Movies / TV
Videogame Review: LEGENDS OF WRESTLING 2
Posted by Jay Spree on Dec 18, 2002, 21:36
LEGENDS OF WRESTLING 2
Developer: Acclaim Salt Lake (RIP)
What the hell. This place is generally an anything-goes territory, and I’ve been toying with the idea of a videogame review anyway, so why not review a WRESTLING VIDEOGAME? It’s genius, I tell you, genius! Vince McMahon can kiss my ass give me the book right now!
To go over my videogame credentials for those of you who don’t know, I’m basiclly a games journalist by trade, having worked previously for GameMaster magazine here in the UK. Come to think of it, if you check out the August 2002 issue, you can see my review for the predecessor to this game, the first Legends of Wrestling, which I awarded a hearty 71% (if you look closely, you can also see a blatantly stolen joke from Bloodsport, but what he hell). Back then, I complained about the lack of depth in the one player mode, lack of gimmick matches, control issues, and generally rough edges all round. While the sequel is vastly improved in most areas, a few laws still remain.
"I heartily endorse this event or product."
I should point out that, while this a review of the GameCube version of the game, all three releases are virtually identical, save a few exceptions that I will point out as the review pans out. But basically, if you’re an Xblock or PS2 owner and you like the sound of this, you know what to expect.
Click here to jump straight to a section (*** indicates an area where there is a difference across the formats):
Competition (comparison with other wrestling games)
Earlier this year only about six months earlier, actually Acclaim brought us an alternative to the WWF-dominated wrestling videogames on the market. Having lost the WWF license to THQ, and subsequently losing the ECW license after they went bankrupt (and that license is being contested in a New York courtroom RIGHT NOW in the dispute between Acclaim and the WWF over who owns the ECW footage), Acclaim found themselves with a gaping and very profitable hole in their lineup. On the brink of bankruptcy, they could not afford to let the lucrative genre of wrestling games slip through their fingers, particularly at a time when the WWF was still red-hot. But with ECW and WCW in the crapper, and the WWF doing business with THQ, they found themselves without a promotion to make games for.
"This... is for Verne Gagne!"
An interesting situation arose, when the out-of-work Hulk Hogan was very receptive to the idea of starring in a videogame based not on a particular promotion, but rather on all the legends of the past and present not currently under contract to the WWF. Looking to raise his profile (particularly in the months leading up to his eventual WWF return), Hogan signed up, and from there everyone else followed. Big names like Roddy Piper and Bret Hart who had been out of the business for years were shoe-ins, but Acclaim were also fortunate in landing a couple of big-name wrestlers who were on the outs with the WWF at the time: Rob Van Dam and Jerry Lawler. Van Dam had been receiving little interest from Titan Towers after the collapse of ECW, and Lawler had divorced himself from The Fed following his wife’s unceremonious dismissal (ironically he would later find himself divorced from her, too). The end result was Acclaim now had a roster of 42 all-time wrestling personalities with which they could knock together a “greatest hits” wrestling game.
This is Dr. Death. He's a hoss, by gawd.
Working with a heavily-revamped adaption of the original WWF Warzone/Attitude engine, Acclaim produced a fun, albeit lacklustre grappler that was generally well-received by the gaming community. Surprisingly though, the game did not just find favour with the more hardcore wrestling fans that Acclaim might have expected: thanks to the WWF’s re-signing of Hogan, Van Dam and Lawler, casual fans were now drawn to Legends not to play as Bruno Sammartino or Nikita Koloff, but to hit Van Daminators and big legdrops. The game sold bucketloads largely thanks to this inadvertant WWF promotion, and a sequel was soon announced.
If you’ve played the original, you know what to expect. EXACTLY what to expect. A few lackluster elements have been cleaned up, but this plays pretty much just the same as the original.
If you’ve never played the original, well, you’re missing out. The grappling system is a kind of hybrid of the No Mercy, Smack!Down, and Attitude engines; while it is arcadey, it doesn’t have the same immediateness of S!D, although some of the grappling does take place without the need for a grapple. That said, some of the moves require you to lockup with your opponent No Mercy style, only the act of doing so isn’t quite as clean. And if you’ve played Acclaim’s earlier efforts, the “get in opponent’s line of sight and hit buttons” model will be familiar, albeit without the use of stupid combos or Street Fighter II-style commands.
