Legends Of Wrestling: Showdown Review (Xbox)
"Showdown : Legends of Wrestling" is the third installment of the Legends series from Acclaim. The first two "LOW" games were mediocre at best, and a disappointment at worst. This year, they put the team from Acclaim Austin Studios, best known for their work on the "All Star Baseball" franchise, on the job. Fan support for the series had come back! With perhaps the best video game wrestling license ever acquired and a competition free summer release, would the latest game score a clean victory or a disqualification for Acclaim? Read on to find out.
Character models in "Showdown" have been greatly improved from past games in the series. They now sport much better proportions in relation to upper and lower body, although the heavier wrestlers (King Kong Bundy for example) still look oddly large. So the character models are a plus and you’ll find little difference between the PS2 and XBox versions. The XBox grapplers are a little sharper and better defined, but it isn't anything major. While we’re on the positives, "Showdown" has included many of the arenas that have been host to some of the most memorable wrestling bouts in history. You'll find Madison Square Garden, Boston Garden, Maple Leaf Garden, The Pontiac Silverdome, The Cow Palace, Wembley Stadium in London, The Omni in Atlanta, The Tokyo Dome, Texas Stadium, The Spectrum, Cobo Arena in Detroit, The L.A. Sports Arena, The Skydome, The Greensboro Coliseum, Dory Funk's Gym in Ocala, Florida, The Mid South Coliseum, and 2 fictitious venues: one in Moscow and one named "Legends Coliseum". I wish other wrestling games would include real venues instead of the generic arenas used. Each one of "Showdown’s” arenas is modeled differently and it really shows. The size and scope difference of MSG compared to the Greensboro Coliseum is major. Again, between the XBox and PS2, a slight edge goes to the XBox for generally cleaner arena graphics and slightly better lighting.
Now we move onto the more disappointing aspects of the graphics in "Showdown : Legends of Wrestling." The biggest offender, and the one you'll see most often, is the horrible clipping and "teleporting" between wrestler's bodies. You WILL see these things happen in every match, and it only gets worse when you get four or more wrestlers in the ring. It becomes nearly unplayable at times with all of the graphical snags on screen when you are in an eight-man tag match. I don't remember this many problems with collision detection in either of the previous entries in the series. The animations that were added to "Showdown" are pretty nice, but the problem is that too many were recycled from "LOW 2." Most of the basic moves animations are unchanged with finishing maneuvers getting the biggest overhaul. Wrestlers sell moves with no logic and bounce right back up from others. You never get the feeling that you have hurt your opponent. Another thing to note on animations is the strange way they react when the wrestlers move out of reach. For example, even if you've moved out of range and ducked your opponent's punch attempt, two seconds later you'll find yourself flat on your back having sold an invisible punch. This happens with regular grapple moves as well. You can be slammed or suplexed from across the ring. It is really bad and also occurs in nearly every match. These are issues that should have never made it out the door and onto retail shelves in all honesty.
The interface in which you'll move about and select your match types, stipulations, and grapplers is done in a unique fashion. The interface resembles a movie theater with a ticket office inside and double doors you enter once you select your match type. It's a refreshing change from the, sometimes monotonous, menu screens found in most games.
The audio in "Showdown" is one part of the game that is very well done and should serve as a model for other games in the genre. The main menu has a catchy rock tune to it and the selection of match types and wrestlers comes with a loud "thud." Once you’re in the game you'll find Gary Michael Capetta, a former WCW ring announcer, giving you relevant information on the match type and the participants involved. He'll announce, First and Last Name, as well as nicknames. He also calls out height and weight and gives the proper emphasis on a wrestlers name. Just listen to him call Hulk Hogan's entrance and see if you don't get a few goose bumps. He also calls out your created legend's names and height/weight which is really cool and should be adopted into other games. This is accomplished in "Showdown" by having a huge name database, both first and last, in the Create-a-Legend area.
Entrance music has become a staple of any good wrestling game and "Showdown" also delivers in this area. While most themes are kind of generic, there are a few licensed themes such as those used by Hulk Hogan ("American Made" from WCW) and Macho Man Randy Savage. Roddy Piper even comes out in full glory of his Scottish bagpipes. Wrestling legend and former manager Jimmy Hart worked with the team to create all of the original music for the game and his entrance tunes include some wonderful facsimiles of the music used by these men during their careers. Of note are DDP, both of Sting's entrances, the Ultimate Warrior, and Bret Hart. One huge complaint in this department and an unreasonable omission, considering it was in "LOW 2" for the XBox last year, is the exclusion of custom entrance music. This is a huge selling point and a major letdown for fans of the series. There is nothing quite like hearing the original famous theme while your favorite legend strolls to the ring.
