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Thankfully, I still managed to get my hands on a rather unique WWE title (a game not a championship belt) thanks to a buddy of mine that was more than willing to lend it to me (a chilling vision of things to come?). This is a review of WWE Legends of Wrestlemania.
THQ released this title back in 2009 just in time for Wrestlemania 25 and promised that this would deliver on two levels. The first being the nostalgia factor of being able to play as 38 of the WWE’s most well known superstars (But not Foley, Savage, Nash, Hall, Steamboat, Angle or Owen) from the Rockin Wrestling Era to the early years of the Attitude Era. The second being a fresh new arcade style of gameplay that they considered to be revolutionary in the genre.
Is this game deserving enough to represent the grandest stage in professional wrestling or does it stink up the joint, like Goldberg and Brock Lesnar did at Wrestlemania XX?
Spoiler Alert: They delivered on one of the mentioned two levels. Take a wild guess which one.
Unlike most wrestling games, Legends of Wrestlemania does not have a career/story mode, so there isn’t much to talk about in terms of Story, other than the Wrestlemania Tour and Legend Killer modes. Legend Killer Mode is nothing more than having your CAW (crate a wrestler) take on the entire roster of legends in a series of gauntlets to min a plaque, a medal and the right to call yourself, “The greatest legend of all time.” Wrestlemania Tour Mode on the other hand gives you the option to “Relive, Rewrite or Redefine” classic Wrestlemania matches. In Relive Mode, the player must play through a series of matches (like Steve Austin Vs Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 14), while keeping the original outcome and re-creating as many classic moments from the match as possible (like Hulk Hogan body slamming Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania 3) by completing a series of objectives. Rewrite is basically the exact opposite of Relive. In this mode, the player must change the outcome of these classic matches, like say having Jukyard Dog defeating Greg the Hammer Valentine for the Intercontinental Championship at the original Wrestlemania. In Redefine Mode, the player can reach any desired outcome (they can chose which wrestler they want to control) of the listed Mania bouts and they have to do so under a different stipulation. Remember when Andre The Giant faced off against Big John Studd at Wrestlemania 1 in a $15,000 Body Slam Challenge? Well now it’s a Hell in Cell Match. Think of these three modes as a crazy time machine (not to be confused with Mario’s Time Machine, which didn’t even work) that allows you to either tweek, drastically alternate or just leave history as it is.
First off, Legend Killer Mode sucks and by that I mean it sucks hard! You have to fight 10 guys in a single match, one at a time, four times, which takes 30 minutes each time and then you have to face the entire roster in one go (one at a time of course), which takes about two hours. That’s right. You’re wrestling in a match that takes two friggin hours to complete. These things are a pain in the ass, especially considering that you don’t regain much health after every elimination and you can’t save your progress. But hey, if you loose, you can continue from the point you were eliminated without a penalty, so at least there’s that. No. No. No. It still sucks. All it is an option for leveling up your CAW and to get metals to earn an Achievement/Trophy.
The Wrestlemania Tour Mode is definitely leaps and bounds better (as if that says much). Each of the matches listed in the three options (Relive, Rewrite, Redefine) all have a kick ass opening video package complete with a retrospective of the entire feud as well as highlights from the actual classic Mania bout. Seriously, anybody who regularly watches WWE’s programming knows just how great their production value is, especially when it comes to video packages. These opening segments are cut from the same cloth. The matches themselves are pretty much exactly the same as any matches played in Exhibition Mode, with the exception of the objectives (another shallow excuse to get medals and achievements?), which do add a more cinematic element to the matches. And I do mean that since you get some nice little moments that look and feel like in game cutscenes when you fulfill them. But again, this isn’t a real replacement for a Story/Career Mode and is more like a glorified Exhibition Mode but these matches are worth checking out for the video packages and objectives.