Recreate those inamous moments in history. Or don't.
There are three starting positions for an attack: a manoeuvre that does not require a lockup (anything from press slams to Stunners that isn’t initiated from an ISP), a manoeuvre that requires a lockup (piledrivers, suplexes, and other moves initiated from ISPs), and strikes, that obviously don’t require a lockup. Now, I hear you cry, “what’s an ISP?” Well, it’s an acronym for something, but I can’t remember what off the top of my head. Ah, “(something) Starting Position”, that’s it! Basically, every time you lock up, you have a number of ISPs: head-between-legs (“piledriver position”), belly-to-belly, suplex, scoop slam and so on. Now, you can only pull of certain manoeuvres from certain ISPs for example, you couldn’t perform a piledriver from a body slam position, could you? No Jay, you could not. If you want to perform a piledriver, or a powerbomb, or a Pedigree, or any other move that involves starting from a head-between-legs position, you have to initiate a head-between-legs ISP. Geddit? Well, it’s an almost impossible concept to explain, but trust me, it’s easier than it sounds, and actually makes a lot of sense when you get used to it .
Now, having said all that, the grappling itself is actually rather unspectacular. Both pulling off the ‘free moves’ that don’t require a lockup, as well as initiating a grapple with the opponent are often cumbersome. To make a successful grapple is pretty hit-and-miss, but it seems that you have to be almost adjacent to your opponent’s front or back, and in order to make contact with a move, strike or grapple, you have to be within a certain range: not right up close, and not too far out. It really is quite specific, and you’ll fire off quite a few blank grapple and strike attempts only to miss and get fucked up. And, while only being able to initiate moves from specific ISPs is pretty cool, it’s not exactly vital, and we could do quite nicely without it.
Jay, you’re not making me want to play this game.” Well wait, dumbass, I haven’t finished yet.
While the grappling system may be unspectacular, the reversal/counter system is SUPERB. When any attack is initiated, a swing-ometer appears underneath your health bar. On this, there will be a small tab that swings from left to right, and there will be a yellow block somewhere along its path; if you press your counter button when the tab passes through this yellow area, you will counter the move, and a swing-ometer will appear on your opponent’s side, allowing him to do the same. It’s basically the same as the little power gauge in golf games, where you’ve got to stop the swinging meter at a certain point. It feels really odd and out of place at first, but once you’re used to the mechanics of the thing and you start to expect it coming, it works really, really well. It means that whenever someone blindsides you or repeatedly gets the upper hand in grapples, you aren’t automatically screwed like you are in most wrestling games. You can counter every move except specials, which can lead to some AWESOME Benoit-Angle reversal-fests. This is one of the reasons that multiplayer in LoW is so damn fun, because the pinpoint, precision countering gets REALLY FUCKING COMPETITIVE, leading to some very tense encounters.
Press the button when the red tab goes in the yellow area. You see?
Like most grapplers, you have a special meter which gets amped up when you perform taunts or connect with your moves. Once it’s full, you can either get into position for a finisher, which will take HUGE chunks off your opponent’s health, or better yet, DON’T use a finisher. Sounds crazy, but if you don’t use your special meter to pull off finishers, you’re actually in a better position, because when you’ve got a full special meter, every time you knock your opponent down or stun them, they stay “out of it” and have to tap buttons in order to wake up. This will give you plenty of time to put on submissions, head for the top rope, climb the cage or set up a ladder. If you don’t use a finisher, the special meter only drops to halfway (if you use a few finishers, it goes all the way down to empty) when your special time runs out, so after a few moves it’s full again. This is a great strategy for winning gimmick matches where you usually get the shit pounded out of you.
The story mode sounds great play as a legend and battle through the old territory system, working for different promoters and fighting different wrestlers exclusive to various regions.
