The Brooklyn Brawler of Wrestling Games
Xbox owning wrestling fans have had it rough. Between RAW and Legends of Wrestling, the Xbox has not seen a single good wrestling game. Not even a mediocre one. Sadly, it appears things are going to stay that way. WrestleMania 21 comes from Studio Gigante, creators of Tao Feng. For those that don't know, Gigante is John Tobias' company he created after severing his tag team with Ed Boon and leaving Midway about five years ago. WrestleMania 21 is simply an incomplete game. All the framework is there, but the house is empty. Not one single area of WM21 is free of bugs, clunkiness, and other general problems.
On the surface, WrestleMania is an excellent looking game. The wrestler models are damn near perfect from Triple H all the way down to Garrison Cade. The arenas are well done and the lighting effects are nice too. That's about where the good things end. The presentation is horrid. The menus are about the most basic, clunky menus you'll see and the load times are atrocious. Every single time you do anything moving between menus or other parts of the game, you get loading. Press Start at the title screen...LOADING. Choose Create Mode...LOADING. Back out...LOADING. Go to a match...LOADING. Replay at end of match...LOADING. You get the point. It's ridiculous. On top of this, the animations in the game are laughable. Not only is the collision detection piss poor, but the library of animations is very small. Many wrestlers use the same exact moves, even for finishers (i.e. Randy Orton's RKO and Bubba Dudley's Bubba Cutter). The entrances seem to have gotten more attention than signature moves, which is pretty sad. The collision detection is almost as bad as Showdown, but not quite. You'll still see some warping and teleporting into moves, and most annoying of all are the finishing moves. Once you press A+B, the camera immediately switches to a different angle where you are magically in position for the finisher no matter where you were before. Another thing I can't stand is the wrestler selection screen. I'm so sick of these character model/caracature headshots. They are always fucked up. I mean, you can tell who they're supposed to be, but they're just enough off that it makes them look like aliens. Just use a photo, it's not hard.
Much like the rest of the game, the control scheme is a good idea in theory, it's just executed so poorly that it's a headache. You have a generic strike button and two grapple buttons. The type of grapple depends on how hard you press the button, so there are four types of grapples which in theory would give you 16-20 moves from the standing front grapple position. The problem is there are so few moves in the game, that many wrestlers just have one or two moves per grapple type. So you'll basically be doing the same 4 or 5 moves over and over again until you build your Heat Meter up to do a finisher. It's probably the most boring wrestling game I've played since Nitro and Thunder on PlayStation. L & R serve as Strike Reversal and Grapple Reversal, which are tricky to time at first, but after a couple matches, it becomes so easy to reverse everything the CPU does, it's not even a challenge. If you opt to up the difficulty, the CPU will simply wipe the floor with you. There's no in between. In another treacherous downfall, WM21 is stricken by the same problem as RAW 2. That is, once you start to get worn down, it takes you forever to just stand up. The CPU knows this and will continuously put you into submissions before you can stand. Five straight minutes of mashing buttons to save yourself from tapping out just on the off chance that you stand up...fun stuff. It's safe to say the gameplay here is in dire need of some ass cream.
Just...wow. They tried...I guess. The game features commentary and voice overs from just about everyone, and admittedly the voice overs are better than in SmackDown vs RAW, but that's not saying much. The commentary is bad as usual, and not only do you get repeats, but most of the time they aren't even calling what is actually happening. Just a whole bunch of generic references and catchphrases to fill up space. Another thing that sucks is entrance music. The ring announcer is about three times as loud as the music, which makes the arena seem like it's in a barn with a boombox in the corner. The production value is just so bad that even chairshots sound like thuds. The menu background music is the same buttrock you've heard in SmackDown vs RAW and Day of Reckoning, which is beyond lame.
See that gold bar across the top of the box? That usually means you can play a game on Xbox Live. Not today though. For the most part, choosing Xbox Live on the main menu gets you an error message before it even TRIES to connect you. If you do successfully log in, you can't play because either no one else is there or it just plain doesn't work. Choosing Quickmatch just gives you an eternity of searching. Aside from that minor oversight... the Career mode is a one time only mode. Like Day of Reckoning you have to create a guy and take him from the bingo halls to WrestleMania. There are absolutely zero choices for you along this path, so playing through it again is a waste of time. This "Road to WrestleMania" bullshit is so played out it's worthless. A new focus on career mode would be nice, and luckily we're going to get it with SmackDown vs RAW's 25-year career mode. In the mean time we're stuck with this. The Create a Wrestler mode is probably the weakest available aside from Showdown. I for one enjoy spending a couple hours perfecting my created guy (in any game) to make it look exactly like me. But this game's creation engine is a joke. The sliders don't even affect much on the shaping, and you can't even preview what stuff looks like without actually choosing it and applying it. They do have a Create a Belt feature, which is meant to be used by defending your belt online...but so much for that. So basically we have a career mode which is only worth playing once, a shitty Create mode, and a Belt with no purpose.
Take it from someone who loves pro wrestling. This game is terrible. Even if they do fix the Xbox Live problem, the game is crippled by bugs, freezing, hiccups, glitches, and any other type of developmental problems you can think of. The fact that this game made it to shelves in this condition is astonishing. If you are a wrestling fan who owns only an Xbox, you have two options... buy a PS2 or buy a GameCube.
*** This review was written for Flamevault.com shortly after the release of the game. ***