Release Date: March 24, 2009
Hacksaw Jim Duggan, King Kong Bundy and The Ultimate Warrior: Chances are that if you were a child of the '80s or early '90s, the mere mention of those names brings back a flood of fond memories. Whether it was Hulk Hogan shocking the world by slamming Andre the Giant or The Rock and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin facing off in front of a roaring crowd, professional wrestling in general and Wrestlemania in particular have played a huge role in the lives of millions. Now THQ, the company behind the Smackdown vs. Raw franchise, is back with Legends of Wrestlemania, and it's shaping up to be a hell of a trip down memory lane.
Legends is all about nostalgia, and the single-player mode is focused on taking players back through some of the greatest moments in sports entertainment history. The Wrestlemania Tour mode is divided into three categories: Relive, Rewrite and Redefine. Relive takes you back to some historical matches and places you in the shoes of the eventual winner. It is then the player's job to replicate the outcome of the match and ensure that history remains the way we all remember it. Rewrite changes things up a bit, allowing fans to take on the role of a match's historical loser and attempt to swing the outcome. Redefine is a sort of fan fiction take on Wrestlemania, keeping the same superstars but changing the rules of the match so that maybe Hulk Hogan faces Sgt. Slaughter in a steel cage or Yokozuna and Bret Hart square off in a ladder match.
To further add spice, each match has a number of objectives that can be met in order to gain points toward a special medal and unlockable content. In order to access the next match in each mode's series, all you have to do is win the previous one, but if you want to earn a medal, you'll have to meet certain milestones, such as kicking out of an opponent's finisher or beating the other guy senseless until he's busted open and bleeding. The objective sets are the most fun in the Relive mode, where you are essentially playing along with history, hitting all the big spots that made the matches so memorable and earning rewards while doing so. It's a truly entertaining wrinkle, and one that will likely keep hardcore fans coming back for a while.
While THQ may be the studio behind Smackdown vs. Raw, don't expect Legends to be a re-skinned retread. In fact, the development team has completely scrapped the SvR engine and created this game brand new from the ground up with different controls and new mechanics. First and foremost, all actions is mapped to the left thumbstick and face buttons, meaning no more flicking of the right stick for grapples or holding down multiple buttons to perform certain actions. Instead, there are now buttons mapped for strikes, grapples and defense, and the power of the attack is determined by tapping, double-tapping or holding the button. It's definitely an adjustment for those used to the other recent WWE games, but the new scheme is more casual-friendly and still manages to work quite well.
In addition, some grapple moves can now be chained together, which is denoted by a button-tapping Quick Time Event. As the wrestlers lock up, a button icon appears on-screen, and the first to hit it will gain the upper hand for the next attack. These chains aren't restricted to one move, though; some stretch on for four or five steps, allowing for either a brutal combo by one player or an impressive seesaw as both characters jockey for supremacy.
Accompanying the new control system are revised health and momentum bars, once again streamlined to attract a more casual crowd. Rather than limb-specific damage, each wrestler has one health bar that governs all damage. Also, there is now a tiered momentum meter, which, as it fills, unlocks new attacks and eventually each wrestler's finishing move. While more hardcore players may consider this setup to be a step back from SvR, mainstream gamers will enjoy it for its simplicity, and old-school gamers may feel refreshed by the more arcade feel.
Legends boasts an impressive roster of 40 classic wrestlers, and each of them feel right at home in a game showcasing the best there's ever been. The collection is a great mix of the megastars (Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Andre the Giant), to the slightly more obscure yet equally worthy (The British Bulldogs, Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake, Koko B. Ware), and I can honestly say as I thumbed through the list before every match, I felt excited to play with each of them.
In addition to the wrestlers, the title also boasts four classic managers ("The Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, Mr. Fuji and Paul Bearer). The managers themselves deserve discussion because they actually play a rather large role in the game. Old-school fans will remember that these guys often played a huge role in the outcome of matches, and that fact is reflected in the game. Each manager is run by his own separate AI and will interfere on your (or your opponent's) behalf whenever he sees fit. Whether it be Jimmy Hart distracting the opposition with his bullhorn or Mr. Fuji pulling down the top rope so your opponent comes tumbling down onto the floor below, the managers are always unpredictable yet helpful. Even better, there are times when you can force your wrestler and manager to interact, which will grant you bonuses like a health boost or increased attack power at the expense of some momentum.
As you can tell, Legends of Wrestlemania has a lot going on, and all this is only the tip of the iceberg. Those with a SvR '09 save file will be able to import that entire game's roster as well as any created characters, thus ballooning the roster to well over 100 superstars. In addition, there are even special events for modern wrestlers and an all-new Legend Killer game mode for created characters. Throw in 11 different match types (including a 30-man Royal Rumble), online and offline multiplayer and over an hour of historic footage to set up the classic matches, and you've got quite a package. Furthermore, though THQ wasn't willing to talk about it, we assume that a title this epic will likely receive some sort of DLC in the future, so an already robust game will almost undoubtedly grow even more so. In the event you weren't already excited for Legends of Wrestlemania, now is the time to do so. Dust off your replica belt and ripped Hulk Hogan tee. History is calling.
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