damn it Acclaim! What were you thinking when you released this? If a game is this riddled with bugs, it is better to delay the release until it is fixed rather than rushing it out and screwing over the customer.
I would go off on why the Create A Legend Mode sucks but considering all of creations come out looking like Sloth from The Goonies, I figured it was kind of pointless.
(Oh my God! Eddie Guerrero nailed DDP with a moonsault from the top of the ladder!)
As a wrestling fan, I love the feeling of nostalgia that this game provides but unfortunately the buggy/glitchy gameplay and the constant freezing makes Showdown damn near unplayable!
Final Score: 3/10
Happy Holidays Everyone!