(Want The Big Boss Man to win the WWF (it's still F to me damn it!) Championship in a Ladder Match? You can make it so)
In terms of audio quality, the game has some highs and lows. Let’s start with the lows. The cheering of the fans isn’t all that great and it lacks enthusiasm, well that and they tend to cheer the same chants over and over again. In the odd middle ground we have the commentary, which acts as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, good old JR (Jim Ross) and Jerry “The King” Lawler work well together as always and provide some solid back and forth and in the WM Tour matches and add a lot of great historical context to the matches to increase the player’s investment in them. On the other, in the standard Exhibition matches, they just spout off the same lines over and over again, which gets annoying after a while. However, on the very positive side, we get to hear a lot of the most recognizable entrance themes in the history of the WWE, which is absolutely awesome, with each track bringing back some great memories. You know what? I think I’ll share some of my favorites with you throughout the rest of the review.
In terms of graphical presentation, this game is nearly excellent…. for what it wants to be (more on that later). When I say nearly, I mean that the fans look like crap. They look like character models taken straight from an N64 game(WCW Vs NOW: Revenge maybe?). Also, there is a wired glitch when it comes to ladder matches that really bugs me. Throughout the match, the belt hanging above the ring is the one you are competing for but once you pull it down it always morphs into the World Title and then suddenly turns back into the title you fought for before you can even bat an eyelash. Speaking of belt designs, while it was nice to see all of my favorite belt designs (the ones used during the late 80’s-mid 90’s) it would have been nice to see some of the pre-Rockin Wrestling era belt designs seen in the first two Wrestlemania’s or the Attitude Era belts seen at Wrestlemania XV. The design of the belts should have depended on which arena the player happens to be wrestling in or better yet, the designs could have been chosen by the player.
Now that I got that little piece of negativity out of my system, I want to point out that the arenas all look amazing. Wrestlemania’s 1-15 are all here and look almost exactly as they did in real life, all those many years ago. With all of the banners and those vintage text boxes used during entrances, the events look just like they did on Pay Per View back in the day. Not to mention that some of the arenas happen to have those cool little wrestling ring-shaped carts that the wrestlers used to get to the ring. Now that’s nostalgic! My only problem with the arenas is that it would have been nice to seem more of them. Since the classic Royal Rumble arena was added into the mix, I would have liked to have seen other classic arenas based on the other big five Pay Per Views (Summerslam, Survivor Series and the now defunct King of the Ring) or maybe even an early 90’s Monday Night Raw or Attitude Era Smackdown arena. Hell, Jim Crokect Promotions/WCW Starrcade and AWA Super Clash arenas would have been neat little inside jokes. Or they could have added some more Wrestlemanias, I mean they had another nine arenas (remember this was made before WM 25) to choose from.
(Mr. Fuji is still as devious as ever)
I know a lot of critics don’t care for the character designs but I happen to think that they’re great! The developers didn’t want to go with the usual realistic character designs that you would normally see in the Smackdown Vs Raw series and instead decided to go with something that is just a little bit different. This time around, they wanted to make the designs just a little bit less realistic and have them look more like action figures, as opposed to how they would look in real life. Again, this resulted in numerous complaints from critics saying how the game didn’t look real enough but come on. It’s not like these are the god awful character designs from Acclaim’s (RIP) Legends of Wrestling series, where everybody looked like the Incredible Hulk (a style that WWE All Stars would eventually kind of use). They just look a little bit taller, a little more muscular and in some cases (*cough* Hulk Hogan *cough*) have a little bit more hair. However, this doesn’t make them look too unrealistic, I mean the character models still have an “almost” uncanny resemblance to the wrestlers/superstars and personally, I think THQ managed to hit a perfect balance between those 80’s LGN WWF action figures (which are awesome) and the genuine artifacts. They look larger than life but at the same time, they look pseudo-realistic. Good work there THQ.
OK, now lets talk gameplay. This is where things are going to get just a little bit “bowling shoe ugly” but before I dig down to the root cause of my frustration, I’ll bring up some of the gameplay’s better qualities. Such as the varying match types and the CAW (or as they call it here Create A Legend) feature.
