Release Date: March 24, 2009
Andre the Giant, The Honky Tonk Man, Hulk Hogan, The Junkyard Dog and Nikolai Volkoff: If you were a child of the 1980s and loved wrestling, you'll remember these wrestling superstars. Back then, wrestling was becoming popular after growing out of a territorial system and into something of a nationwide phenomenon. Before it was referred to as "sports entertainment," wrestling was a real sport with some larger-than-life personalities. Story lines were simple, wrestlers had epic feuds without resorting to gimmicky matches, and it was abundantly clear who was good and who wasn't. Some fans yearn for these simpler years, for a time before the name change lawsuit that forced the WWF to become the WWE. After including some legendary wrestlers in their previous WWE Smackdown Vs. Raw titles, THQ and Yuke's have decided to give these Hall of Fame athletes a game of their own with WWE Legends of WrestleMania, which is actually more substantial than one would think.
Unlike the previous WWE games, which were seen by some as incremental updates to the overall series, Legends of WrestleMania is a different take on wrestling games. Instead of taking the most current roster and applying it to a wrestling game, the title goes for the nostalgia factor by compiling a roster of close to 40 of the most well-known wrestlers from the '80s and '90s. The throwback to the early days of the WWE goes beyond the wrestlers themselves; you'll see classic ring announcers, changes to the ring décor, and the old TV title cards from WrestleManias 1 to 15. Some of the entrances even use gondolas to transport the wrestlers down the walkway to the ring. The crowd sports different clothing to reflect the time period, depending on when your match is set. Finally, the game adds proper managers to the lineup. Instead of having fellow wrestlers walk to the ring with you, you'll have the likes of Jimmy Hart, Mr. Fuji, and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan by your side and helping you out when you might be in trouble with your match.
As an added bonus, players with saved games from WWE Smackdown Vs. Raw 2009 unlock several different things in this title. This includes the ability to import your created wrestler, unlock a new tier in one of the game modes, and import the near-complete roster from the previous game (minus the female wrestlers and non-wrestlers, like John Cena's friend from his story mode and the zombie wrestlers from The Undertaker's story mode). Considering the amount of content unlocked, this is a great reward for players who have stayed loyal to the series.
Legends of WrestleMania consists of three major modes. The first is the standard exhibition mode, where players can pick any of the legendary wrestlers (with or without a manager) and pit him in any of the available match types, which range from a standard one-on-one match to tag team to steel cage. There are fewer match types compared to previous WWE games, but the ones that are here are more in line with the time period, making it more logical instead of a cut-and-paste job from older games.
Instead of going for a standard single-player story mode to win championships or have a general manager mode, Legends of WrestleMania tries to make the most out of its license with the second game mode, WrestleMania Tour. The game goes through some of the big matches from the first 15 WrestleManias, each one preceded by a video that highlights the hype leading up to the match and important moments from the match. From here, each match is given certain game sub-types. Relive asks that you try to replicate the result of the given match, while Rewrite asks that you change the result of the match. Finally, Redefine takes some of the big matches and adds interesting twists, such as making them ladder matches or turning a steel cage match into a "Hell in a Cell" match. With all the sub-types come objectives that need to be completed in order to unlock the next match. For example, one match may have you make the first strike, taunt the opponent, kick out of a two-count, perform your finisher, and win the match in order to proceed. The objectives differ between matches, and while players may need to retry them a few times to get them done, the nostalgia is definitely worth it.
The final mode in the game is Legend Killer. Here, players can take their created character and pit them against a gauntlet of 10 wrestlers per stage. The reward for all of this is the ability to level up your wrestler based on the moves and actions you perform during these matches. The mode is pretty challenging at first, but since you tend to gain tons of experience in early tiers, it becomes easier as you progress.
Everything mentioned above sounds like the perfect recipe for a nostalgic wrestling game, but a few choices bring down the quality a bit. For starters, the only created items that can be imported are wrestlers. Despite the fact that championship belts can be created in this and the previous game, it's perplexing that the belts can't be imported as well. Another disappointing section is with the wrestler creation system, where it seems as if the developers simply dropped in the old creation system. Nothing new is offered here, and the inclusion of women's outfits when you can't create any female wrestlers feels a bit lazy. Finally, the omission of some legendary wrestlers is something that can't be ignored. While the current roster is big, it is by no means complete. Some are missing due to legal issues, while others are missing because they currently belong to other federations. As a result, guys like Scott Steiner, Mick Foley, and Randy "Macho Man" Savage didn't make the cut, and it's understandable, considering how many hurdles the company would have to go through in order to get a few people.
Multiplayer is a big part of any wrestling game, and it's here in full force. Just about every exhibition mode can be played between two to four people, and the HUD is accommodating enough to prevent a major loss in the viewable area. Online play has just about the same features as offline multiplayer, which is a good sign since some games skimp out on features when going from offline to online. The only issue here is the same one that plagued the previous game: online lag. There have been a few times when lag has interrupted the flow of a match, making users miss out on the timing of some of the moves in the game. It doesn't happen too often, but it is annoying when it does.