In actuality, it’s not even as deep as the No Mercy story mode. Your matches are LOOSELY connected by some BADLY voice-acted cutscenes featuring various promoters from a Japanese businessman to a southern belle to a THINLY VEILED REPRESENTATION of Vince McMahon (who obviously runs the Northeast territory) aside from a tacked-on mob boss persona and a cigar, he IS Vinnie Mac, as evidenced by the uncanny resemblance and Austin-McMahon storyline. You get a random story arc such as “hitting on the promoter” and “gimmick envy”, but really these are just a bunch a tenuous linking vignettes and utterly random opponents. It’s neat to go talk to the promoter, but in the end it doesn’t really do all that much.
Even in this game, Vince pushes big guys.
As you work through the territories, you have to put on exciting matches in order to gain popularity and ‘get a push’ (graduate a level and face bigger name wrestlers). How exciting your matches are is determined by a loose set of objectives such as highspots, bleeding, using weapons and so on. You’re also penalised for repetitive moves, so in theory this feature is good because it encourages players not just to keep using the same set of moves to win every match. Doesn’t always work out that way, but it’s a nice idea.
As you progress through the game, you earn coins for your various title victories. Green coins are the common currency, and you must use them to gamble for more lucrative blue and red coins, which must all be used in varying quantities to purchase locked characters, arenas, artwork and more. This feature works quite neatly, as only entire characters are locked as opposed to specific wrestling moves, meaning you don’t have to play for weeks just to unlock a Fujiwara armbar for your CAW. You will be able to unlock each promoter after you have completed their territory, and depending on who you play as, you will have the opportunity to unlock related characters (for example, Bret can unlcok Owen, Dynamite can unlock Davey Boy and so on). Nothing special, but it all works pretty well.
Alas, the tables match didn’t make it, but there are a couple of great alternatives.
The ladder match is limited, but fun. You can’t set up the ladder anywhere but in the title-grabbing position, making intricate outside-inside Hardy Boyz action out of the question. Actually, any sort of Hardy Boyz action seems to be out of the question, since you can’t have a tag team ladder match. Weird. Basically the ladder is just a means of having a no DQ match with an especially big weapon that you can jump off the top of. It improves over other ladder matches in certain aspects, such as the fact that the one-position-only mechanics of the ladder means you don’t spend ages beating your opponent down and climbing the ladder only to find out it’s JUST out of reach. The speed at which you climb the ladder is also much appreciated, and is far from the Shawn-Razor climbing speed of most grapplers. In addition, the title only becomes reachable after you’ve beaten the crap out of each other for a while, so if you race straight to the top without touching the other guy, you won’t be able to grab it, which is a nice way to stop cheap tactics.
A long time ago, in a Calgary far, far away... the ladder match was born
The cage match is similarly one-on-one only, and again, the mechanic that you can’t just win the gimmick match quickly is in place, this time in the form of the cage door. Whereas in ladder matches you’ve got to inflict a certain amount of damage before you can reach the titles, here the cage door has an energy meter, and you must deplete it by striking or shaking the door until it breaks off. Only then can you escape the cage via climbing or going out of the door, which I find personally gratifying as I’m forever getting screwed over by cheap AI in cage matches. You can of course leap off the cage and ram your opponent into it, and bleeding is guaranteed. Much fun!
"Hey Superfly, look over there - that's Cactus Jack!"
15, 20, 25 or 30 man battle royals are also on offer, and are just as you’d expect. The only real difference with them in LoW2 is that you can’t select the order, or even the participants, which really isn’t a big deal at all (unless you’re that piss scared of Hogan or something). And of course, the obligatory three- and four-way dances are here, although to be honest, after you’ve been screwed over in three-ways during story mode for the umpteenth time, you really won’t care to play them unless you have to.
WHO WILL SURVIVE?
But it’s the tag team matches are where the real innovation is at. You can have three- and four-way dance tag teams matches (i.e. three or four separate tag teams in one match), and you can FINALLY live out all those years of Survivor Series fantasies with six- and eight-man tag matches. These really are a very welcome addition, and it’s so awesome to finally be able to have three partners waiting on the apron to help you beat the shit out of someone. There’s nothing quite like being on a team with three of your buddies and cheating like fuck whenever you toss a CPU opponent into your corner.