Also in "Showdown" is a full three-man commentary crew voiced by Tony Shiavone of WCW fame, Legend Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, and Larry Zybysko; who was one of the best of his era in the ring. These guys all worked together in WCW as an announce team and the cohesion shows as much as it can in a video game. The commentary can be repetitive at times, and some even prefer to turn it off which you have the option to do, but for most wrestling fans the inclusion of commentary is welcome. Again, this sort of commentary, which gives historical facts and anecdotes, should be the standard in wrestling games for years to come.
The feature list in "Showdown : Legends of Wrestling" is actually quite impressive. You'll find the Quick Play option, which allows you to jump straight into a match without setting up any options or selecting any participants. Selecting Match Play will take you a screen giving you an option to specify the general match type. Among these are "Versus", "Tag Team", "Classic", "Tournament", and "Battle Royale". The first two are self-explanatory. "Classic" mode is akin to a scenario mode that you might find in many of today's sports game, like “NCAA Football 2005.” Here is your chance to rewrite history by jumping into the match at a crucial moment in some of the most memorable wrestling matches that have ever taken place. Among them are clashes such as Hulk Hogan vs. the Iron Sheik from 1984, Randy Savage vs. The Ultimate Warrior from 1991, Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage from Wrestlemania 3, Owen Hart vs. Bret Hart in their Cage Match from 1994, Bret Hart vs. Roddy Piper from 1992, Randy Savage vs. Hulk Hogan from Wrestlemania 5, Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy in their famous Cage Match, and more. These all culminate with the chance to play out the Andre the Giant vs. Hulk Hogan match from Wrestlemania 3 that defined a man and an era. This mode is full of unrealized potential in that if it were expanded to include more than the 15 matches included, it would really help extend the replay value.
"Tournament" is what it sounds like. Set up a tournament of One on One matches or Tag Team matches and see who comes out on top! The "Battle Royale" is a strange mode that is similar to a Royal Rumble type match but ends when a certain participant is thrown out. I never could get a clear read on this match type.
Within "Versus" you can choose the One on One match, a 3 Way Dance, or a 4 Way Dance. "Tag Team" options include Tag Team matches with two, three, four, six or eight men per side. After choosing "Versus" and One on One you see the meat and potatoes of match types. Here we have Standard, Hardcore, Cage Match, Table Match, Ladder Match, IRONMAN 30, IRONMAN 60, First Blood, and Best 2 of 3 Falls. Wrestling fans should be familiar with all of these match variations. After choosing your match and selecting whether you'd like to enter the ring first or second it's on to choosing the Legends involved. You can choose from some of the greatest names the sport has ever seen including Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat, Sting, the Von Erich's, the Steiner Brothers, the Legion of Doom, and legends of yesterday such as Bruno Sammartino, Ivan Koloff, and "King" Harley Race. No matter what era you enjoyed the most from the 70's to the 90's there are Legends for everyone. The roster is comprised of 70+ wrestlers, the largest total in an American wrestling game to date.
Next up is "Showdown Challenge.” This serves as the career mode, more or less, of "Showdown." "Showdown Challenge" is a disappointment quite frankly. "LOW 2" had, if nothing else, a super deep career mode that was a big step in the right direction for the series. With the "Showdown Challenge" the progress made in last year's career mode has been wiped away. In its place stands a disappointingly short "era based" set of matches from the 70's, 80's and 90's culminating with a showdown with Hulk Hogan. There is very little cohesion to the back-story or reason to feud within "Challenge" other than a few lame ones that tend to repeat. I must say that I had high hopes for this mode and it is perhaps the biggest disappointment of all. It can easily be finished within a rental period. The matches aren't harder than normal exhibition matches and there is no "special" feeling to it at all, similar to complaints of football gamers everywhere for more atmosphere in the Playoffs and Superbowl. "Showdown" just lacks that spark.
Also of note is that no title belts ever appear in "Challenge" despite being won and lost. To top it off, when you do finish "Showdown Challenge", you'll get ... I kid you not ... a still picture of Hulk Hogan staring at you with text congratulating you. This reeks of an NES game ending and really gives you no incentive to ever touch the career mode again.
