When THQ revealed its WWE spin-off, WWE Legends of Wrestlemania, one thing went through my mind. I know these brawlers. Hazy TV memories flooded back of the Hulkster stomping around his ring, Ultimate Warrior delivering sermons from the turn buckle and Andre the Giant, well, looking big. Very big. Back in the day there were no average Joes in trunks, no faceless pecked-up meatheads banging on about ‘real wrestling’. WWE was an event run by the biggest showmen in the business and if it didn’t come wrapped in a dayglo feather bower, then it had no place even being in WWE. Good times. What’s great about Legends of Wrestlemania is that it takes all this on board, and more. It doesn’t aim to be ‘real’ – it just wants to be fun. Gameplay has been stripped back to a simple four-button combo system; melee attack, grapple, Irish Whip and counter are all performed on the face buttons.
Fans of the recent SmackDown vs Raw games may balk at this simplicity, but THQ’s juggernaut has become an over-complex mess of button combos, Quick Time Events (QTE) and context-sensitive attacks that leave you feeling like a spectator. Legends of Wrestlemania may be simple by comparison, but the aim is to put you right back in the heart of the action. There’s even a health bar. It’s an obvious thing, but for gamers who don’t usually pay to view a WWE game, a health bar is a must. I’ve spent years watching notches being knocked off my health in Street Fighter, Tekken and Soul Calibur and am thankful that, like Midway’s forthcoming TNA iMPACT!, it has made a return to wrestling. The bar goes from solid gold to bright red – at which point your opponent is pin-able. There are no cheap stamina bars here.
More importantly, under the health bar are three numbers. These represent your combo strings and determine the grapple moves you can perform. If you land a couple of punches and kicks, then move into a headlock via a well-placed flying elbow, this will ping the number all the way to ‘2’ enabling you to perform a crunching body slam. Further un-countered combos will light up the ‘3’ and send the crowd wild (press-bulbs flash, men in USA T-shirts cheer and the guy on the other end of your success winces in pain). This is when you can access your wrestler’s signature moves and finish the fight. The system isn’t quite that straightforward either. As you attempt to land your combos, the screen will flash prompting your opponent to hit his counter button. Get the timing wrong and you’ll be reversed and put in all kinds of pain. It’s a simple set-up, but one that’s accessible and wholly relies on the risk/reward of combos and counters. Time will tell if Yukes has got the balance right.
In keeping with the game’s old-school simplicity, the wrestlers have been remodeled. These aren’t realistically rendered athletes, they’re big, hulking cartoon brutes; larger than life heroes of yesteryear with biceps the size of a small tree and with boggled-eyed expressions they deliver the blows. Hulk Hogan is a muscular toffee apple, an orange-tanned mound of muscle with 24-inch pythons sitting atop two stick legs. Hulk Hogan looks good. The ring looks smaller too, the camera is kept low and zoomed in on the action to give you that old TV feel. The view rarely zooms out, and when it does, it’s to reveal the crowd; pumped and wild for the ring action; Hulkamania foam fingers held aloft by men in pink tie-dye Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart T-shirts.
Your opponent isn’t your only adversary either, as the Eighties and Nineties-era Wrestlemania was a time of cheats and scoundrels, people Gran could shout at. The likes of Andre the Giant had helpers. In the Giant’s case, it was manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. In the game, Bobby is on hand to deliver a sneaky blow. If you get thrown into a corner, Bobby will grab your feet and pull you over, leaving you vulnerable to attack. You can keep him in check, smacking him off the ropes if he gets too close. Again, balance will be the key to whether these sidekicks become frustrating or a playful addition. THQ’s hope is that wrestling fans who have fallen away from SmackDown Vs Raw may give WWE another look when Hulk Hogan and the team return to the ring next year. At least we can all recognize who’s on the tin and what they represent: old fashioned fun.
Sep 17, 2008