If you're gonna play a lot of multiplayer, you're gonna need a BIG TV
Lastly, there’s the Big John Studd $15,000 Body Slam Challenge that’s received so much hype. And unfortunately, it wasn’t worth it. It’s not even a gimmick match as such, since it isn’t a match, and it only comes up once during story mode. Basically, out of the blue you’ll find yourself standing in the ring with Studd in a bodyslam position. You’ve got 40 seconds to hammer the buttons as fast as you can to amp up your power level and slam him remember the “Test Your Might” nonsense in Mortal Kombat? RIGHT HERE, BABY. It’s a neat little idea, and if they hadn’t hyped it to the moon, it would’ve made a nice touch, but they yammered on about it so much that it can’t help but disappoint.
The Create-A-Wrestler is the Achilles’ heel of many wrestling games, and LoW2 unfortunately falls into the trap.
There are a number of limiting and annoying factors, not least of which the fact that there is ONLY ONE FACE. It’s a very standard, generic face that suits just about any wrestler you want to create, but it’s only one lousy face nonetheless. You can choose a very limited set of expressions, misleading labelled as other faces, but all they are is the original face with raised eyebrows or a frown. There are also a couple of lame face ‘types’, which basically stretch or manipulate the face in different ways, giving it a pug nose, or fat lips, but they’re mostly shit and you’ll end up sticking with the basic face more often than not.
The CAW dummy has a ponytail, but you can't use it. DUH?
Facial hair will cause a little frustration too. While you can choose from a fair few goatees and ‘taches and so on, but beards will cause you trouble. You’ve either got a full-on Al-Quaida cat-on-the-face beard, or a Craig David chinstrap. How the hell are you supposed to make a Macho Man with only two crappy beards? And WHERE’S THE SCOTT HALL STUBBLE? There’s a couple of five o’clock shadows, but nothing that really fits the bill.
BANG BANG! Why isn't Mick already in the game, anyway?
Another limiting feature is the range of hairstyles on offer. While you can edit the colours pretty much to your heart’s content (giving frustrated No Mercy fanboys like myself the elusive Ric Flair blonde or Jeff Hardy green), but if you want to make ponytails, mohawks or Friar Tuck baldies, you’ll be out of luck. This is just astonishing, since RVD was a major character in the first game, and all his taunts, moves and even an outfit are in the CAW, YET YOU CAN’T DO HIS FUCKING HAIR. Incredible. There is one feature you can use to get around this, and it’s one that isn’t available in all three versions. With the Create-A-Stencil, you can create your own patterns, designs or words that you can use as tattoos or stick on your ring attire. So with a bit of creative thinking, you can make a vaguely ponytail-shaped design and attach it to a short RVD haircut. However, this feature is NOT present in the GameCube version. This does limit the CAW to a greater extent than the Xblock and PS2 versions, but RVD and rude t-shirts aside, isn’t all that vital.
There are a decent selection of outfits, although the bizarre and overly-fiddly colour editing system means that you can’t always get the outfits you want. There’s quite a few masks, including Vader’s and Mankind’s, and there’s a lot of facepaint to choose from though while they’d include Ultimate Warrior facepaint and no Crow makeup is a little bewildering.
E-C-dub! E-C-dub! E-C... d'oh.
What the CAW lacks in designing the look of your wrestlers, it makes up for in the sheer number of moves available. There are hundreds of holds, moves, strikes, submissions; you can even select your own choice of weapons shots it puts even No Mercy to shame. Better yet, there is no distinction between finishing manoeuvres and ‘regular’ or transitional holds. This means that you can select any move to be a normal attack, even if it’s a Stone Cold Stunner or a Pedigree. Furthermore, it also means that you can select any move to be a finishing manoeuvre, even if it’s a punch or a body slam. Traditionally, if you created Rick Rude who had a basic neckbreaker for a finisher he would be disadvantaged, because in today’s wrestling, a neckbreaker is a regular move, and so in the games it wouldn’t be as powerful as, say, a Tombstone. Now, you can be really annoying and end matches with a devastating finisher like a drop toe hold, or better yet, follow in the footsteps of the WWF and choose MAIN EVENT SPINEBUSTERS and SLEEPER HOLDS.