If you've only played the WWE Smackdown series on the Xbox 360, prepare for a completely different control scheme than what you're used to. If you preferred the controls of the older WWE Smackdown titles or have played TNA iMPACT! recently, you'll feel right at home with this title. Both the left analog stick and the d-pad are responsible for character movement, while the face buttons are responsible for just about every other move in your arsenal. The X button initiates strikes, the A button handles grapples, the Y button is used for blocks, and the B button handles pins as well as entering and exiting the ring. As limited as this may sound, the simple interface actually becomes easy to use and performs well in most situations. About the only time the controls seem to malfunction is when you want to pin a person, since it seems that the only way the game listens to the command is when you mash the B button.
It would have been nice to have the option to revert to the new Smackdown control scheme, since Xbox 360 owners would already be accustomed to it. Another change present in the control scheme is the presence of Quick Time Events. During the use of special moves or some grapple moves, the game changes to a cinematic viewpoint, where control of player movements is taken away from the gamer. In exchange for this, you must hit certain buttons at the right time in order to execute the given moves. The effect is kind of cool at first, but it happens quite often in matches, and this might turn off some people, especially since these things aren't optional.
The graphics in Legends of WrestleMania are a more stylized version of what was seen in the previous titles, though it's obvious that most of the stuff has been reused before. Aside from the imported wrestlers from WWE Smackdown Vs. Raw 2009, the arenas are exactly the same as they were in the previous title, minus the advertisements. Fortunately, the rest of the arena decorations make you forget that piece of information. The awnings and banners used are pretty spot-on with what was used at those actual events, modified with the newer "old school" WWE logo. The ring is a bit smaller than the modern ones, and it uses the classic red, white and blue ring ropes. Even the padding used for the outside is the classic blue, and the steel steps don't seem detached from the ring this time around.
The wrestlers are a mix between realistic and slightly exaggerated. Some of the faces for guys like "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan, "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase and The Iron Sheik look very real and very good, while guys like Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake and Andre the Giant sport faces that are cartoonish in nature. The same goes for the wrestlers' bodies. Yokozuna, for example, was never a visibly muscular person but here, he has some tone to his arms to accompany his girth. All of the wrestlers still look good, but it would've been nice to see a more unified style to them. The movements are well animated at times and fluid. Little touches, such as facial expressions, are nice to see, and the textures are good as well. The game still has some flaws, however, and it is disappointing to see some that still exist despite the age of the series. The issue of clipping is less prevalent when it comes to the interaction between wrestlers. However, it still exists when wrestlers get near the ring ropes and when some steps are made in the ring itself, though a foot slightly dipping into the ring floor is less noticeable than an entire rope going halfway through a body. Also, while the animations are smooth, especially during the QuickTime events, there's still the occasional bout of jumpy transitions when moves are made. One moment you'll see a wrestler try to throw a punch. The next moment, you'll see a grapple come before the punch is halfway done. Like the clipping, this is an old issue that has seen some improvements but considering that Yuke's has had the game engine for over 10 years now, players expect the issues to have been solved by now.
The sound in Legends of WrestleMania contains a few improvements over the older titles. The sound effects are the same as before, which is great when you consider that the effects were already good in the first place. Slams to the mat have just the right amount of thump to them, and each hit is crisp. The same goes for the sounds of impact made during Hell in a Cell and classic steel cage matches. The music is amazing stuff for fans of old school wrestling because just about every theme song you remember is here, and some are in a higher fidelity than before. This doesn't just apply to the themes for "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock, but also for Hulk Hogan and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper.
Voices are limited to three main entities, but they deliver very well here. Howard Finkel, also known as The Fink, is probably one of the most well-known ring announcers of the era, and he does a great job announcing all of the wrestlers, especially during title changes. Unlike his counterparts in the more recent WWE games, he doesn't make odd pauses or end in improper tones. The choice of Jerry "The King" Lawler and Jim Ross as the announcing team is a bit odd since most of the wrestlers and matches pre-date them as an announcing team, but they do a good job of making the commentary exciting. This is especially true of the matches outside of exhibition, where they talk about the wrestlers in a little bit of detail just like they did in WWE Smackdown Vs. Raw 2009.
Unfortunately, the audio starts to suffer a bit from volume changes, and you can begin to tell just which parts came from the old game and what is new material. Just like the previous title, the commentary really begins to fall apart during Royal Rumble matches. Too often, the announce team will call a guy as being eliminated when he's still hanging on the ropes, breaking the illusion of realism in the audio department. Finally, it's a shame that they didn't capture the voice of one more person. Anytime you have an entrance with Jimmy Hart as the manager, the only other voice you can hear is Howard Finkel. One of Jimmy Hart's trademarks is the megaphone he'd always brandish to hype up his wrestler. It's both odd and sad to see Hart come down to the ring with that same megaphone but without any voices coming out, even if it couldn't be heard intelligibly during the original TV broadcasts.
Make no mistake: WWE Legends of WrestleMania isn't the huge improvement over WWE Smackdown Vs. Raw 2009 that one was expecting. As mentioned before, clipping is still a big issue with some of the hairstyles and the ropes, and the commentary is all over the place during some match types. However, the game offers so much that it can't be written off as an old game with a new coat of paint on it. A simpler control scheme makes it a bit more accessible for some players, and the addition of the present-day roster makes it a game with a longer-than-expected shelf life. For those who don't like the current WWE games all that much, this would be a great rental. For fans who already own SvR 2009, Legends of WrestleMania makes for a great companion piece — or perhaps a replacement.
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