marino's WWE Day of Reckoning (GameCube) review

As Close as You'll Get to the N64 Glory Days

WWE Day of Reckoning is the third WWE game for the Nintendo GameCube.  Nintendo's system used to be the mecca of wrestling games in the 64 days, but ever since then, Nintendo's fans have pretty much been left in the cold.  WrestleMania X8 was just short of being truly craptacular, and while WrestleMania XIX had a solid grappling engine, it lacked any replay value.  Luckily, despite a few setbacks, Day of Reckoning is the one that pulls everything together to become the first and only great wrestling game for the purple tetrahedron. 
First off, the character models are incredible.  They were good in XIX, but they're alot better now.  The facial animations are top notch and the lighting effects have been improved as well.  Not many new animations have been added, but that's not a big deal.  The collision detection is a bit better, but you'll still get some clipping on occasion.  While this game is closest you're going to get to the N64 days of old, you won't have to worry about the horrendous collision detection of those games here.  While the crowd won't impress anyone, the arenas are what most fans would expect.  Presentation-wise, the menus are very basic, and border ugly.  The core of the game though (the actual in-ring part), looks great. 
As said before, this is as close as you're going to get to No Mercy without buying a wrestling game featuring rap stars.  Every aspect of the gameplay is heavily influrenced by Aki's much-loved engine.  You have two variations of attacks and grapples (light and heavy), and from heavy grapples you have multiple options that determine what move you will do out of that grapple.  It's a very simple and basic system, yet allows for an immense amount of depth.  The momentum meters work basically the same way as they did in XIX and in the older games, with the main difference being that when your meter reaches DANGER you have the opportunity to do a Special move that will change the momentum of the match.  For example, if you're Ric Flair, and you're getting the shit kicked out of you til your meter hits dark blue, hit A+B and nail the opponent with a thumb to the eye and watch your meter jump back to yellow.  For those extra tough matches in story mode, it gives you a fighting chance.  Fans of older wrestling games will be happy to know that climbing cages is slow as hell.  You have to tap A for a good minute to get your guy over the top of the cage.  The ladder climbing is a bit faster, but the time it takes to jump up and down for the belt usually gives your opponent enough time to kick it over or climb up top with you.  Overall the gameplay should satisfy those of us who yearn for the days of old, as well as offer several improvements. 
The sound in DoR is lacking to say the least.  I was surprised by the addition of licensed music in the menus as well as the original entrance themes for created wrestlers, but the quality of the music is very low.  Not only is the quality sub-par, but the volume and intensity of the music is way below what wrestling fans have come to expect.  Let's face it, a wrestler's entrance is a huge part of his character, and I at least expect the music to have some bass in it.  Also, I fail to understand how they can justify shelling out cash for licensed music for the menus when they didn't get some of the licensed entrance songs like Kid Rock's version of "Legs" for Stacy Keibler.  There is no play-by-play, but I don't count that as a minus since no wrestling game has every had good PBP, and there are no voice-overs.  Expect to be doing a lot of reading in the story mode.  The in-ring sound effects, from the chops to the pyro, are top notch. 
Replay Value 
Last year's game had almost no story mode at all.  Thankfully, this year's game has one, and it's pretty good if you don't go in expecting KotOR-style character development.  Basically you create a wrestler first, and he gets put into WWE's developmental league.  After a few months (one show per week) proving your worth to The Coach, you get moved up to Sunday Night Heat.  Once you prove yourself in a few TV matches, Vince gives you the choice of being on either RAW or SmackDown!  The story is best described as an alternate universe of WWE.  The rosters are still accurate as far as who is on what show, but some of them have swapped face/heel and created new factions.  The story is very linear and almost every time you think you're about to be given a choice, someone steps in and makes it for you.  It's a bit aggrivating, but it fits with the story. 
The Create-A-Wrestler mode hasn't changed much but that's definintely not a bad thing since XIX's CAW was incredible.  They've added some more layering options to help customize your guy, but the real star of the show is the Entrance editor.  It allows you to completely customize your ring entrance in segments and time tables.  You can set everything from pyro, lighting changes, when your name-plate shows up on TV, and over a dozen camera angles.  It's very cool. 
Aside from the Story and CAW, DoR has all the match types that wrestling fans are accustomed to these days.  The one big addition this year is Bra & Panties Match, but sadly there are so few Divas in the game that it's almost pointless to have the B&P match in the game.  And that's the major drawback of the game, there are only about 40 wrestlers in the game.  Now, to those who aren't WWE-inclined that may seem like a lot, but it's really about half of the company's roster.  Some that didn't make the cut stick out like a sore thumb (Bradshaw, The Dudley Boyz, Eugene, Lita, etc).  They have added several Legends, but there's no excuse for having such a limited roster. 
Despite it's lacking roster, Day of Reckoning is quite a fun game, especially if you have a few friends over.  As a mutliplayer game it will save you from having to dust off the N64.  As a single player game, DoR offers a decent story mode that features lots of twists and turns as well as a lot of gimmick matches that will keep you interested for a long time.  In the end, a wrestling game has to have simple yet effective gameplay to have a shot at being good.  We've seen the bad end of the spectrum this year with Showdown, and now DoR shows the opposite end.  If you even remotely call yourself a wrestling fan, and you own a GameCube, pick up Day of Reckoning and you won't be disappointed. 
*** This review was written for shortly after the game's release. ***

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