Create-A-Legend is the next feature I want to talk about. Continuing with the theme of disappointments, this mode really lacks any sort of depth at all. You start out choosing whether to make a digital male or female. You now give your Legend a profile including name, hometown, whether he/she is a hero or villain, his/her entrance music and manager as well as stable slots. Stable slots you say? That's pretty cool right? Well no, they don't even carry over to "Showdown Challenge", they are only for exhibition matches. As you set out to create the appearance you get a staggering nine head types, ten hair types, some face paint options and facial hair options. From here, you choose your Legend's height and weight as well as altering the geometry of the upper and lower body parts, although doing so can result in laughable results. You can choose from ten skin types, three different tones of body hair, and oddly enough, you have several options for tattooing your Legend on every part of his body. This game definitely suffers from an identity crisis. Who are they targeting exactly? Anyway, now you outfit your wrestler with gear which includes a limited number of shirts, vests, jackets, elbow pads, wrist wraps, and gloves on the upper body. On the lower body you choose from pants, tights, singlets, long shorts, short shorts, kneepads, belts, and shoes or boots. You can also customize entrance gear although what is available is a limited number of items that pre-existing Legends wear to the ring with the exception of one very important item. There are no robes at all for the entrance. What's up with that? Adding to the problems here is the fact that you cannot change the color of any piece of your outfit. That's right. You use the default colors only. Hair color is severely limited as well, with black hair being nearly impossible to make as it has a blue hue to it no matter what. You then go on to choose a moveset, either a pre-existing one or you can modify your own. Everything here feels like an afterthought. Within Create-A-Legend is the option to "Clone-A-Legend." The main reason I bring this up is because on the Playstation 2 this mode works as it is supposed to work. However, on the XBox version, this option is crippled. When cloning a wrestler on the XBox, after you have saved them and go to use them in the ring, you'll notice that he/she has mysteriously become 2 to 3 shades darker than what you intended. There is no fix for this and it renders the "Clone" feature utterly useless. This feature is important if you want to have accurate movesets within the parameters in the game, because you cannot edit the Legends in another puzzling decision.
I have to stop and make special note of the absolutely insulting movesets that are included in "Showdown : Legends of Wrestling". You get wrestler specific finishing holds, but past that you get very generic and very modern moves to work with. Commonly found are things like Ricky Steamboat landing a Stone Cold Stunner and Sid Vicious hitting the Rock Bottom. This is just inexcusable. The moves available are so limited that you have four variations of the vertical suplex. Where are the classic wrestling holds? The arm bar, the leg locks, the holds that made these wrestlers Legends and different from the wrestlers of today. This is yet another case of the severe identity crisis that "Showdown" suffers from. Is it a game intending for people who would actually remember these guys in their glory days, or is it intended for the 8-14 year old demographic?
The last "feature" I'll touch on is the tutorial that Bret Hart gives you. It is not interactive, but it is helpful for those new to the game. It gives the run down of the basic controls and such.
I think most people agree that, above graphics, sound, and features, the way a game plays and functions is the most important factor in whether or not a game is good or bad. In the case of "Showdown" it is more bad than good. The in-ring game plays out like this - there is a strike button and when paired with different directions on the D-pad becomes a weak, medium, or strong strike. Obviously a strong strike drains your opponent's energy faster, but it also takes longer to pull off leaving you open for a counter move which seem to happen at random in "Showdown." From here, there are four front grapples, which use a button and D-Pad, four behind grapples, which are done the same way, four bent over grapples, and four behind bent over grapples. Also there are strikes and holds that can be done while your opponent is on the mat prone and stunned. There are turnbuckle strikes and grapples as well as top rope strikes you can land while your opponent is either standing or on the mat. You can also pull weapons from under the ring and use them with the strike button. There is the "Irish whip” available as well as running attacks and grapples. So it sounds like this game must have a pretty deep fighting mechanism right? Well, no. The problem here is the severely limited movesets that render utterly useless all of the grapples. You will have to repeat the same move in different grapple positions in order to fill your moveset unless you want your Legend performing modern moves.
The controls are a little "laggy" but overall they are competent. Acclaim boasted this time around that they had simplified the grapple system with the "Ready To Brawl" controls to make the game more accessible. I imagine for newbies to the series it probably did simplify it enough for them to pick up and play right away but for myself it felt over simplified. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for easy controls, but these feel too dumbed down with very little strategy involved at all. The controls grade out as average overall I'd say with a slant towards too easy.
I talked about graphical issues such as "clipping" and "teleporting". Well, not only are these very disruptive to see, but they really damper the gameplay quite a bit. It is impossible to have a clean match without one or several issues popping up, and as I mentioned earlier especially in Tag Team matches. What this means is that you feel out of control of your grappler at times, as he appears and disappears from one part of the ring to the other. The "teleporting" also makes the completely destroys the counter system in "Showdown : Legends of Wrestling.” It is extremely difficult to time your counters when you aren't even sure if your input on the control pad is effective due to the odd ways in which the characters animate and move around each other. You can throw a punch and move on to try for a slam only to have the slam interrupted by the animation for your punch being blocked three seconds later and then you go back into the slam animation! Again, I don't know how this passed Microsoft and Sony's QA. The gameplay is more or less broken.
If you are a wrestling fan that just has to try all of the wrestling games that you can, then I suggest that you rent "Showdown : Legends of Wrestling" or wait for it to end up in the bargain bin. With a 49.99 price tag in most places, it feels more like a 19.99 budget game with a great license wasted. If you are a regular gamer or sports gamer, then take a flier on this one. The PS2 version grades out better in my book due to the broken Clone feature on the XBox. This feature is huge for those of us who require that the movesets be more accurate. The XBox does have faster loading times.