Forget the WWE, WWC and (to a lesser extent) the XFL. For those of us who miss the old-school style of 80s entertainment known as “wrestling,” Acclaim has listened to our fond memories of the classic WWF and brought us Showdown: Legends of Wrestling. Legends like Andre, The Giant, Hulk Hogan, the Junkyard Dog … and let us not forget “Kaufman” the comedian who thought he could take on the big dudes.
But unlike the classic WWF days, where fans didn’t care about the legitimacy of the matches because the production and entertainment values were just so good, Legends falls right onto the mat. I kid you not, there’s nothing here that a top-tier PS One developer couldn’t pull off. From gameplay to graphics to sound, Legends gives off the distinct impression that so much time was spent licensing classic wrestlers that the developers didn’t have the chance to make an equally classic game.
It all begins with the controls. The old-school wrestlers Legends tries to emulate were fast, furious and energized. But controlling those wrestlers’ digital counterparts is so sluggish it’s frustrating. You’ll swear you pressed the block button, but your character will just stand there waiting to receive the blow. You’ll swear you pressed the counter button, but your character will just stand there breathing heavily like he’s had too much milk. You’ll even swear you moved your character in the opposite direction, but again, he’ll just stand there waiting for an invitation to the dance.
This may be fun for the opponent pulling off an insane combo on your face, but it really turns the game into a button masher as you try to see who has the fastest hands. A game like this should have solid control, almost in an arcade sense. In Legends’ defense, the game does offer a wealth of combinations, but the controls are so unresponsive that it’s hard to actually pull them off. Couple that with the “ghost hitting,” whereby you’ll get smacked even when the opponent is nowhere near you, and you’ll really get the feeling this match is rigged.
Trying to keep people interested, the developers gave players an army of wrestlers to choose from. All your favorites are included, with a few added personalities like Andy Kaufman and Mr. T. Interestingly, though, each wrestler controls and respond essentially the same, rendering your character choice little more than choosing “skins.” For example, Andy Kaufman, a wafer-thin sapling of a man, doesn’t run or hit and faster than George “The Animal” Steele, a hairy ogre of a man if ever there was one. Some of the most classic WWF moments pitted fast versus slow, strong versus weak, and that provided endless entertainment. But Legends of Wrestling captures none of it.
The game does capture the general likeness of each wrestler, which is quite an achievement given the number characters at your disposal. But the outdated graphics are simply unacceptable, especially when we all know what the Xbox is capable of pulling off. During the over-the-top introductions before each match, you’ll notice major clipping, poor transitions between animations and a drab color palette. And it doesn’t get much better when the actual wrestling starts. The arenas themselves offer little more than occasional lighting with a lot of empty space, and the crowd comes off as three-frame animation cut-outs.
Maybe the audio improves things, right? After all, when I think of wrestling, I think it should be boisterous and in your face. No such luck. Instead of real instruments, the music sounds like a midi file you’d have looping on your personal Web page (in 1996). The color commentators are authentic, with one that could very well be Bobby the Brain Heenan, but the comments themselves are repetitive and seem to have no idea what is really going on. Add to that the silent moments where you can actually decipher when the crowd noise loops, and the audio in Legends is as underwhelming as finding out that Rowdy Roddy Piper wore spandex under his kilt.
Up to four players can wrestle at the same time, which makes for some fun multiplayer action, but the inability of the controls to accommodate anything more than button-mashing may force players to put in a fighting game like Dead or Alive 3 or MK: Deadly Alliance.
And that, dear readers, is the summary of what happens when a game with such great potential fails in almost every way to live up to it. There’s little that’s actually appealing to Showdown: Legends of Wrestling other than the nostalgic feeling you’ll get at the character-select screen. It’s undeniably cool to pick your favorite wrestlers from yesteryear, but as soon as the actual gameplay kicks in, the lack of attention given to this title quickly chills all those warm fuzzies. It must have cost Acclaim a lot of money to license all these names; why they didn’t take the time to hone the controls, build a solid graphics engine and spend more time on the sounds is beyond me. Even if you’re a big wresting fan, you’d be better off to wait for the next incarnation of Backyard Wrestling.
- Gameplay: 3
- Poor control and major cheap shots does not make a fun game.
- Graphics: 3
- I could handle clipping during the PS1 days, not now.
- Sound: 2
- Ever had one of those Casio keyboards? Yeah, it’s that bad.
- Replay: 4
- Unlockable characters, four-player support, but little else.
- Overall: 3
- This game should have focused on gameplay first, not licensing. Better luck next time.
— Jason Thomas