WWE Legends of Wrestlemania Xbox 360, PS3 Review

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This year, WWE will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of their flagship show – Wrestlemania. Over the last quarter of a century, it has been the biggest stage for professional wrestlers to show the world what they are capable of – good and bad.

This is also somewhat of a landmark title for THQ, too. It is the first “spin-off” from their annual Smackdown vs. Raw franchise, which for the last few years has been taking two steps backwards for every step forward it makes. Each yearly release has only added a few minor tweaks to the engine, changing up the roster and adding a few new match types, but failing to address some of the fundamental problems that exist within the actual gameplay. As a wrestling fan, it failed to capture the back and forth battles and storytelling a good match should have, while as a gamer, it feels like a sloppy, over-complicated mess.

Legends of Wrestlemania goes some way to correcting these issues. Knowing full well that the audience for this game could, potentially at least, be bigger than the average Smackdown game, due to the nostalgia value, the controls are much more streamlined for accessibility. Previously, all the grappling and moves were pulled off with various pushes on the right stick, jabbing away at the left and right shoulder buttons to counter grabs and strikes, with a ridiculously small window for success. In Legends of Wrestlemania, use of the right stick and shoulder buttons has been removed completely. Instead everything has been mapped to the four face buttons, leading to a more “arcade style” system.

Grappling an enemy while stunned will initiate a “chain” sequence. Here a short quick-time event takes place where the fastest player to the button press comes out on top. This leads to some interesting reversals, rather than the constant jabbing at the triggers normally needed to counter a move. It still takes a bit of time to get used to, but it is far less intimidating than the usual Smackdown vs. Raw setup, leaving something newcomers and casuals will be able to get into, without completely alienating the hardcore.

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The gameplay has also seen some tightening up since the last release. My two major gripes with Smackdown vs. Raw were the “flow” of the match being nonexistent and the insistence on having individual wrestler “ratings”. The flow is something that you will see watching any wrestling on TV. Every match builds to a finish, usually with one of the participants hitting the other with their chosen “finishing move”. During this time, you’ll have a bit of back and forth between the two, toying with the crowd’s emotions and occasionally performing some of their own well-known holds and slams, increasing in impact until the very end. It is emotional masturbation, only with slightly less guilt. The problem with recent Smackdown games is that you could come out of your corner, throwing absolutely everything in your arsenal at your opponent, before finally hitting your finisher. The issue I have with wrestlers having statistic ratings is a simple one – you’ve got a fighting game here, essentially, so why have some characters that are OBVIOUSLY better than others? It doesn’t even try to hide the fact that it is completely unbalanced, leading to some truly frustrating matches against WWE superstar John Cena, who can take several finishers and kick out of a pin without even batting an eyelid – yet one of his will put away the sodding UNDERTAKER.

“Legends” deals with both of these issues with the inclusion of two new bars in the corners of the screen. The first of which is your “health” – take a beating and it will decrease, making it harder to get up after a vicious slam and making kicking out of a pin much more difficult to pull off. Being pinned brings up a meter, not unlike the ones seen in a golf game, and you fill it by hammering the buttons. Reaching a certain highlighted area within the three count will cause you to kick out of the pinfall attempt. This area gets further away and smaller in relation to how much health you have, as well as how quickly the meter will fill when bashing away. If you know you won’t be able to reach the escape spot, you can hold down any button, which will fill the meter quickly, but if you don’t time the release correctly and miss the area, you’re pretty much screwed. This puts more of an emphasis on skill, rather than statistics, and means that even though Hulk Hogan may do more and take less damage than other wrestlers, he will stay down for the count if you rough him up enough.

The other meter is broken into three different sections. Damaging your opponent will start to fill it – fill it to the top and the next section will become “active”. With each one, you will be able to pull off more damaging moves, and all three lit up will allow you to use your chosen wrestler’s finisher. This means that matches feel a lot more like a wrestling match, with build and pacing, as opposed to a fighting game full of old WWE guys.

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Another huge improvement is the presentation. The menus are still dull and functional, while the graphics are still excellent looking; however, for the first time, THQ have been given access to the WWE’s vast footage archive, leading to some incredible video packages detailing the build up before each match in the Wrestlemania Tour mode. These really make each individual match seem important (seriously, WWE’s production team could make a video of me taking a dump seem like the single most important event in history), as well as giving you clues as to what goals to expect in the match.

The main meat of the game is the Wrestlemania Tour mode, where you have three options. “Relive”, “Rewrite” and “Redefine”, allowing you to replay classic encounters just like they happened, change the outcome or even with completely different rules. Take Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan from Wrestlemania VI, for instance. In what was an epic clash of the titans, the Ultimate Warrior managed to overcome Hogan and win the World title. In Legends of Wrestlemania, it isn’t enough to just beat the computer to progress; you’ve got to recreate the famous matches scene by scene. Some of these are fairly simple – grappling Andre the Giant with a level 3 power bar will have Hogan perform the famous slam on him – but some involve a lot more risk taking. For instance, dodging enemy finishers are a particularly tough one to crack, as one mistake will put you in danger of being pinned, and subsequently, losing the match and goals achieved – just enough risk/reward to keep things fun and challenging.

Despite these improvements, there isn’t much to Legends of Wrestlemania. A few sessions will see you through the main mode – even achieving all of the required goals in the process. Also, in the “Rewrite” and “Redefine” modes, the goals are a bit lacking, mainly due to the fact that the matches didn’t actually take place, so there are no historical moments to recreate. Instead, they’re replaced with simplistic tasks such as “use a finisher” or “perform five reversals”. It wouldn’t have taken much to think up some more creative spots for these fictional confrontations, but unfortunately, both modes are left with a bunch of uncompelling tasks to complete just to progress. Multiplayer is still fun, with all of the usual match modes on offer, but lacks depth. Once you’ve been through each type of matchup a few times, there is little here that will keep even the most hardened wrestling fans coming back for more than a few sessions.

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It is also worth mentioning the genius option to import the entire roster of current wrestlers and custom characters from the latest Smackdown vs. Raw title. Providing you have a save game on your system, you can set up dream matches between superstars past and present. If the option to see CM Punk vs. Mr. Perfect doesn’t excite, then perhaps the biggest strength of this game is going to be lost on you.

That’s the thing, although Legends of Wrestlemania is a definite improvement over the previous Smackdown vs. Raw release and a definite step in the right direction for the future of the series, for those who aren’t particularly fussed about wrestling, this is nothing more than a campy, entertaining distraction. Those of you who do know your Ric Flairs from your Rick Rudes, this is a decent jaunt through the history of the biggest wrestling company on the planet, but the lack of depth means it just falls short of an essential purchase.

6/10

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Version tested: PS3, Xbox 360

Developer: Yuke's

Publisher: THQ

Genre: Wrestling

Players: 1-4