Showdown: Legends of Wrestling Review

Review Format:

Playstation 2

The last two Legends of Wrestling games were greeted with indifference amongst wrestling fans. Old school followers relished the idea, but had to put up with inaccurate caricatures of their childhood grappling heroes and limited match options. This time round, Acclaim’s Austin Texas office has taken charge to produce “Showdown: Legends of Wrestling”.

One of the series’ most impressive features has always been the roster, and this year is certainly no exception. With a line-up including 73 legends such as Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, Macho Man Randy Savage, Andre The Giant, Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Sting, it is hard not to be impressed. There is also a great selection of classic tag team such as The Steiner Brothers, British Bulldogs, and the Legion of Doom. Managers such as Jimmy Hart, Bobby “The brain” heenan and Mr Fuji are on hand to escort wrestlers to the ring. While the polygon count for each character model has been significantly increased, they still appear larger then life and cartoon-like.

Taking a different approach to Legends of Wrestling 2’s story mode, where you had to travel to different territories to win belts, this time you get to advance through different time eras, taking on key superstars from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Wrestlers are all supplied with four different costumes, representing different stages and key gimmicks from their respective careers. As you progress through the Showdown challenge, your character will change appearance to fit with the times. A number of written storylines pop up along the way, manifesting in pre-match loading screens. There are fifteen matches in total, culminating in a title match against Hulk Hogan himself.

Unlike most season modes, the Showdown Challenge is surprisingly short, and I managed to complete it in less than two hours. I decided to ask the games producer Justin Withers why the mode was so short, and he offered an explanation that it gave you the chance to complete the Challenge with a variety of different wrestlers. Fair enough, but without any extra content to unlock or bonus movies to watch, there is little reason to replay through the mode.

More interesting is the Classic Match Mode. Here you get to revisit legendary battles mid-match, giving you the option to re-write history. Each fight starts during a pivotal moment, such as when Randy Savage was about to drop a finishing elbow on Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat at Wrestlemania 5. From here you can choose to re-enact the rest of the match, or play out your own ending. Each match begins with a detailed history of the feud, and events leading up to the starting point in the match. Other classic matches include Bret Hart versus his brother Owen, Andy Kaufman vs. Jerry “The King” Lawler, Sting vs. Diamond Dallas Page, and Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant. There are fifteen rivalries in total, and certain ones must be completed before you can unlock the rest. Once again, there are no bonuses for completing the mode.

Up to four players can take part in a variety of standard exhibition matches, including hardcore, cage, table, ladder match, 2 to 4 man Tag matches, Iron man, 2 out of 3 falls, First Blood or Battle Royal. Each has different rule parameters and objectives to gain the victory. You can also set up a standard or tag tournament for up to 16 wrestlers.

Matches take place in a number of World famous arenas, including the Pontiac Silverdome, Maple Leaf Gardens, Tokyo Dome, Cow Palace, Sky Dome and Wembley Stadium. Each has been home to a variety of historic wrestling events, with Madison Square Garden’s ring apron even resembling the one from Wrestlemania 1.

The Create A Legend feature offers the chance to design your own custom-built wrestler. Here you can adjust the appearance, height, weight, costume, gender, move set, profile and entrance. This creation tool is in no way as in-depth as THQ’s Smackdown series. With only nine different faces to select, you are somewhat limited to how varied your created wrestlers can be. Thankfully you can also choose to edit any of the 73 legends in the game to your liking. Amongst the available masks and clothing are a number of items that bare an uncanny resemblance to costumes worn by past and present WWE Superstars. Therefore it is not impossible to loosely recreate Kane, the Big Boss Man, or even Doink the Clown, with little complication.

For newcomers, there is a series of video tutorials highlighting all the key areas of game play. Narrated by Bret “The Hitman” Hart, you can learn everything from basic grapples to building momentum and executing a finisher. Each of the eight tutorials is short, and will teach you the fundamentals in no time.

The “Ready to Brawl” control system is fairly easy to pick up. You can perform standard strikes, quick attacks, and moves performed from a grapple position. Calling extra help from backstage, acquiring weapons from under the ring, and performing devastating Finishers can all be achieved with the press of a button. Considered too complex by some, the ambitious ISP control system from Legends of Wrestling 2 has been regrettably removed. This enabled you to link moves together, and made countering moves a mini-game in its own right. The controls are still pretty intuitive, and it won’t be long before you can pull off some impressive, crowd-pleasing manoeuvres.

“The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart helped compose the music, which consists of a variety of 80’s inspired Rock tracks and sound-a-like entrance themes. Matches are introduced by Gary Michael Cappeta, who provides each wrestlers hometown, weight, and name. There are a variety of selectable names in the “Create-A-Legend” feature that also allow created wrestlers to be introduced.
Tony Shiavone leads a three-man commentary team with Larry Zbyszko and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. In addition to play-by-play commentary, the trio provide nuggets of information regarding each of the wrestlers, and talk amongst themselves. Like most commentaries of this type, it’s not long however before the dialogue becomes repetitive.

Showdown suffers from a great number of collision detection and graphical glitches. While performing a move, the wrestlers often become detached, leaving your opponent to continue the animation unaided in mid-air. On another occasion I kicked out of a pin attempt, but my opponent continued in the pinning position, and I bizarrely lost the match while standing on the other side of the ring. In fact, I have yet to experience a match without at least one collision detection problem. Weapons suffer from a number of gravity-defying bugs too, with one such example occurring during a ladder match. While setting up a ladder in the ring for my climb to victory, an opponent kicked it out of my hands, sending the ladder spiralling in the air for five seconds.

Showdown Legends of Wrestling is an admittedly fun, arcade-style wrestling title that will best be appreciated by old school fans. Limited replay value and numerous bugs give the game an unfinished feel, and the series still has a long way to go before it can step into the ring with the mighty WWE Smackdown series. That said, Showdown is a game of great potential, and well worth checking out for a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

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