Written By: Mark Armstrong
Released: March 20 2009
Consoles: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and iPhone/iPod Touch
With WrestleMania just days away, it is a perfect time to focus the latest retro game review on a release dedicated to the big event, and one of my favourite games ever, WWE Legends Of WrestleMania.
The 2003 game WWE SmackDown! Here Comes The Pain was the first to officially include a line-up of Legends. As the SmackDown vs. Raw series continued to feature older names, and some add-ons like retro arenas and championships, rumours circulated that one day a WWE Legends game would be released, something of a WWE incarnation of the previous Legends Of Wrestling titles. Finally, in May 2008, it was officially announced that WWE Legends Of WrestleMania was being produced for a planned release to commemorate WrestleMania 25 the following spring.
I can’t tell you how excited I was when this game was announced; I looked forward to this release more than for any other game ever. The near-12 month wait felt like a year, such was my anticipation. Details would trickle out, and even basic screenshots got me super-charged. To show how much I wanted this, as it was a then-next-gen exclusive, I bought a PlayStation 3 largely for this very game. Finally, LOWM was released, and I got to play it. Did it live up to the hype? As I will explain, the answer is “yes”, but it was undoubtedly limited in a number of key areas.
The main appeal of a WWE Legends game, of course, was the roster, and the line-up consisted of the following: Andre The Giant, Animal, Arn Anderson, Bam Bam Bigelow, Big Boss Man, Big John Studd, Bret Hart, British Bulldog, Brutus Beefcake, Dusty Rhodes, Greg Valentine, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Hawk, Honky Tonk Man, Hulk Hogan, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Iron Sheik, Jake Roberts, Jim Neidhart, Jimmy Snuka, Junkyard Dog, Kamala, King Kong Bundy, Koko B. Ware, Michael P.S. Hayes, Mr. Perfect, Nicholai Volkoff, Ric Flair, Rick Rude, The Rock, Roddy Piper, Sgt Slaughter, Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ted DiBiase, Ultimate Warrior, The Undertaker and Yokozuna. Also present were Bobby Heenan, Jimmy Hart, Mr. Fuji and Paul Bearer as managers (each of whom had special abilities, some specific to characters e.g. Bearer recharging Undertaker via the urn); Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross were on commentary; and Howard Finkel was the ring announcer.
Of note, this was Warrior’s first appearance on a WWF/WWE game since 1996, so his inclusion here generated massive excitement. This was also the first Legends appearance for Boss Man, Studd, Duggan, Honky, Kamala, Bundy, Koko, Hayes and Yoko. In addition, some old faces (no pun intended) returned to WWE games such as Hogan, and it was cool to see retro versions of HHH, Flair and Shawn for the first time. Add to that the chance to import many wrestlers from the then-current SmackDown vs. Raw 2009 (45 in all, bringing the total to 83, the largest ever on a WWE game at the time), and you have a perfect roster, right?
Well, no; there were many missteps or questionable decisions. The size of the Legends crew, and it being smaller than the SvR imports, was the main one, and there were a lot of notable absentees, the most obvious being Macho Man Randy Savage. Other glaring omissions were Demolition, Ricky Steamboat, Sid, Lex Luger, Razor Ramon, Owen Hart, Diesel, Mankind and a retro Kane; but also missing were Mr. T, Mr. Wonderful, George Steele, Hillbilly Jim, Tito Santana, Rick Martel, Marty Jannetty, The Nasty Boys, Typhoon, IRS, Bob Backlund, Jeff Jarrett, Lawrence Taylor, Goldust, Ahmed Johnson, Faarooq, Ken Shamrock, The New Age Outlaws, X-Pac and a retro Big Show, amongst many others (the timeline covered the 1985-1999 period and WM in particular), as well as the absence of any female characters.
Plus, some of those who were in were questionable, especially Hayes whose only WM appearance was in the Gimmick Battle Royal in 2001. And whilst importing wrestlers from SvR 09 was cool, it would have been better had it been the other way round or to SvR 10, especially given the frankly insane decision to have DLC for SvR 09 released around that time which consisted of The Bushwhackers, Doink, Earthquake and Vader, and to not only have them playable on the Legends game. All in all, a good roster, but with many absentees, something that DLC could have at least partly remedied (this is the only WWE game of the last seven years not to have downloadable content).
The gameplay was very different to SvR. Here, basic button presses and combinations were used for moves, with each wrestler having some signature moves and a finishing move combo consisting of two set-ups and the finisher. Move sets didn’t have much depth, especially in some matches that were largely punch-and-kick battles (such as Royal Rumble bouts). Many commented how lacklustre this made actual matches, and I agree that move sets should have been more expensive. However, this was designed to be an arcade game experience, which the simplified controls help to achieve. And the game is far easier to pick up and play than the flagship series; in fact, it is impossible to give that description to the likes of WWE 2K15. Plus, for some of the older names like JYD and Volkoff, how many moves can you remember them executing? Older matches didn’t have a lot of variety and action, so in a way it’s fitting that matches here are the same, although I still would have liked a few more moves for each wrestler.