Overall, the CAW like the overall game is generally neat, but has some major flaws to work out.
This is definitely one of those graphical styles you love or loathe. I think the IGN reviewer referred to it as “the LJN action figure look”. I personally like it it’s a nice blend between the cartoonish element that most guys in the game portrayed during their WWF tenure, and the more gritty, battered ‘realism’ of the cages and ladders.
Y'know, they really DO look like those LJN action figures.
The visuals are one of the areas where the three formats differ. While the GC and Xblock versions cruise along at a clean, steady framerate, the PS2 architecture struggles from time to time, leading to occasional dips in the framerate, and sometimes out and out slowdown. In addition, the blood in the GameCube version stays on the mat for the duration of the matches, while on the other two formats it disappears after a short while. Stuff like that is really niggly and anal to pick out, but it’s important to some people so it’s worth mentioning.
The animation of all the moves and holds is top notch, especially after you’ve been used to the same identikit AKI animations that they’ve been using for the past six years. The models almost never clip into each other, although they occasionally have trouble interacting with weapons, ladders and so on.
You'd think with arenas this sparse, Acclaim would try to AVOID these camera views.
The crowds, however, still look terrible, thanks to their horrible 2D-ness and the fact that they are REALLY basic sprites. As soon as you get anywhere near the crowd or the camera pans out during a big match, the flatness of the crowd really jumps out and kicks you in the teeth, and it’s a shame. Apparently, it won’t be until the next generation of next generation consoles that developers will have enough power to make the crowd 3D as well. Of course, I’d rather have the slickly-animated character models with facial expressions and virtually no clipping that we have here, but it still would’ve been nice if the crowd didn’t look so cheap.
The sound in the game is a definite good news-bad news situation. The music is superb Acclaim have licensed a number of hard rawking tracks from groups including Saliva, Earshot and Glassjaw. Wrestling has always been a “guitars and screaming” type of experience, and that’s exactly the soundtrack we’ve got here. The fact that Saliva’s ‘Superstar’ was one of the themes to last year’s WrestleMania builds a superb atmosphere to any match, and tragically I find myself shouting “IT’S RIGHT HERE IN TORONTO CANADA BAY-BAYYYYYYYY!” at the screen whenever that track plays during one of my matches. Hey, it’s no gayer than “There is no glass ceiling!”
"Hooo-gan is American made/The only real giant, is still An-dre!"
Some people have complained that the soundtrack doesn’t fit the various eras that the wrestlers come from, but I don’t think that matters at all. There may very well be a place for Chuck Berry on a videogame soundtrack, but I don’t believe it’s as a backdrop to two roided-up guys smacking the shit out of each other with a chair. Each of the wrestlers has their own theme music, which is more appropriate place for era-specific tunes. It halfway succeeds in this: Nikolai Volkoff has the Russian national anthem for his entrance, the Bulldogs have Rule Brittania, and Sabu and the Shiek have typically evil Arabian music. Then you’ve got “the JimmyHart factor” since he composed so many of the themes in the WWF and WCW, and since he was pretty hands on in the development of the title, his presence is definitely felt in the audio department. Hogan sports his WCW theme “American Made”, and Bret Hart has an eerily reminiscent Hart Foundation theme. However, each character has only one themes to cover all four of his costumes. So Hogan will come out to the Real American ripoff whether he’s wearing red & yellow or black & white, and Scott Steiner will come out to his tinny brass band music whether he’s a mullet-wearing Steiner Brother or Big Poppa Pump. Another minor thing, but still annoying.
WHO'S YOUR DADDY?
So the music is almost entirely successful. But the rest of the sound is definitely lacking. I’m not nig on in-game commentary for wrestling games, because it tends to wear VERY thing VERY quickly (think Smack!Down). The only grappling game where I actually enjoyed the commentary repetitive as it was was WrestleMania: The Arcade Game, purely because Vince and Lawler’s stupidly over-the-top yammering was so perfect for the wackiness of the game. So I really wasn’t clamouring for in-game commentary in LoW2, I was at least expecting a couple of grunts and taunts from the wrestlers themselves. Alas, I was disappointed. The only in-game effects are a couple of meaty thwacks from weapons shots, and some wet slaps and thuds from strikes and holds. Although the crowd cheer or boo your poses according to whether you’re a face or a heel, they aren’t sophisticated enough to rally behind a Ricky Morton hot tag or boo outside interference. Shame. Thankfully, once you’re into it, the music pretty much drowns everything else out.
