When WWE Legends of WrestleMania was announced last year, it caught a lot of fans off guard. For years, classic WWE Superstars had been popping up as unlockables in the WWE SmackDown vs. Raw franchise and everyone seemed happy enough with that arrangement. The message from the cynics was simple: if THQ wanted to rock the boat, it better bring the thunder and make it clear why this Legends title needed to exist.
After putting in a ton of mat time, I don't think those cynics will be satisfied.
Packing 38 Superstars such as the Ultimate Warrior and Jake "The Snake" Roberts, as well as four managers such as Jimmy Hart and Mr. Fuji, Legends aims at giving you a dose of WWE nostalgia by having 16 classic arenas, lots of historic video and a number of gameplay modes. However, the best place to start talking about Legends is probably with the control scheme.
Our video review was King of the Ring in 1998.
Now, if you're one of those rabid SmackDown vs. Raw fans that instant message me year-round and troll the IGN boards ready to flame anyone that says WWE games are lame, you might be shocked to discover that this game isn't aimed directly at you -- at least not in terms of gameplay. While SVR has a complicated, deep control scheme, Legends sticks to the face buttons. That's right, four buttons (strike, grapple, block, action) are all you need to control this game. It's a move that's aimed at wrangling those casual gamers that seem to be floating around the fringe of the industry; THQ hopes people see Hogan and Big Bossman, feel like this scheme isn't intimidating and pick up the game.
For me, it just doesn't work.
Chief among my complaints is that the scheme leads to matches not feeling exciting. Yeah, I know that Kamala and Dusty Rhodes were never known for blazing speed, but playing Legends isn't as simple as grappling, striking and so on. Sure, the punches, kicks and grabs move just like SVR, but often times you'll start moves that lead to chain grapples -- basically quicktime events. A move starts, lumbers around the ring and you need to hit the button on the screen to keep it going. A handful of chains don't give you a specific prompt, but instead let you choose which face button you want to hit when the screen flashes blue.
Of course, if you're getting this move done to you, you can hit the onscreen button and reverse the move. While you're pulling off these moves, you're building a momentum meter underneath your name. When you fill the meter, you move to the level two meter. Fill that, and you'll move to the level three meter and can unleash your finisher at anytime (every finisher is a chain and starts from the standing position). Each one of these tiers has different moves that tend to be more powerful.
This whole chain grapple pacing just feels off to me -- it doesn't feel like a real wrestling match. You hit your finisher and you're immediately back to momentum level one. If you taunt, you lose a level of momentum but can get bonuses such as being irreversible for a period of time. Still, once you're in the red -- meaning your health meter is completely drained -- you can be pinned super-easily, so it's in your benefit to win matches as quickly as possible. Kicking out or climbing the cage comes down to pounding the face buttons and while the computer can kick out with ease, it'll be a struggle for you even after taking minimal damage. Beating on the computer is simple, and playing real people often just leads to cheapo victories. After hours of playing, I took on fellow IGNer Jeff Haynes who had never played before. Jeff just punched the whole time, I couldn't get my reversals to sync up, and he won on his first pin attempt. Meanwhile, I played a random kid online, and my opponent pulled off way more moves than I did. Still, I was still able to pin him and win after a strong grapple and botched finisher chain -- I was even in the red and he had a fourth of his momentum bar.
Of course, this feeling of the matches not being quite right is only made worse by the number of liberties THQ has taken with the Superstars of yesterday. Rather than give characters spot-on physiques from their heyday, THQ has reimagined the stars with action-figure like bodies. It doesn't take a WWE historian to see the adverse effect this choice has when you sit down to play the game. Even the Million Dollar Man was commenting on how the wrestlers didn't look quite right when he stopped by the IGN office
. King Kong Bundy was never this defined, Hulk Hogan never had that much hair, and people just couldn't toss around Andre the Giant like this. Am I nitpicking? Yup, but these kind of errors were to be expected when you dropped old school folks into SVR; this is a game that's all their own. Why have these Legend issues been ignored?
Rather than pack a "career" for these established heroes, Legends hosts WrestleMania Tour Mode, a three-tiered section that asks you to Relive, Rewrite, and Redefine history. Each tangent takes six or seven classic WrestleMania bouts and puts you into the boots of one of the Superstars. If you're doing a Relive match, you need to win the fight like it really happened; if it's a rewrite, you play as the guy who originally lost/didn't get the title and you have to win the match to change your fate; in a Redefine fight, you can be whomever you want but now a stipulation such as Hell in a Cell or a ladder has been added to the mix.
