WWE Legends of Wrestlemania Review
Releasing just in time for the Wrestlemania 25, THQ’s latest wrestling outing attempts something different this time, shedding the realistic and modern focus of the “Smackdown” series in order to pay homage to the classic wrestling of the WWF era.
Emphasizing arcade style gameplay and graphics, the game makers are hoping to bring back fans who may not have played wrestling games since the days of “WWF Wrestlefest” and similar titles. After spending a good deal of time with the title, completing every one of the games advertised “Relive, Rewrite, and Redefine” modes, I can say that for the most part, they have succeeded.
In terms of core gameplay, “Legends” is designed with pickup-and-play entertainment in mind. Every action is performed with the analog stick and the four face buttons, a stark contrast to any recent wrestling title. In order to recreate the flow of wrestling match, a new system of “chain grapples” has been implemented that involve timing button presses to on-screen prompts in order move the chain forward. Finishers work in a similar way.
Think of it this way: when performing Hulk Hogan’s finisher, you would see him perform the three punch combo, followed by a prompt for a button press. After pushing that button, you would see the big boot and another prompt. Upon successfully completing the subsequent button press, Hogan would hit the Big Legdrop. This system allows for action sequences to be performed fluidly that would otherwise be difficult.
In my experience, the new controls work pretty well. The wrestlers are responsive, and the new chain system allows some increased interactivity into the animations, and can allow for some entertaining sequences, such as Kamala chain-wrestling with André the Giant. However, in simplifying the controls, limitations have been made to the movesets. This didn’t bother me during my time with the game, because the movesets seemed to be fairly accurate regardless of the limitations. Finishers are animated very well, with a number of new moves being added that are not present in the Smackdown series. However, if you prefer to hold long high-flying, technical battles, this may prove to be a frustration.
The roster for this game is a point of curiosity for me. I suppose the joke could be made that this should have really been titled “Legends of Wrestlemania on Good Terms with the WWE.” The roster of 38 legends and four managers features obvious inclusions such as Hogan, Austin, André, and The Rock, but also omits men such as Randy Savage, Mick Foley, and Razor Ramón. Instead, we get such “Legends of Wrestlemania” as Michael Hayes, Arn Anderson, and Dusty Rhodes. Now as a fan of classic wrestling in general, some of these choices excite me (trust me, seeing Arn break someone in half with a spinebuster before staggering them with a left and dropping them with a DDT is a thing of beauty), but seem strange additions to a roster focusing around Wrestlemania. Especially when you consider that Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat was not included in the roster. I’m sure this has been done in order to provide some choice for future downloadable wrestlers, but it seems like a real crime that Steamboat couldn’t make the main roster, even if his Wrestlemania III counterpart didn’t. A nice bonus feature, however, is the ability to unlock the roster from Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 if you have a save on your system from the game, updating their movesets to include the new chain system. This allows for some fun dream matches, and beefs the roster up considerably. However, it would have been nice to have a few more legends before worrying about bringing in the modern roster. A nice bonus feature, nonetheless.
The main game mode, outside of exhibition mode, is the “Wrestlemania Tour Mode.” Featuring the above-mentioned “Relive, Rewrite, and Redefine” modes, a number of matches from the first fifteen Wrestlemanias are presented to be played through, preceded by the always excellent WWE video packages. In “Relive” mode, players must recreate classic bouts from WWE history, playing as the victor; in “Rewrite” mode, players take the controls of the loser to change the outcome of the match; finally “Redefine” mode changes classic bouts by changing the match type to look at them under a different light.
Of the three, “Relive” mode provided the most entertainment for my experience. Due to the chain system, key events in the matches can be replicated, such as the big body slam at ‘Mania III. This, paired with classic lines of dialogue redone by the announce team of Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler, allows for a nostalgia overload that is truly entertaining for anyone who remembers those matches fondly.
Exhibition mode features a fairly standard set of matches, ranging from single and tag team battles to specialty bouts such as the ladder match, cage match (complete with big blue cage), and the Royal Rumble. It is during the specialty matches that the simplified gameplay hinders the experience. Ladder matches are confined to the ring, movesets are paired down to mostly strikes and light grapples in the Royal Rumble, and all Hell in a Cell matches start on top of the cell, a lá Mankind/Taker. Steel cage matches are truly entertaining, and the blue cage is always a welcome addition.
As is standard to wrestling games today, “Legends of Wrestlemania” features a create-a-wrestler mode. Basically the same mode present in the “Smackdown” games, it features all of the previously available appearance parts, and adds some more attire choices reminiscent of the style of the 1980’s and 90’s. The move selection has been limited a bit, but does include a number of new and reanimated moves. Unfortunately, there is no ability to create a custom finisher chain, instead forcing payers to choose from the pre-existing ones from the legends and modern roster. Every move in the game is available in the regular moveset, however, so that frees up the players a bit in terms of choosing moves. Once you have created your own “legend,” you then take them through “Legend Killer” mode, which amounts to a series of gauntlet matches that allow you to build your wrestler’s attributes. Creating a fully realized wrestler with accurate attributes takes significantly less time than it does in “Smackdown vs. Raw 2009,” making this a welcome system for casual players.
At the end of the day, “Legends of Wrestlemania” provides an enjoyable run down memory lane for players looking for something that requires less commitment than other modern games. It tries some new things in terms of controls and provides a product that is full of both hits and misses. The “Wrestlemania Tour Mode” is a truly fun experience, whereas some of the specialty matches are hindered by the simplified system; the roster is fairly large and allows the importing of the modern WWE roster, but names such as Ricky Steamboat were amazingly omitted. However, for all of these mixed points, the game is honestly a good time, and allows casual players to relive a simpler time in wrestling. Any wrestling game that allows my girlfriend to sit down with me and enjoy an evening of classic wrestling action must be considered a success based on the goal set by the designers. Hardcore wrestling game fans that prefer “Fire Pro Returns” to “Smackdown” probably won’t like it, but if you are looking to just spend an evening with some friends having some fun reliving the events that made you a fan of wrestling as a kid, you won’t be disappointed.