Professional wrestling has been a beloved form of entertainment for well over a century, and one of the high points of the art was at beginning of our millennium, with WWF’s Attitude Era. With such stars as Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Mankind, The Undertaker, and Kurt Angle rising in popularity, pro wrestling was a veritable cash cow. That being said, with such a long and illustrious history (particularly during the 70s, 80s, and 90s), there was a considerable amount of room for nostalgia. What better way to celebrate the history of wrestling than with a video game that has some of the most popular and memorable wrestlers of the past back in their prime and ready to beat the crap out of each other? That’s where Acclaim stepped in with Legends of Wrestling.
Bringing together stars from the WWF, WCW, ECW, NWA, and various smaller promotions, Legends is a grab bag of wrestling greats, such as cover star Hulk Hogan, Bret “Hitman” Hart, The Iron Sheik, “Mr. USA” Tony Atlas, Mr. Fuji, The Road Warriors, the Von Erich Family, “The Bird Man” Koko B. Ware, “Captain” Lou Albano, and many, many more. For those that are searching for one place to see all their favorites, Legends of Wrestling is a great offering. Every wrestler is modeled in peak physical shape, and it’s thrilling to see them all in the ring again.
There’s a multitude of game modes available for players, including Exhibition matches, which can be further customised as standard versus match, 3 Way or 4 Way Dance, or Tag Team Matches. You can also follow a solo wrestler through their own Career across the United States, before moving across the World Region for a shot at the Ultimate heavyweight belt. There’s even a Tournament mode, which can be set up as standard versus, Tag Team, or Tag Belt modes. On top of all of that, there’s even a pretty good Create-A-Legend menu, where you can, well, create your own legend, which you can then use in every other game mode.
Everything seems like it comes together in a great package until you reach the game controls, and that’s where everything starts to fall apart. Physics glitches aside – wrestlers routinely clip through the ropes – the movement is limited, as your character is locked on to your opponent. Moving left or right to get out of the way of attacks is near impossible, and the dedicated run button only works half of the time. There are multiple ways to address combat, including grapples, strikes, standard attacks, and blocks which can become counters. You need plenty of room to perform moves, so if you’re the one with their back up against the turnbuckle, your only option is to punch your way out. While performing any of these, you can frequently time a button press based on the Combo/Reversal Meter and time combos or reversals. Unfortunately, nothing in this game is particularly precise, so these button presses and combo attempts usually just fall short.
Sometimes everything comes together and it’s a great moment, such as when the game turns to bullet time while performing a move, or when you first get your hands on a weapon. Quickly though, you realize that bullet time moments are few and far between, and the weapons are overpowered to the point of ridiculous. If you can get your opponent out of the ring and your hands on a 2×4, you can spam your way to victory.
The moves list and animations is largely the same wrestler to wrestler, meaning that for the most part, you’ll be choosing a character based on aesthetics. There are some obvious exclusions, such as during finishers and taunts, as well as wrestler-specific differences, like how Rob Van Dam only strikes with kicks instead of punches. Because of this, the more you play, the more bored you become with the visuals of the game. Since most things look the same, you notice that the crowd isn’t really there, and is made of cardboard, which as we’ve discussed before, is a smart idea in terms of design but a sad idea in terms of immersion.
Legends of Wrestling was the first wrestling title released on the GameCube, and six more would be released for the platform, including Legends of Wrestling II, which we’ll talk about in episode 164. In the end, this first game received mixed reviews, and in terms of properly representing the sport, was seen as a disappointment.
Did you ever play Legends of Wrestling? What did you think of it? What did you like or hate about the game?
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