An old-school whuppin!
Seeing the title Legends of Wrestling on the box cover filled me with excitement. Since I'm an avid wrestling fan, the thought of playing as Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, "Superstar" Billy Graham, and of course Captain Lou Albano among other greats was truly enticing. Being an experienced game reviewer and seeing Acclaim's logo on the box, however, served to dampen my spirits.
Acclaim is no stranger to the wrestling genre. With the release of WWF Warzone on the PSOne, Acclaim gave fans the first really good American wrestling game. Not resting on their laurels, Acclaim proceeded to make several more wrestling games, each worse than the last. In fact, I am a firm believer that ECW:Anarchy Rulz, their last PSOne title, was a major contributing factor to that federation's demise.
Legends of Wrestling, I'm happy to say, isn't a chump like Anarchy Rulz. But it ain't a champ, either.
After regurgitating the same tired fighting engine a half dozen times, the developers have replaced it with their new "ISP" grapple system. The Intermediate Start Position (ISP) begins whenever you "lock up" with an opponent. Once this is initiated, you press one of four move buttons, which in turn initiates a secondary ISP like "Belly to Belly" position for suplexes, or "Head Between Legs" for piledriver type moves. In the secondary ISP you have a few options. Do nothing, and your grappler will perform the default move for that position. Tap one of the four face buttons, and your man will do one of four attacks. Sounds complex, doesn't it? When you consider there are several ISPs for various situations such as "running," "turnbuckle" and others, it can be a quite confusing.
Adding to the complexity is the method for countering or reversing attacks. When you begin a lock-up ISP move, a meter appears under your opponent's life bar with a reversal window. Your opponent can only reverse the move while the meter is at 'reversal' level, triggering a similar meter under your life bar with a much faster reversal window. While it's tough to hit the window while you're counter-reversing, it's damn near impossible for your opponent to hit his next, even faster reversal window. If you're quick enough, you can even stop your opponent's meter before it gets to the reverse window to begin with, leaving your move uncontested. Again, really confusing.
The upside of all this complicated timing and maneuvering is that it works, and works well. This system gives players an opportunity to engage in all the maneuvering and counter maneuvering that makes wrestling fun, more so than any other wrestling title. The downside is that the placement of the meters on the screen forces your eyes up and away from the action. You can have the most incredible exchange of moves, reversals and counters, and the only one who will appreciate it is the guy watching the match waiting on his turn. With practice, though, you should be able to counter using timing and a glance.
While the in-game cinemas and box art are reminiscent of the cartoony brawlers in Ready to Rumble, the Legends characters look like caricatures, and they don't have that same fluid feel. In fact, the grapplers in this game convey a true sense of mass, but at the same time feel stiff and slow. They all look like idealized versions of their real life counterparts, serving to capture the nostalgia of the legends' glory days.
The animation for the guys, though, is lacking. Sure, the Hulkster cups his ears to hype the crowd, but many other recognizable mannerisms from him and the others seem to be missing. Ring entrances and win poses are short and generic. Plus, the entrance music for the grapplers is laughable, reminiscent of a Super NES soundtrack
The substandard music is the only thing you'll hear during the matches as well, because aside from the occasional grunts of strain or pain, there are no voices or commentary whatsoever. In a "retro" game like this, you'd think, commentary by Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, "Mean" Gene Okerlund, Vince McMahon, or Jesse Ventura would be a given. Speaking of Jesse, where the hell is he in this game? He was definitely a Legend and he had that kick-ass gun in the Predator movie. Recognize the greatness!
The inclusion of some of these guys as "legends" is questionable at best. I mean c'mon, Koko B. Ware? Some legitimate legends like Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Andre the Giant, and the aforementioned governor are conspicuous by their absence.
Fortunately, Legends of Wrestling has a Create-a-Character mode that rivals the best of 'em. An in-game paint program allows you to design your own tattoos or even face paint. Not only can you choose your attire, but also what you wear on your way to the ring, whether it's a crown, robe, or carrying a sign or flag.
The venues don't reflect their legendary status. Whereas one would expect rioting crowds in domed stadiums and amphitheaters, Legends of Wrestling makes you feel like you're fighting for your pride in half-empty bingo halls and hastily swept barns. One of the objectives is to entice the crowd using taunts, combos and weapons in an effort to get the fans cheering, which is the only way to pull a "finisher." Without endearing yourself to the fans you will have a quiet gameplay experience indeed.
Another complaint is the speed. This baby plays S-L-O-W. It's like watching THQ's Smackdown in slow-mo. In fact, it is because of this lack of speed that the implementation of the complex ISP is even possible. If Legends played any faster, the already intricate commands would be maddening.
But in the end, Acclaim has exceeded my expectations. Given, those expectations were very, very low to begin with. Legends is worth a rental, but I wouldn't make this your new tag team partner.