WWE Legends of WrestleMania
Back in the late 80s and early 90s, wrestling was all the rage. Grappling greats like Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker and Ultimate Warrior made all the pretend fighting genuinely exciting, producing some truly memorable matches. Wrestling might be dismissed by some people as stupidly overblown, completely ridiculous and ever so slightly camp, but remembering the good old days, way back when the WWE was known as the WWF and Hulkamania gripped the whole world (it did, honest), we can't help but feel a warm twinge of nostalgia for the popular pseudo-sport, even though the logical part of our brain abhors it. WWE Legends of WrestleMania is the game for all of those misty-eyed fans who remember growing up with American wrestling on TV, playing with WWF action figures in the playground and trading WWF cards with their friends. Almost every single one of the most famous and recognisable wrestling stars from the early 90s all the way up to the end of the decade are featured in the game, along with a few you might not recall so well (Greg Valentine, anyone?).
That's a total roster of 38 legendary WWF Superstars, from Andre the Giant to more recently retired brawlers like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. That's a lot of wrestlers to choose from and a lot of rose-tinted memories to rediscover. For the truly fervent WWF fan, Legends features the WrestleMania Tour mode, which actually allows you to relive, rewrite or redefine classic WrestleMania clashes, complete with specific objectives to perform in order to play out the same sequence of events. The more objectives you fulfil, the more points you earn, winning you medals and unlocking alternate costumes for each wrestler. Each bout is preceded by a brief video of the actual event, showing the build up to the match itself followed by a highlight reel of the ensuing choreographed madness. For wrestling fans, this will be a real joy with genuine footage of classic match ups available to view whenever you want once you've cleared the in-game version of the event. Collecting every medal and re-enacting every moment to meet the required objectives will require perseverance too, meaning that only the dedicated will unlock absolutely everything.
In addition to the core WrestleMania Tour mode, there is also the usual array of Exhibition matches that you'll have come to expect from every WWE game. Tag Team, Ladder Matches, Iron Man, Hell in a Cell and Royal Rumble all feature meaning you have plenty of options, especially in multiplayer. In single-player, there isn't really a huge amount of encouragement to play the Exhibition Modes, as the core game modes are where the real rewards lie, which is a bit of a shame. Legend Killer is the second main game type in Legends and is principally a round of survival where you have to take on several tiers of wrestlers in one continuous sequence with your created wrestler. To begin with you have to clear four tiers of 10 opponents in succession with your health carried over between rounds. Succeed and you'll unlock the next tier until you reach the final All Star tier where you have to take on every wrestler in the game one after the other. You might need to set aside a good 90 minutes or so for that one.
Victory in these endurance testing Legend Killer challenges requires you to upgrade your created wrestler's attributes after each successfully completed tier. For every round you complete, you gain EXP points that can then be used to enhance your fighter with the goal being to level up to 99 points, which sadly doesn't take all that long. Conceiving your own burgeoning superstar in the game's Create-A-Legend mode is as comprehensive as ever, although this time around there's no option to create a female wrestler since no women took part in the WWF back in the 80s and 90s (none that we remember anyway). Still, there's the usual plethora of customisation options to tweak to your heart's content including horribly garish accessories, skin-tight Lycra leotards and the ability to stretch and contort your creation's facial features and physique into a hunched, mutant abomination should you desire. You can then add your character's own set of moves, ring entrance and crowd signs as usual, imbuing him with his very own identity.
Visually, Legends looks incredibly accomplished with every likeness absolutely spot-on right down to the tiniest detail; right down to the film of glistening sweat that builds up during each fight. Even your most bizarre creations spawned from the Create-A-Legend mode somehow manage to fit in and look the part. Every ring entrance, theme tune and special move has made it into the game intact for each legendary grappler too, so they all look and behave just like the genuine article. Playing the game itself has also been tightened up and refined considerably making for possibly the most intuitive and accessible control system yet. There're no overly complicated button combinations to learn and executing grapples, strikes, taunts and finishers is a snap. There is however a slight over-reliance on button matching QTE events, but then these are competitive at least, meaning that it's the quickest player who always wins out. Thankfully though, these simple QTEs only utilise the controller's face buttons, so there's no having to reach for the triggers, blowing the entire sequence and throwing the pad through your TV as is standard practice with Quick Time Events. There's a nice ebb and flow to Legends' fights too, even when interrupted intermittently by the odd QTE. Unimpeded by the conventionally slower pace of most wrestling games, the action is refreshingly fast and fluid making for fun and enjoyable arcade-style bouts.
Legends of WrestleMania might be sounding like it's all breathlessly positive so far, but there's one pretty serious problem with the game. Essentially, Legends feels like more of an expansion pack than a full game and positioning it as such just doesn't seem right. At the very most, there's roughly three days worth of play to be had from the game in single-player, which can be expanded if you own SmackDown Vs. Raw 2009, as you can connect the two games and access both rosters simultaneously allowing you to pit modern wrestlers against the legends. If however you intend to buy Legends alone, be warned that there's no story mode, half a create mode (due to the lack of female wrestlers) and very little replay value once you've completed the Legend Killer and Tour sections.
It's a real shame that Legends of WrestleMania turns out to be such a slight affair as otherwise it's quite possibly the best wrestling game that developer Yuke's has made in a long time. The control system is a genuine improvement over previous efforts and the strong roster of legends is highly appealing. Had Yuke's fleshed out the WrestleMania Tour portion of the game into a fully-fledged story mode, this could have been something pretty special. As it stands however, Legends simply feels like an incomplete experience, which is a real shame and a major missed opportunity. There's life in the game's multiplayer in both local and online flavours, but then SmackDown vs. Raw boasts all of the same options and still manages to include an in-depth single-player campaign. When SmackDown vs. Raw offers the complete package; it's hard to justify Legends' comparative lack of longevity. Nevertheless, if Hulkamania is still running wild on you to this day, then you may overlook this massive oversight, which means you'll be in for a bite-sized nostalgic treat.