Can you smell what the Cube is cookin'?
From the bootleg bloodbaths of the 70's to the plight of superhero wannabes in the 80's to the incendiary rhetoric of today's pec-powered, thrash-metal,Days of Our Lives extras, pro wrestling has evolved to keep up with the times...with some bras & panties scattered in there to keep the casual fans interested. How far the WWE has come from the Junkyard Dog days causes as much wonderment as spray cheese on Matzo balls, though the foundation of muscle, attitude and athleticism has remained unchanged.
The same can be said of wrestling games - same deal, different mafia. The latest installment, WWE: Day of Reckoning, follows the family formula to a tee. Over 35 wrestlers are available, including Triple H, Kane, Rhyno, Ric Flair, The Rock, Y2J, The Big Show, Undertaker, Rey Mysterio and even unlockable old-school fools like Andre The Giant and Brutus Beefcake. BEEFCAKE!
A quick, well-executed Tutorial will get your fingers primed to unleash the beast. Exhibition Mode comes in Single, Tag Team, three and four man melees, two versus one, and Royal Rumble formats. Every match type except Royal Rumble can be played using a number of rule types, such as Hardcore, Ironman, Hell in a Cell, Steel Cage, Ladder Match, or TLC. If you're thinking "Tender Loving Care," it's about time you had a Table, Ladder, and Chair swept across the cranium.
Speaking of which, you can even pit Trish Stratus, Stacy Kiebler, Molly Holly or Victoria in a shamelessly gratuitous but definitely fun Bra & Panties match. God bless America, indeed.
A surprisingly deep Create a Wrestler feature lets you choose from loads of body types, change your bodily proportions and equip hundreds of accessories and moves to pimp out your style. An hour will fly by before you've even gotten to use the optional paint tool. Once your modern day gladiator is ready to brawl, you can beef him up and earn cash for unlockable arenas, costumes, and moves through the game's strong Story Mode, which takes you through the trials in WWE Development as you work your way up to Wrestlemania.
After your created superstar runs through the rookies in Development, you will join either the RAW or Smackdown! roster. This early fork will determine the rest of the opponents you'll face along the way to WWE gold. Some matches occur in a steel cage, during a Royal Rumble, or have you teaming up with a member of your wrestling faction to go for the Tag Team Belt. To keep it interesting, certain matches have special conditions for victory, such as working the opponent's legs and going for a submission or performing your finishing move at least twice. All the while, the TV-worthy drama of your faction continues to unfold as pre-fight locker room beat downs send the message that you are either one bad hombre or some B-class jobber unworthy of spandex.
While the modes and depth are worthy of praise, the enemy AI is generally on the easy side. The increasing difficulty is mainly a result of more frequent move reversals, which isn't very realistic and can feel a bit cheap at times. Still, successful countering is rewarding and keeps the game fun.
None of the female wrestlers you create can be imported into the Story Mode, however, which does limit the single-player replay value. Nevertheless, Day of Reckoning has so many customization options, your gaming crew will not throw elbows as to who gets to rock the lizard's tail.
The main gameplay engine has not changed much from the earlier Smackdown! games on the PS2, which itself has not changed much from WCW vs. NWO back in the old N64 days. Fierce or light strikes and grapples focus on tenderizing certain body parts in order to get a better chance of scoring a submission or pin. The speed of the matches is faster in Day of Reckoning than in games past, though, and your selection of grapples and strikes are paced to save the game from a button masher's pinfall.
One major feature has been added to the fray: Momentum Shifts. A momentum meter changes color depending on how badly you're taking or dishing out the hurt. If it's at its highest level and you're an inch from a eulogy, you can perform a Momentum Shift maneuver and swap the meter values. To dodge the cheese factor, each player can only use this move once per match. In true-to-television fashion, Day of Reckoning gives you just the right amount of time in performing counters to shift the momentum. Every match is exciting and will grab your full attention, whether you're on the mat recovering from a People's Elbow or knocking out the ref to pull a sledgehammer out from under the ring.
Graphically, Day of Reckoning does a great job rendering all the wrestlers' musculature, facial expressions, and environments. Lighting effects and stage fireworks deliver the techno-circus feel of the WWE well. The physics are tight and the character models interact realistically, although the player targeting system does need a bit of work. Tapping the C-stick five times in the same direction to finally target the bogie charging at you gets annoying.
Like the real thing, the game's music is a mix of metal and rap. There aren't many tracks, though, so get used to redundancy. At least the audience reacts believably to the action, cheering for reversals, oohing and aahing over special moves, and booing for the garbage can being repeatedly slammed on a bloodied opponent.
WWE: Day of Reckoning delivers the blood, sweat and tears Gamecube wrestling fans have been waiting to digest. It might not offer much new to the wrestling genre, but a win is a win, right?