Hmmm. Where to begin with the positives? How about Create A Legend? Yeah, that seems like a good starting point. Is CAL as in depth as any CAW feature seen in the Smackdown Vs Raw games? In short no. You don’t get as many moves, clothing options or as many fancy entrances as in the WWE’s flagship series of video games but there is still a wide variety of ways to customize your character. Maybe he’ll run to ring with pyro blazing through the arena or maybe he’ll leisurely ride to the ring on-board a squared circle-shaped cart. Maybe you’ll dress him up in Jerry Lawler’s cape, Demolition make-up, a Goldust wig and Giant Gonzalez's body suit (God, the hair on that thing). Maybe top it all off with a Razor Ramon chain and a pair of Macho Man shades. Yup, there are some good options here to create legends that didn’t make the cut or some goofy creations of your own. Although it would have been nice to have a wider variety of moves but considering the “supposed” simplicity of the gameplay mechanics, not seeing anything overly complex in the move list isn’t too surprising. But again, I should say that even with its few shortcomings, CAL is still more in depth than most non-WWE wrestling games.
Who did I create? We’ll get to that later. But I’ll give a hint: If Tugboat was in this game, it would make the eventual punch line much more amusing.
(The two biggest stars of the Attitude Era collide for the WWF Championship at Wrestlemania XV)
Match types (like CAL) aren’t as plentiful as the selection found in the SvR series but there is still a decent variety. There is the standard Singles Match of course, where you can win by pinfall, submission, count out or disqualification, as well as Tag Team Matches. Although this time around, the Tag Team Matches are just a tad different. In Legends of Wrestlemania there is this thing called the Vengeance Bar (Tag Match exclusive), which will fill up as your opponent begins to pound you into the ground. Once it fills up, your tag partner will storm the ring and the double teaming will begin…and once the bar is empty (conveniently before the referee’s five count), the opponents partner will be all Captain Bringdown and they will double-team (starring John Claud Van Dam and Dennis Rodman. Rated R) you until, their bar lowers and it all begins anew. It’s a vicious cycle that adds some neat chaos to these matches. I also like how easy the tag team finishers are to pull off, although its kind of weird that they all seem the same. There’s something about The Mega-Maniacs doing The Dooms Day Device that doesn’t seem right to me.
Besides the standard Tag Team and Singles fare we also have a few specialty matches to shake things up a bit. There is the Submission Match, in which you have to make your opponent submit by using some type of submission maneuver. The Iron Match is the ultimate test of endurance, with the winner being whoever can obtain the most pinfalls and submissions in 10, 20 or 30 minutes. You can also have a Triple Threat Match (but no Fatal Four Way option oddly enough), which has three men face off with the first to score a pinfall or submission being declared the winner. If you are brave enough, you can also face two guys at once in a Handicap Match, or you be a complete jerk and choose an AI partner and pummel the crap out of someone.
I demand more pummels!
Ahem. Sorry about that. Where was I? Oh yeah, you can also have a Hell in a Cell and since that match type was created in 1997 and is usually a pretty brutal spectacle to watch, it’s rather bizarre to see the likes of Brutus Beefcake and Kamala tearing each other to pieces with in it’s confines or throwing each other off of it or slamming one an other through the roof or even through its walls (that’s new). As bizarre as a Hellacious blood bath (The blood in the game doesn’t look too bad actually) at an event like lets say Wrestlemania IV sounds, it’s a very entertaining thought and with the cell sort of looking like an Omni cage, it’s sort of era appropriate. Even if it is the wrong wrestling promotion. Whoops, WWE isn’t a wrestling promotion. It’s an entertainment company. Stupid me can’t tell the difference.
The Royal Rumble match is actually pretty cool in this game and could be one of my favorite video game interpretations of this 30-man battle royal (although it could also be a 10 or a 20 man). I don’t think I need to explain the basic rules of the match do I? You know, how two men start the match with one extra wrestler entering the ring at 2 minute intervals (although here it is closer to 30-45 seconds) until 30 men have entered, with the goal being to eliminate the other wrestlers by throwing them over the top rope and how the winner is the last man in the ring? Do I really need to explain that part? No? Alright then I won’t.
