Legends of Wrestlemania is a shallow trip down memory lane
I love pro wrestling. Well, let's back up a bit. I loved pro wrestling. The World Wrestling Federation was just as much a part of my childhood as The Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Mario. Perhaps my earliest wrestling memory is watching Hulk Hogan eliminate Earthquake from the 1991 Royal Rumble match. But it wasn’t until Wrestlemania XII, where “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels defeated Bret “Hit Man” Hart in the first-ever Iron Man Match, that I was truly hooked. But when guys like The Rock and Steve Austin left the ring, my interest began to waver until I, like many fans, stopped tuning in completely. THQ knows that fans like myself exist, so with 2009 being the 25 anniversary of Wrestlemania, they’ve given us Legends of Wrestlemania, a celebration of WWE nostalgia that hopes to bring former fans back into the fold.
Legends of Wrestlemania covers the first 15 years of Wrestlemania history, from the original Wrestlemania’s $150,000 Body Slam Challenge between Andre the Giant and Big John Studd, to Wrestlemania 15’s instant classic between The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Legends boasts a pretty impressive roster of over 40 wrestlers, with guys like Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Sgt. Slaughter, and The Undertaker all front and center. Even lesser known – but still fan-favorite – grapplers, such as Koko B. Ware and “Ravishing” Rick Rude make an appearance. THQ also managed to get some managers like Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and Paul Bearer into the mix. All of the character models in the game have a sort of exaggerated and cartoony look as a way to play up the “larger than life” aspect of Wrestlemania. Unfortunately, there are some truly glaring omissions in the game, most notably “Macho Man” Randy Savage (who hasn’t been on speaking terms with WWE chairman Vince McMahon in several years). Other big names many fans will notice absent from the roster include Razor Ramon, Diesel, and Mick Foley, all of which are under contract with other wrestling promotions. Legends of Wrestlemania also includes terrific feature that allows you to import the entire Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 roster into the game. It’s certainly intriguing being able to pit Andre the Giant against The Big Show, the imported stars keep their original SvR character models, making them look completely disproportionate next to the legends.
The gameplay and control scheme of Legends of Wrestlemania has been tailored for fans that may not be familiar with the more complex Smackdown vs. Raw series. Legends tosses out those complicated grapple trees and reversals systems and introduces a far more simplified control scheme where you control your superstar using only the left analog stick and the face buttons. Legends also uses a three-tier momentum meter, which not only controls the effectiveness of your attacks and reversals, but also determines which grapple moves are available to you. At tier 1, a normal grapple might only result in a headlock. However at tier 2, you may find yourself performing a body slam or atomic drop. Once you’ve reached the 3 tier, you’re able to perform your superstar’s finishing move, which is played out through a series of quick time events. While this set-up is refreshing at first, it makes the game almost too simple, as your move set is extremely limited. It serves its purpose for most of the game modes in Legends, but it isn’t quite as ideal for versus and online play.
The main event of Legends is the “Relive” mode. In Relive, you’re tasked to recreate key moments from historic Wrestlemania matches. Each match is introduced with a terrific video package chronicling the events that led up to the upcoming bout. From there, you’re given a series of objectives, most of which mirror moments from the actual match, like sending your opponent through the announcer’s table or hitting them with a chair. Many of these objectives are completed via fairly cinematic QTEs, which make the game look and feel much more like an actual wrestling match than its Smackdown counterpart. These objectives are not forced upon you, and you’re free to relive these matches any way you please. But complete enough objectives and you’ll be rewarded with unlockable videos and costumes, not to mention achievements/trophies.
Of course, if you prefer to change history, Legends of Wrestlemania allows you to do just that with the “Rewrite” and “Redefine” modes. Rewrite gives you the power to change the outcome of a Wrestlemania classic. If you’ve always been sore over the fact that Greg “The Hammer” Valentine retained his Intercontinental championship at the first Wrestlemania by getting himself counted out, now you can step into the shoes of The Junkyard Dog and make sure you score a pinfall and take the title. Or maybe one of many Shawn Michael-hating Canadians that would love take control of Bret Hart during the Wrestlemania XII Iron Man match and keep him from fulfilling his boyhood dream. Then there’s Redefine, which puts a new spin on classic matches by adding in some sort of special gimmick or stipulation, like putting a cage around Bret Hart and Yokozuna’s WWF Title bout from Wrestlemania X. With this mode, you’re given the freedom to select whichever grappler you like, although I generally stuck to playing as the heel in each situation, since I love it when the bad guys win. These modes feature the same excellent video packages as the ones in Relive, and the objective-based gameplay is present as well, but they’re mostly generic in nature, such as “Taunt 3 Times” or “Bust Open Your Opponent”. As a result, Redefine and Rewrite matches are never nearly as engaging as the ones found in Relive.
Single player in Legends of Wrestlemania isn’t just limited to classic matches. There’s also the “Legend Killer” mode, in
which you create your own wrestler and send him through gauntlet matches against a select group of ten superstars. Legend Killer replaces the objective system of the other modes, instead granting you experience points for things like reversals and finishers, which can then be used to beef up your grappler’s stats. For some, Legend Killer will offer a nice break from the more constricted gameplay seen in the other single player modes, but without the objectives and storylines to get you emotionally invested in the match, the overly-simplistic gameplay becomes very apparent. With these gauntlet matches taking you upwards of 20 or so minutes to complete, Legend Killer often times feels more like chore than a game.
Match commentary is provided by the team of Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler, who provide their usual brand mostly mediocre banter that has become an unfortunate staple of THQ’s WWE titles. J.R. and The King do become a bit more interesting during Relive mode, where you’ll oftentimes hear reciting lines of commentary from the original match. Legends does have the typical offline and online versus modes, but the nature of the control scheme doesn’t lend itself terribly well to multiplayer, and the QTEs can be pretty wonky online.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of Legends is that it only covers the first fifteen Wrestlemanias, leaving all of the potential material from the last nine Wrestlemanias completely untouched. Legends of Wrestlemania’s greatest strength might also be it biggest downfall, as newer wrestling fans may not appreciate the nostalgia on display, while older fans will likely cherish all the fantastic moments THQ has captured.