Old World Order.
Though I am a regular follower of the WWE Smackdown vs. RAW video game franchise, I was never one of the actual sports entertainment brand, though it was always in the periphery of my childhood. Oh, Cartoon Network has nothing good on, but look at that, some ridiculously muscled heavyweight in an outrageously feathered costume. Oh, look at that, some guy coming out of Hot Topic with a 3:16 T-shirt. Oh, look at that, someone’s actually snapping into a Slim Jim.
[image1]In the yearly versions of WWE Smackdown vs. RAW, fans of the classic, old-school WWF (before it was forced to change to the WWE) were lucky enough to have their favorite wrestlers, like Rowdy Roddy Piper, Bret Hart, and Bam Bam Bigelow as unlockable characters. Legends of Wrestlemania turns all that luck into a bona-fide game.
Many of your super-spandex-heroes have found their way onto the roster – the “once bodyguard for the Shah of Iran” Iron Sheik; the “actually not a sumo wrestler but might as well be” Yokozuna; the “walking, talking G.I. Joe” Sergeant Slaughter; and “The Eighth Wonder of the World” André the Giant (R.I.P.). If your beloved superstars aren’t on the list, then they probably aren’t worthy enough or there were difficulties getting the license to their likenesses (but possibly will be made available through downloadable content or future installments of Legends of Wrestlemania). Either way, the full roster is remarkable and available at the very start, snuffing out the usual complaints of players having to spend hours to unlock every character just for parties and the like.
Additionally, if you own a copy of WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2009, you can import all of the current roster as well as your created superstars, with their multiple attributes (such as durability and charisma) redistributed into a simpler set of five stats. This means that you can finally make your fantasy match-ups pitting “The Legend Killer” Randy Orton against Hulk Hogan, or The Marine star John Cena against Sgt. Slaughter. The possibilities for mixing and matching are limited only by your Irish-whippy whims.
It’s no surprise that Legends of Wrestlemania is constructed as a homage to the WWF days, not pulling any punches in capitalizing on its history. The soundtrack is completely comprised of classic entrance themes, which provide for a varied, nostalgic backdrop that is much more interesting than the generally pedestrian metal rock tunes pervading the WWE Smackdown vs. RAW series. Most of the wrestlers’ entrances into the ring have been recreated as well, though some of them aren’t as spectacular as they could have been. The rather fugly crowd doesn’t help, either.
[image2]Wrestlers have been “brawnified”, with bulging biceps, raised shoulders, wide chests, and abs of steel that they have never had in real life. This super-sized reinterpretation is apparently based on human psychology - we tend to remember wrestlers (and heroes of physical strength) with a bulkier frame than they actually had. So even though there of plenty of in-game movie clips of past Wrestlemania events that expose the Chris Redfield-esque steroid transformation, complaining about the lack of realism would be like nitpicking over nearly every male character in video games.
Apart from a few exceptions, most of the match types have crossed over safely, with three waiting to be unlocked in Legend Killer mode that puts your created wrestler through a gauntlet of legends. The majority of the creation modes have been kept, with lots of additional accessories and parts thanks to the iconic roster, and the online modes have returned with a handy “Disconnect %” stat for you to spot all the sore losers.
In place of choosing a wrestler to slug through a standard yearly season, the Wrestlemania Tour mode showcases its own 3R’s: Relive, Rewrite, and Redefine. Each category has its variation, but the general theme is simply revisiting some of the great matches from Wrestlemanias I through XV, with fantastical nostalgic montages of the event. And then satisfying enough conditions to earn gold medals that unlock more content like costumes and bonus footage. Unfortunately, the mode loses some luster with its total lack of tag team match-ups, a low replay value, and being able to be completed in about ten hours.
On the other hand, followers of the WWE Smackdown vs. RAW series, won’t be thrilled with how simplified everything has become. The health indicator, presented before as a body separated into four parts (arms, legs, torso, and head) that gradually turn red, have been replaced by a generic health bar. Most of the environmental grapples and ultimate control grapples, which give you multiple attack options, have been reduced to simple face-button quick-time events. Veterans and create-a-wrestler addicts will also notice the numerous cuts and restrictions – no ring-in or ring-out moves, no standard signature moves, an overall reduction of slots for grapple and strikes, no sitting corner grapples, fewer tag team moves, no defensive rising attack, no stealing taunts and finishers, and no Create-A-Finisher or Highlight Reel mode.
[image3]It’s initially difficult to accept all of the changes, especially since some of them don’t seem to make any sense. The chain grapples and quick-time sequences sometimes don’t flow well together – with one move ending in the corner and the next move starting in the center of the ring. The targeting system also employs a “nearest” system that goes all wonky whenever you’re distracted by the manager or caught in a brawl between five other wrestlers in a Royal Rumble match. Even worse, the camera tends to switch between a floating side view and a fixed top view without giving you any option to choose which one you prefer.
Not all of the changes are horrendous, though, as there’s a valid argument for streamlining the sometimes overwhelmingly complex system in WWE Smackdown vs. RAW 2009. Given the audience for Legends of Wrestlemania is casual fans who just want to play as their favorite wrestlers, a subtractive design removes more than a few hurdles of entry. Reversals are condensed to one button (rather than one for strikes and one for grapples), the strength of a move intuitively depends on how long you hold a button down, and any special moves show up as a prompt. Created wrestlers have five stats that are easily upgradeable using experience points, instead of having to use certain moves over and over again just to build up an attribute by half a point. And in just one fight in Legend Killer mode, your created character can improve from a pathetic 37-overall wrestler to an 80-overall contender.
Taunts have been augmented as well, giving your wrestler a special boost – a momentum multiplier (for finishing moves), enhanced strength and durability, and irreversible attacks – at the cost of some momentum. While this makes taunts much more useful, there are no regular taunts that simply build momentum at no cost, which have been their primary purpose in wrestling titles (up until now). You shouldn’t need to have momentum to taunt; when The Undertaker raises his arms slowly, everyone should just take notice. Moreover, one taunt restores your health by 25%, which nearly renders the other taunts useless by comparison.
Legends of Wrestlemania does what exactly what you think it should. Despite some repetition and being short on gameplay content and depth, it’s a casual, enjoyable romp through the good ol’ days that put our childhood heroes (and villians) on a pedestal. Then is shines a spotlight, blasts fireworks, and points at them with a giant arrow. For anyone who follows the WWE series religiously and especially for someone who knows little about the history of wrestling entertainment and the legends that created it, Legends of Wrestlemania rightfully belongs in your collection.