Wrestling games draw a wide variety of fans, ranging from those who enjoy the popular WWE televised and pay-per-view events of today, to those who reminisce fondly about the great strongmen of yesteryear who focused more on performance within the ring than without. Acclaim's Legends of Wrestling is an attempt to capture in video game form the drama and spectacle of the house shows and independent federations that housed the pioneers of modern sports entertainment.
The playable wrestlers in Legends of Wrestling are made up of perhaps some of the most powerful personalities to ever grace the squared circle. Included in the formidable lineup are talents that took wrestling to the peak of popularity back in the '80s, such as Bret "The Hitman" Hart, "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka, King Kong Bundy, The Iron Sheik, Ted DiBiase, and Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. Also included are a slew of athletes who trailblazed the sport years ago but are still remembered as huge stars nonetheless, such as Harley Race, Jerry "The King" Lawler, George "The Animal" Steele, Dory Funk Jr., Ivan Putski, and "Superstar" Billy Graham. Some of the most memorable tag teams of all time are also available for competition, including the high-flying The Rock 'n Roll Express and Hawk and Animal, The Legion of Doom. Fans of more modern superstars will find a pair of welcome faces--Rob Van Dam and Sabu of ECW fame.
Perhaps most impressive of all is the inclusion of arguably the most influential man in wrestling history, Hulk Hogan. While other games have made available the Hulk Hogan of today, in his recent Hollywood Hogan motif, Legends of Wrestling captures Hogan in his prime, when the Hulkster had the world talking about Hulkamania, the yellow and red, saying your prayers, training hard, and his famous 24-inch pythons, the largest arms in the world.
While the strengths of these characters' personas are formidable, it's important that their abilities in the ring are equally up to par, and Legends of Wrestling gives you the opportunity to enact brutal matches in arcade wrestling fashion. Each player has the ability to run, strike, initiate a grapple, use weaponry, and call to the outside for assistance. The core grappling mechanic in Legends of Wrestling is called the Intermediate Start Position (ISP). When characters initiate a grapple and lock up, this is known as an intermediate position, and the commanding player can then move to a secondary position, such as belly to belly with the opponent. From one of these positions, you can choose the move to execute, although the player or CPU on the receiving end has a chance to counter. Countering moves is accomplished through proper timing of a swinging meter beneath the wrestler's name, much like in a golfing game. This swinging meter may also be stopped prematurely by an astute offensive player in the hopes of fouling up the defender's chances of a successful counter.
Once you've gotten the hang of executing basic grapples and strikes, you can mix different maneuvers into your repertoire, including hard-core-style attacks with weaponry and special moves. Underneath each stage is a multitude of dangerous weapon types, including folding chairs, two-by-fours, and kendo sticks, which each have their own attack animations and special attack modes, such as double chairshots or a Van Daminator. Using these weapons in a match also serves the purpose of opening up an opponent's forehead more easily than standard attacks, and once the blood starts flowing, the bonuses and multipliers start racking up. There are a wide variety of bonuses to strive for during each match, including those awarded for drawing blood, weapon use, bumping the ref, high spots (dangerous moves), and more. Building up the fan appreciation meter will give you access to your wrestler's special moves and trademark finishers, which can lay an opponent on the mat outright. Sometimes these finishers are accentuated by a stop-motion Matrix effect that has the camera spin around before the impact is actually made.
While damaging an opponent is important, Legends of Wrestling focuses more on appealing to the ravenous crowds of the independent wrestling circuits. Audiences go wild when the aforementioned bonuses are earned, but repetitive play will just as easily drive them against you. Mixing up your moves and throwing some randomness into your matches will be your best bet at currying the favor of the masses and achieving the goal of 100 percent fan appreciation. Only by providing thoroughly entertaining matches (win or lose) will a chosen wrestler truly get "over" with the crowds and find himself in a position to challenge forthe regional title and move on to the next circuit.
There are a small number of play modes to choose from in Legends of Wrestling, as it hearkens back to the era when main events were usually tag team or singles matches, with little in the way of gimmicks or special rules. You can compete in singles matches, three- and four-way dances, and tag team matches. These matches take place in 10 fictional, colorful settings, including back alleys, rodeo rings, gymnasiums, beach resorts, and full-scale arenas. Entering these venues is the game's heroic and villainous cast of wrestlers, which look nearly superhuman in this game's particular visual style. The wrestlers are all very stocky, thick models that bear remarkable resemblances to the chunky plastic action figures of the mid-'80s. One effect of this look is that even the older athletes look timeless, each character frozen at the peak of his career.
The create-a-legend mode can be used if the cast of 42 doesn't have everyone you want, such as legendary wrestlers the Junkyard Dog and Jake The Snake Roberts. Your created legends can borrow move sets from other legends, and then you can edit them as desired. Each of the created wrestlers is ranked in a number of attributes, including mat skill, recovery, strength, and charisma. These statistics have a direct influence on a wrestler's performance in the ring--high recovery will allow you to rise from knockdowns faster, while high-strength characters can generally deal more damage. These statistics also form the basis for the abilities of each wrestler, which are in turn also a set of ranked categories, including brawling, high risk, hard-core, grappling, and cheating. You are encouraged to become familiar with the specific techniques that are associated with these moves and find the proper mix for the wrestler you want to play.
While Legends of Wrestling was released in stores months ago for the Sony PlayStation, we have yet to see how the game will shape up for the Xbox and GameCube. If the versions of the game yet to be released address the issues from the PlayStation version, then wrestling game fans may be interested in giving this franchise a second look. We'll have the latest on these versions of Legends of Wrestling as they approach release.