LoW2 stacks up pretty well against the competition because much like Ring of Honour and NWA:TNA the only alternative is the same tired WWF tripe.
I’m absolutely not a fan of the Smack!Down series on the PlayStation. I’ve followed the series closely, and I was one of the first to get their hands on the beta of S!D 3 when the THQ chaps came round to GamesMaster for the afternoon. I’m just not a fan of the overly arcadey, button-mashing, beat-em-up engine I know most people love it and I’m in the minority, but whatever. Still, I doubt LoW2 will be winning many fans over from the Smack!Down camp. While it is, in my opinion, more fun to play, it simply doesn’t have anything like the number of matches or modes, it doesn’t have the same depth in the story mode, and the CAW in S!D is light years better.
Hey look, I'm PLAYING RICKY MORTON!
Neither am I a fan of RAW on the Xblock, although to be fair no-one else is either. It looks great until you play it, when it RAPIDLY goes downhill. It’s better on the PC, which you know is the death-knell of a videogame (and usually the console itself, if it weren’t already just a PC in a huge box). LoW2 kicks the living shite out of RAW, which admittedly isn’t that hard to do. Unless you absolutely must have the out of date WWF roster that RAW provides (K-Kwik? Blackman? Haku?), or you’ve been dropped on your head a lot and you actually LIKE the engine, I would strongly advise going for Acclaim’s effort.
Remember how badass the Road Warriors used to be?
As for WrestleMania X8…ugh. WHY OH WHY did THQ hand development over to Yukes! instead of AKI? That just makes no fucking sense. In fact, if it weren’t for No Mercy and Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 for the N64, I would have given up on wrestling games long ago. AKI have got it absolutely sorted just the right balance of arcade action and the more realistic aspects of wrasslin' (like working individual body parts for a submission). LoW2 doesn’t provide anything like the same depth of play as No Mercy, and is ironically a lot more akin to the Smack!Down and Mania games I hate so much. However, all that Mania’s got to offer are a fun multiplayer mode and a really neat Hell in a Cell; other than that it’s pretty useless. LoW2 has got about a zillion more moves per wrestler and has much deeper gameplay, so Cube owners should definitely pick it over THQ’s crapfest.
The only other alternatives are the Fire Pro series (which I can appreciate, but haven’t taken to as much as the AKI games) or Giant Gram, but in terms of new grapplers out on the shelves right now, that’s about your lot. Unless you want to import AKI’s Kinnikuman 2 for the Cube (which I pimped in my news update), which is more along the lines of the tried and true AKI formula, LoW2 is your best bet.
"Hey ma, I'm on TEE-VEE!"
What we’ve got is a very fun wrestling game that is still plagued by some frustrating flaws in virtually every area: the grappling system is still inconsistent, the single player is not as deep or involving as it could be, more effort needs to be put into the sound, and the CAW still needs a major, major, MAJOR overhaul.
That said, it is genuinely unique wrestling experience, thanks to the awesome reversal system, the vast amount of real-life legends, the distinctive soundtrack, and the abundance of innovative tag team matches. As a single-player experience, it is a challenging, engaging title that’ll keep you playing just to unlock everything if nothing else, so that you’ve got more stuff to use during the “oh-shit-it’s-3am-fuck-it-let’s-play-some-more” multiplayer.
I wouldn’t usually bother giving a game a rating since I’ve never reviewed games for the site before, so it wouldn’t really mean a whole lot. Plus, the whole point of writing so damn much about the game is so that it explains exactly what’s good or bad about the game, rather than just inferring it through an arbitrary score. However, since I’ve already mentioned that I gave the original 71% in GamesMaster, if I were to score LoW2 I would give it a solid 85%. “The Russian police: stern… stern but fair.”