IGN Review of Tournament of Legends
There was a time in the PlayStation/Nintendo 64/SEGA Saturn era, when developers were shifting into the world of 3D for fighting designs. Japanese studios had it nailed: Virtua Fighter, Tekken, Soul Blade, and -- to a lesser extent -- Battle Arena Toshinden and Tobal No. 1 were excellent additions that evolved the genre. That success drove western developers to make their own attempt at original fighter franchises: War Gods, Bio Freaks, Mace: The Dark Age and Dark Rift. Dreadful, unremarkable fighters with ridiculous and completely forgettable character designs.
That's exactly what playing Tournament of Legends feels like: an archaic throwback to the forgettable cash-in Western fighters of two generations ago. While there's certainly some enjoyment to be had in this fighter, Tournament of Legends is so late to the party the cleaning crew has already swept up the confetti.
Tournament of Legends, developed by High Voltage Software (best known for its work on The Conduit), originally began as an uber-violent arena fighter called Gladiator A.D., but somewhere down the line it shifted direction, adopting a brighter style and lighter tone with an assortment of fighters that incorporate all walks of mythology. But the problems with Tournament of Legends don't lie within a shift in grit or reduction of violence: it's just not a very engaging or remarkable fighting game, nor does it stand out as a high quality Wii title.
Characters range from a generic (albeit overzealous) Roman gladiator to a muscle-bound Minotaur -- even a mechanical man and his controlling creator. Though there's a decent line-up of characters with a wide variety of designs in Tournament of Legends, none are memorable or even all that likeable. Even when you can tolerate a specific character, it really starts to wane as the fight continues on because you have to hear the same voiced taunts over and over again.
The fighting depends on combining buttons with Wii Remote and Nunchuk thrusts. It's more about timing a swing or a block than it is about button mashing -- in fact, because the attacks are intentionally sluggish in order to be easily read by the opponent, this is one of the few games that cannot be successfully button-mashed.
I suppose that's a good thing because it's all about reading the opponent and knowing when to block and when to strike. Unfortunately with a defense-heavy combat system it turns into "wait for the other person to attack" types of battles, especially with a human opponent that knows what he's doing. At least the special attack system keeps things moving with unblockable attacks unique to the chosen fighter, as well as one that's specific to the weapon he or she wields. But "unblockable" adds to the cheapness of some moves, so overall the system isn't balanced as well as it should be.
The fighting system is unique to Tournament of Legends, which is why it's offputting that the designers didn't force players into a tutorial system to learn all the different moves. Instead, players have to discover a canned, non-interactive video in the game's practice mode to understand how it all works.
There are, admittedly, some good ideas here: you can unlock another character's special power-up after a fight, and you can also unlock other characters' weapons and switch them out before the start of a new round. At the very least that's encouragement to play through the single-player campaign multiple times to open up all the powers and weapons for each fighter.
Fights are best of three and the battles are strung together with only a pause in between to let a fallen fighter up, or to give both fighters a break, Punch-out style. Both interruptions of play enable unnecessary and occasionally broken mini-games that will power-up your character. Tournament of Legends may focus on remote and nunchuk motions for fighting, but these mini-games really show just how wonky and unresponsive the accelerometers can get: even though I can see that the game recognizes an up/down drumming motion with close to a hundred percent accuracy, I can never get the game to see when I give the controls a specific, quick upwards thrust on the nunchuk with a downward thrust on the remote during a taunt -- it fails 90 percent of the time. Perhaps that's one of the driving forces behind adding Classic Controller support, but even here the simplistic analog stick motions show how completely unnecessary these mini-games really are.
I can appreciate the arena-specific happenings that occur randomly during a bout, but I really don't enjoy how they've been handled. It's common in Tournament of Legends to, for example, avoid a five hundred foot tall colossus tromping through the fighting grounds or Neptune's gargantuan trident stabbing down into the arena, but these occur completely separate from the fight and totally interrupt the flow. Instead of being integrated into the battle, they instead awkwardly pull the fighters out of their one-on-one brawl and have them stand shoulder to shoulder to fend off the scripted event with unnecessary controller motions. It feels totally out of place for a fighting game.
The game can't even fall upon the "it looks good for a Wii" excuse because, honestly, it doesn't. Tournament of Legends might have some decent character models and arenas, but the detail is completely lost in a mess of low resolution, standard definition texture work and oversaturated lighting effects. Adding to the weak appearance is a game engine that barely holds at 30 frames per second in a genre where 60 FPS is king. Granted Wii is far from the "current generation" of HD systems, but when the original Dreamcast Soul Calibur can outperform a game developed a decade later on stronger hardware, that's a problem.
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