(Jim "The Anvil" Niedhart shows Road Warrior Hawk his variation of The Rock Bottom)
In this version of the Rumble, you eliminate your opponents by luring them into the ropes and trying to toss them over by mashing buttons (sometimes an other opponent will lend you a hand with this), much like in other game incarnations of the match. However, in this case there is a special gauge that must be depleted before being able to eliminate an opponent, which you do by of course, mashing buttons. The lower your opponents health is, the easier it will be to empty the gauge and if that wasn’t convenient enough, this struggle will actually drain life from your opponent. However, you should remember that this can also happen to you if you find yourself in a similar predicament. But fear not, every time you eliminate a competitor, you will regain some of your health, so despite the constant chaos that tends to occur in a match like this, you can actually survive quite a while if you happen to use your brain and a certain amount of cunning. This is why I think that this is one of, if not the best version of the Royal Rumble Match I have seen in any WWE/F video game, since it feels like an actual Royal Rumble.
Oh and I almost forgot, you can have up to six men (most other games only go up to four) in the ring at once (although that rarely happens with eliminations happening so quickly), which only adds to the awesomeness.
The last two match types are the Ladder and Steel Cage Matches and while they are not as good as they are in the SvR series, they are solid enough here because of the minor touches that add a nice bit of nostalgia. The Ladder Matches with their orangish-yellow ladders (like the ones used in the Shawn Michaels Vs Razor Ramon classics) and the Steel Cage Matches which use the big blue cage that was discontinued in 1998 because as Triple H once said, “That big blue cage hurts like Hell when you are thrown into it.”
But this doesn’t mean that these matches are without their faults. For instance, they’re both more or less the same as standard matches (sorry, but there won’t be any extreme high flying here) with the ability to use the cage and or ladder as weapon, with the goal being to climb the ladder to retrieve the belt and to escape the cage respectively. Other than the use of the big blue cage and being able to perform special moves using the cage as a weapon, Cage Matches aren’t really anything special and don’t really differ from regular matches. Well with the exception of having to escape the cage to win. You can play a button mashing mini-game to walk out the door or you can climb out the cage but I can never seem to do that. In the Ladder Match, you can’t really do anything special other than legally pummel (yay more pummels!) your opponent senseless with the ladder. The goal is to beat your opponent senseless, so you can climb the ladder and grab the belt by button mashing. It should be said that the more damage suffered by the opponent, the easier it will be for you to retrieve the belt. Here’s a pretty useful tip: if you completely lower the CPU’s health bar, you can basically grab the belt with a single button press. Snore! Oh, but if you get knocked off the ladder, you’ll be knocked out and you’ll have to mash buttons or hold in buttons or mash and hold in buttons to get back up. Either way, you’re not going to figure it out in time and you’ll lose. It’s kind of like getting pi…..I nearly spoiled my biggest complaint about the game. Whoppsy doopsy!
Now that I have completely rambled on about match types and CAL features, vintage action figures and old school theme music, it’s time to really dig into what makes Legends of Wrestlemania tick. It’s time to discuss the gameplay mechanics. This is where things get rough. And when the going gets rough, the rough get tough. Or something like to that effect.
Remember when I said that this wasn’t a realistic simulation style game? Well, I wasn’t kidding. The developers wanted to make Legends of Wrestlemania more accessible than the SvR series to make it more appealing to casual players, so this resulted in some fairly large cuts in terms of movesets (you know to limit the amount of complex button combinations) and thus each wrestler was basically limited to the standard strikes, grapple/power moves, specials & finishers. Right away, you can probably guess that I’m going to say that the developers went with a more arcade style when it comes to gameplay mechanics and you’d be right. But it’s not the kind of arcade control that you would think would be associated with a wrestling game. You see, rather than taking cues from arcade fighting games (which you know, would actually make sense), THQ thought it would be wise to base the game around reactionary style arcade games that rely heavily on specifically timed button presses or as they are more commonly known as quick time events. That’s right. We have a WWE game that plays just like Shenmue. What the flip?