On top of all that, each match has a gold medal for you to earn. To do so, you need to complete a handful of objectives that each have an assigned point value. Before the match, you can scope these goals -- they're pivotal moments such as Hogan slamming Andre or Stone Cold dropping an elbow on the Rock on top of the announcers table for Relive matches, but for Rewrite and Redefine, they're just made-up events like landing five blows in a row -- and see how many points you need to grab to get the medal. As you pull off the milestones in the ring, a meter pops up to show your progress towards the award.
It's a nifty idea and I enjoyed most of the chases, but a few really got me pissed off. Having to take on Yokozuna in the steel cage as Bret Hart was a tall order because I needed to net 160 out of 180 points. Sadly, I couldn't figure out how to get Bret to just climb the turnbuckles and not the cage to perform a dive attack (hint: Yoko has to be standing when you decide to climb), so I struggled on trying to complete the other objectives only to have Yokozuna knock me down for maybe
the third time and exit the cage because I couldn't get my button-pounding meter to fill quickly enough.
Pump it up; it's time for WrestleMania.
What sucks is that Legends' biggest pro is also one of its most obvious cons; I'm talking about presentation. So, those videos before the Relive, Rewrite, and Redefine matches are awesome and they're followed up with some truly nifty wrestler entrances. When Andre walks out in the WrestleMania III arena, there's that red bar with yellow text above it straight from my old VHS tapes in my Dad's attic. When Stone Cold needs to slam the Rock's head into the WrestleMania XV sign, it's the gigantic XV at the end of the aisle you remember. Paul Bearer's Urn antics are spot on; the ring ropes are red, white and blue when they should be; and Caesar's Palace is outside. The problem is that the game fails at so many little things. Championships are in the game, but only one version of each belt shows up. That means Stone Cold and the Rock are battling over the mid-'90s WWE Title instead of the circular WWE title from the Attitude Era. Regardless of the title on the line in a ladder match, the winner pulls down the WWE title only to have it morph to the title at stake during the celebration. My issues aren't just limited to belts. The Junk Yard Dog's only in one Rewrite match; in the video proceeding the bout, he's in white pants, but his character model is in red pants.
Like any wrestling game on the market, there is a Create a Superstar option in Legends. If you've played with the SVR options recently, the entire setup should be second nature to you with it's head morphing, 108 hairstyles, and sign picking. Notably, the PS3 and 360 have an equal number of maximum layers (64) and there are actually a few new costume choices in here so that fans can create accurate Superstars who didn't make the Legends cut. There's Tatanka's loincloth, Lex Luger's briefs, and Mankind's shirt. Sadly, there are only two entrance motions that aren't made for real Superstars, no original songs and SVR 09's Create-a-Finisher didn't make the trip over here. Basically, it's the same CAS system you've seen a million times with the Giant Gonzales' outfit and a bunch of neon tossed in. Oddly -- perhaps lazily just to make it look like there was a ton of clothing and hair options -- there are Diva assets in here even though you can't create ladies and no women exist in the game. The mode's nothing to really write home about.
My lack of excitement for the CAS feature in Legends probably has to do with the fact that there's really nothing to play around with. Because you can't shove a created character into the historically driven WrestleMania Tour Mode, the non-exhibition option for created Superstars is Legend Killer. Here, you'll choose from six lists of wrestlers and go at it in a gauntlet-type format that only gives you a bit of health back from match to match. Most of these give you ten Superstars to face, you go down the line and are then awarded experience points you can put toward your Superstar's attributes. If you're like me and put on some decent matches, you'll have your CAS maxed out before you've unlocked all the Legend Killer lists. These things usually take about a half hour without the entrances and you cannot save mid-gauntlet. If you have to quit, you lose everything. That might not sound too bad -- you know you need to dedicate about a half hour to playing -- but when you unlock the final tier, you'll find out you have to wrestle 38 Superstars. That's right -- 38 in a row without the ability to save. That sucks.
What doesn't suck is the fact that you can import the entire roster from WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009. All you need is an SVR save on your hard drive and you can bring over every character -- including your created Superstars but excluding your DLC -- via the main menu. Once they're in the game, the characters will look just like they did in SVR and have their original entrances, but they'll now have chain grapples like everyone else in the game. It's an easy way to pad the roster.
There is an online component to this title, but it's the same ho-hum experience THQ has been offering in the SVR franchise. You can have ranked matches; there are a slew of types available such as steel cage and 15-minute ironman; and there are leaderboards. There are no online federations and no online championships, although you can bring in your stat-heavy CAS if you like.
If I can jump back to presentation foibles, I need to point out two. While having managers in the game is nice, it sucks that there's just four of them and that you can't control them. The managers will climb on the apron to heal you or fight your opponent on their own whim. There's no way to tell Jimmy Hart to get off his butt and help you. Also, we're back to the disembodied voice of a referee. There's no blue or striped shirt in the ring. This was always one of the biggest "WTF" moments in wrestling games of old, and I'm sad to see it back in this day and age.
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