Third Times a Charm? Not Even Close.
At first glance, any wrestling fan will be excited to see the plethora of nostalgia encompassed within Showdown. Not only are there big names like Hogan, Savage, Hart, Andre, and Piper, but the roster goes all the way through the Von Erichs, Rocky Johnson, Andy Kaufmann, Curt Hennig, and now they've added Sting and Ultimate Warrior. Just about anyone who was anyone during the 70's and 80's (that isn't currently employed by WWE) is in the game. There are even some 90's stars including DDP and Sabu. This is all well and good but if the actual gameplay is terrible, then it makes the whole thing worthless. And sadly, that's pretty much the case.
First of all, they have taken a step away from the cartoony characatures in the past games, but not a big step. Some of the guys still look a little "over the top" even though for the most part they've done a good job making everyone appear recognizable at a glance. The arena are well done as well. I really enjoyed seeing The Omni in there, as I remember going to shows as a kid there (they tore it down and built Phillips Arena). But that's where the praise comes to a halt, because the actual in-ring action is glitched to hell. Collision detection is horrible and the use of the blur effect is at an all-time high for no real reason. Sometimes I'm not sure if the game slows down for dramatic effect, or if the game just can't handle it's own framerate. Wrestlers sometimes don't lock up correctly and even teleport to different parts of the ring or even to the floor. It's inexcusable.
Apparenlty people complained about the complicated controls from the past games, so Acclaim created these "Ready to Brawl" controls that are simpler. Problem is they're too simple, and often don't work. Button presses aren't responsive and you have to learn to work around the delay between your button press and the result on screen. Also, for some unknown reason, B is grapple while standing, but if you're running, it becomes strike. It's like someone is switching your controller setting in the middle of matches. From a development standpoint it doesn't make any sense. The graphics glitches also come into play when you're trying to set up grapples, since sometimes your opponent will magically shift a few inches or even feet and not be in range, leaving you wide open for attack. Due to all of these issues, you can almost forget about trying to block/reverse moves. It is the epitome of clunky.
I'm no fan of Schiavone and Zbyszko, but they definitely fit with the theme of the game. Heenan is in there as well and is good for a few laughs as usual, but the jokes get old pretty fast since you hear them about 3 times each in a match. They recorded a ton of historical facts to ramble off about the wrestlers in a given match, but they seem intent on repeating them every 2 minutes. No one, not even SmackDown, has been able to successfully implement play-by-play in a wrestling game though. The music ranges between great and midi since some of the wrestlers have their old themes (Piper, Hennig, etc), while others (Hart, Hogan, Warrior, etc) don't since the rights are owned by WWE. They've half-heartedly tried to compose some N64-worthy tracks to compensate for the missing songs, which is sad. You can import your Custom Soundtracks to play during the matches, but you can't use them for your created wrestlers entrance. Lame.
I beat the story mode in a little over an hour. Yeah. They tell you that you're going to work your way through the 70's, 80's, and 90's but what they really mean is that you're going to play 15 standard matches (5 in each era) with no storyline at all. Well, they do have a text screen pop up before some matches to tell you Rocky Johnson or someone is hitting on your girlfriend, and that's why you're having a match. That's not storyline. The fifth match of each era is called a Title Match, but there are no belts and no reward is given for winning them. Aside from the "story" mode, there is a new Classic mode where you can relive classic matches from wrestling history. Want to change the outcome of Steamboat vs Savage from Mania? You can do it. Want to relive Bret vs Owen from Mania 10 at MSG? You can do it. About 8 feuds are available at the start and the rest unlock as you play, until you reach Hogan vs Andre in the Silverdome. Can you see how this would all be exciting if the actual gameplay didn't suck ass? It can almost make one angry through sheer disappointment.
I think I've covered pretty much everything. Great idea. Bad implementation. I cannot express how much I wanted to enjoy this game, but it's just not possible. With so many glitches and graphical errors, one could wonder how Acclaim hasn't gone bankrupt...oh...wait.
*** This review was written for Flamevault.com shortly after the release of the game. ***