(I will kill Lan Di but first I must defend the Intercontinental Championship against Mr. Perfect)
OK, so maybe not every blow is determined by a quick time event but anytime you want to perform a chain of moves, a special move, a finisher, fulfill an objective in the WT Mode or even something as basic as a strong grapple, you will need to complete a quick time event in order to do it. In case you don’t know what quick time events are, here is a brief summary:
The gameplay shifts focus to an interactive mini-cutscene and when your character is about to perform a certain action, a button will appear on screen and you will have to press that button in order to complete said action. In Legends of Wrestlemania, if you either don’t press the button in time (which is likely to happen more than once) or if you press the wrong button (also likely to happen a few times in the confusion) your opponent will reverse it and another quick time event will occur to give you a chance to do a reversal of your own. But again, if you mess up (which you will at least a few times), you are going to take some damage.
Like I said when I was talking about the objectives in the WT Mode, these quick time events do add a few nice and unique cinematic elements to those matches. However, if you are having a regular Exhibition Match, you just want to have a nice fast paced fight but you can’t do that because they are bogged down in these constant events that just slow everything down constantly. So, those quickly (ironic eh?) lose any charm that they had in the WT Mode because of their constant spamming in every other mode of play.
Oh and the quick time events aren’t the only gameplay problem. There are also things like having to mash a weird button combo to do high-risk moves or having to have an opponent dazed and in a certain position in order to get and or use a steel chair. Yeah, who needs the simplicity of pressing a single button to grab an object to use at anytime or to easily do a move off the top rope, when you can rely on random button mashing and picky character placements?
(John Cena & Road Warrior Animal: Protecting the border from America's enemies)
And don’t get me started on kicking out of a pinfall. Do you hold in buttons or do you mindlessly mash buttons? I don’t know. It’s this conundrum that is the most frustrating aspect of the game. Once you are being pinned, a logo will appear at the top of the screen showing all of the buttons and you either have to mash or hold in the buttons until you can kick out before the count of three. How long do hold in/mash these buttons? Why, until you reach a certain point on the gauge (which is hard to see) that is confusingly built around the logo silly. But don’t over shoot it now (which happened just about every damn time) or you’ll have to try it again before your three count is up. This stupid ass mechanic has resulted in many cheap losses, like I kicked the CPU’s ass for three minutes while only losing less than a third of my health but I lost by getting pinned as soon as the bastard knocked me down cheap. Oh and in multiplayer, this is the kind of thing that results in noobs constantly beating more experienced players by cheaply knocking them down and constantly going for a pinfall. No skill required here. Just be lucky enough to knock your buddy down and go for the pin. That’s all it takes.
Seriously THQ. I thought this new gameplay style was supposed to make things easier was it not? Please don’t you ever and I mean eeeeevvvvvvaaaaaaarrrr! Use these mechanics again!
Well at least it’s fun to play as the legends, even though thanks to the limited movesets, the only unique gameplay quality each of them has is their specials, taunts and finishers.
However, the mangers prove to be quite fun. Each of the four managers (Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, Jimmy Heart, Mr. Fuji and Paul Bearer) have their own methods of distraction and can even attack you with a foreign object or in Paul Bearer’s case, can use it (the urn) to power up his Undertaker. Oooooh yessss! Now this aspect takes me back and is probably the best utilized gameplay mechanic in the entire game, outside of the WT objectives.
(I believe the entire Earth was destroyed due to the following impact)
When compared to other WWE games, Legends of Wrestlemania is a pretty bare bones experience but it does have a pretty nifty special feature….that is if you happen to have a copy of Smackdown Vs Raw 2009 handy. If you do, you can import the entire roster from that game (minus DLC and CAWs for some reason) into Legends of Wrestlemania. So now you can have some of wrestling’s greatest legends face off against the best WWE superstars that 2008 had to offer. But their movesets are also limited.
Sigh. Why is it that we can’t get a great wrestling game staring the legends of yesteryear? Now I’m not saying that it’s Legends of Wrestling bad but the quick time events and the constant button mashing make playing the game in most instances a bit of a drag.
However, I will admit that when there was proper context, the quick time events were fun, the game itself looks great and it just oozes nostalgia and brings back a lot of childhood memories. But sadly, for every good element, there is a really crappy negative one to counter balance it, which ultimately makes this a disappointment. Just about any other WWE game is better than this. Hell, even TNA Impact is (slightly) better than this. But like I said before, when it comes to wrestling games, it could have been much worse.
Please let All Stars be better than this.
Final Score: 5/10