Match types included Steel Cage (old-school cage), Ladder, Hell In A Cell and Iron Man. They had some restrictions (e.g. you had to start a Cell match on the roof in tribute to the Mankind-Undertaker match, even though Mankind and the host event King Of The Ring 1998 aren’t here), but they were still enjoyable and in some ways more realistic; for example, ramming someone into the cage immediately busted them open. And in the Cell match, by sending your opponent into the steel stairs on the top left corner of the ring, there is a hidden bag of thumb tacks which can be used as a weapon, something still yet to be seen in the flagship series.
The main game modes were WrestleMania Tour and Hall Of Fame. WM Tour focused on a selection of classic bouts from the first 15 Manias, with in-match challenges to properly relive the moment (e.g. Hogan slamming Andre), although they were split into Relive, Rewrite (the opposite result) and Redefine (a new stipulation). This was all very cool and enjoyable, and each match had a superb video package, plus extra video packages were unlocked later on. Its main drawback was the limited number of matches; there could have been at least double the amount of matches, given the wrestlers who were available. Still, it was all very enjoyable; this game debuted the concept of reliving classic matches down to their key moments.
Hall Of Fame was a bit different. Using a created wrestler, you had to win several gauntlets, before the final gauntlet wherein you had to defeat all 38 Legends in a row. It sounds very daunting, and it was (the chance to save progress during this match would have helped), but not to the point of you trying over and over again; I completed it first-time in less than 90 minutes. For each main mode, you won medals which could be viewed in a cool-looking museum. This game would really have benefitted from a text-based season mode; with the Legends involved, it could have been awesome. Nevertheless, what we did get was still adequate.
Elsewhere, the arenas of the first 15 Manias were here, as well as a classic venue for Royal Rumble 1995 (the first appearance for most arenas). This was great, but there should have been a few more, especially old-school arenas for SummerSlam and Survivor Series. You could create 32 Legends, make stables, design entrances and modify move sets. Several alternate attires were hidden, including Brutus Beefcake’s Hogan-esque costume from WM 9. There was an online feature, although it was a bit limited. It was the first WWE game on PS3 to have trophies. And the camera angles were interesting; as you fought your way around the ring, the camera went with you rather than sticking in one place, in front of a somewhat blurry background (which was slightly disappointing).
As a spin-off from SmackDown vs. Raw, one which lacked many options, this was by design a limited game. So why do I love it so much? Simple: it perfectly recreates the vintage eras of WWF/WWE history. When you’re reliving Hogan-Warrior at WM 6, having Jake Roberts set a snake on his opponent after a match, watching Ted DiBiase stuff dollar bills down his adversary’s mouth, summoning the powers of the urn from Paul Bearer to The Undertaker, or bringing many icons together for an old-school Royal Rumble, this is a real treat for longtime fans. This is a game designed around the Exhibition bouts so if you don’t like the control scheme, you will not enjoy the game; I freely admit it could be better, but as a pick-up-and-play wrestling title containing classic names, it is a vintage wrestling game. The only major downside for me is that there hasn’t been a sequel.
True, recent WWE titles have included many Legends, and 2K14 redid the Tour mode with more matches covering more years, and featuring stars like Randy Savage. But for a true Legends experience, I still hope for another game, as an exclusive for this generation. For one, the roster of Legends could easily exceed 100 if not 125, ensuring that all worthy icons were in. It could easily include dozens of classic arenas, covering all major PPV events and TV shows. Having the required stipulations wouldn’t be a stretch, as would an expanded create suite to include the likes of Create An Arena, and with the online features accommodating Community Creations. Theme songs for all the Legends provide the menu soundtrack. And a real Season mode covering a year in the old-school WWF, the New Generation and the Attitude Era would be phenomenal, plus the chance for the likes of WM Tour or a Showcase could still be there. Hopefully, one day it will happen.
If it doesn’t, though, then WWE Legends Of WrestleMania will stand out even more as a classic WWE videogame experience. This has a good amount of content but it is limited; however, it is intended to be a feel-good title, one to provide a nice fix of nostalgia, one to bring a smile to your face as you relive the good old days. In that sense, this game is brilliant and, whilst it definitely could have been expanded or improved, for the aforementioned reasons, I still consider this to be one of the top five WWF/WWE videogames ever. And with WrestleMania 31 just days away, there is no better time to go back and relive the early years of The Show Of Shows via WWE Legends Of WrestleMania.
Overall Rating: 9/10 – Outstanding