When WrestleMania X8 was first announced for the GameCube, many fans of the Nintendo 64 crop of wrestling games were disappointed to find that THQ had chosen Yuke's, the developer of its SmackDown series, to take the reigns instead of AKI, the development team behind the popular No Mercy game for the Nintendo 64. Naturally, most assumed that WrestleMania X8 would simply turn out to be a clone of the SmackDown games, which generally had faster gameplay and didn't adhere to quite as many sports entertainment conventions as No Mercy. But that isn't really the case. In fact, WrestleMania X8 is an amalgamation, featuring core gameplay mechanics that are similar to SmackDown's, but with bits and pieces of No Mercy thrown into the mix to make the gameplay seem realistically slower and more deliberate. So if you're expecting just an extension of No Mercy, then you might not enjoy WrestleMania X8 quite as much. But based on its own merits, the game still delivers an entertaining experience.
Fortunately, if nothing else, the experience should last you a while, thanks to the numerous play modes available in WrestleMania X8. In the first menu screen, you can select from a number of modes, including exhibition, path of a champion, battle for the belts, and create a superstar. The exhibition mode is a quick way to jump into any one of several different match types, including a regular one-on-one match, a tag team match, a handicap match, a triple-threat match, a fatal four-way, a battle royal, or a royal rumble. Within these match types (excluding battle royal and royal rumble), you'll find additional variations that enable you to make it a normal match, a hardcore match, a steel cage match, a hell-in-the-cell match, a ladder match, a table match, or a TLC (tables, ladders, and chairs) match. If you're playing a normal singles match, then you can also select an iron-man match option.
That's a lot of stuff, and all the different variations are well executed in WrestleMania X8. In tag team matches, you can tell your tag team partner to perform a variety of actions. You can have him or her distract the referee, attack the opponent on the inside or the outside of the ring, or break up a pin. Various double-team moves, like the 3D, can also be executed with relative ease. However, it would have been beneficial if WrestleMania X8 gave you manual control over your tag team partner--as it is, your computer-controlled partner tends to get beat up rather quickly. Since you have no control over your partner's actions, you have to patiently wait on the ring apron and outstretch your hand to signify that you want to tag back.
The multiwrestler matches (handicap, fatal four-way, battle royal, and royal rumble) can be fun, though you will start to notice some flaws in WrestleMania X8's artificial intelligence when playing a triple-threat match. The AI wrestlers have the tendency to automatically gang up on your wrestler instead of fighting each other, making it difficult to get any sort of offense going. Eventually, the AI wrestlers will start attacking each other, presenting you with an opportunity to get your licks in, but it generally doesn't take long before the computer-controlled opponents will band together again. At least when there are four wrestlers in the ring, this isn't nearly as much of a problem, since it's almost always two-on-two throughout the entire match.
The cheap AI is all the more noticeable in the gimmick matches or those that involve weapons, steel cages, ladders, or tables. In a fatal four-way ladder match, it's incredibly difficult to climb the ladder, reach up, and grab the belt, because the computer almost always seems to find a way to knock the ladder out from under your feet at the last second. Granted, the whole point is to damage all of your opponents sufficiently to the point that they can hardly get up off the ground, but it's not as simple as it seems. In table matches, the AI problem isn't as pronounced, since it's relatively easy to set an opponent up on a table and smash through it, but the computer-controlled opponents will certainly take a beating before you can set everything up properly. The hell-in-the-cell variation has similar problems when you're playing a triple-threat or other multiwrestler match, but it's easily one of the most fun match types in WrestleMania X8 because you can knock wrestlers through the side of the cell and even climb on top of it to dish out more damage.
The match type that's most adversely affected by flaws in the AI is the steel cage match. You'll still get double-teamed by two other wrestlers if you're playing that sort of match, but the AI usually does a good job of knocking other computer-controlled opponents off the side of the cage if they're trying to climb out. In addition, the speed with which you climb out of the cage is determined by how much momentum you have, represented by an onscreen meter that gradually changes color as you execute different moves. If you have a lot of momentum, the only thing you need to do is knock your opponents to the mat and climb out within five seconds. But if your momentum is low, then it will take you much longer to climb out of the cage, giving your opponents more than enough time to run against the ropes and knock you off the sides. The point is that you shouldn't even make an attempt to climb out before your momentum meter is at its highest or near-highest point.
Overall, the AI problems will likely be an occasional cause of frustration for you in the triple-threat match and occasionally within the fatal four-way. Otherwise, all of these modes--especially hell-in-the-cell and steel cage--are fun when playing a one-on-one match, a tag match, or with a group of friends.
WrestleMania X8's gameplay has been designed so that just about anyone can jump right in and start playing. The basic mechanics are similar to those of the SmackDown games in that you can execute a flurry of punches and kicks or a variety of grappling moves by pressing a particular direction on the analog stick when your opponent is standing up, lying on the ground, thrown against the ropes, or standing up against the corner turnbuckle. Any move you execute will partially fill a small meter at the top of the screen. When this meter is filled, you can execute your wrestler's special signature move, whether it's the people's elbow, the Stone Cold stunner, the twist of fate, or many others. The previously mentioned momentum meter also comes into play, because it indicates when your opponent is just about ready to be pinned or when you're in danger of being pinned. There's also a secondary grapple move similar to the one in No Mercy, which has you picking up an opponent and holding him or her in a grapple for a few seconds before executing a move. As useful as it is, the secondary grapple seems almost out of place because there simply aren't that many moves in WrestleMania X8 to execute, which is too bad.
Over the course of the match, you'll find yourself using the same hold over and over again, because you won't have much choice. Your wrestler has only four standing grapple moves, three or four ground moves (including a stomp), a few behind-the-back moves, and two or so corner turnbuckle holds--all of which vary depending on the individual wrestler. You may soon become bored using the same move repeatedly, in which case you will want to learn the game's reversal system, which does a good job of giving the game some extra depth.
Every single move in the game can be countered. You can stop punches, holds, and even special moves by pressing either one of the shoulder buttons for punches and grapple maneuvers or both to counter a signature move. It's a little difficult to do at first since the counter system requires fairly precise timing, but once you're able to get a grasp of it, you should have no problem with using counters for defeating overzealous opponents.
Wrestlemania X8 handles submissions relatively well, as the length of the hold depends on the fatigue level of your opponent. For example, if you put on a sleeper hold at the beginning of the match, then it will only last for a few moments. But if the same move is applied five or so minutes into the match, when your opponent has probably been weakened, your wrestler will hold it for a longer period of time, increasing the chances for a submission. Signature submissions moves, such as Kurt Angle's ankle lock, follow the same mechanics. In short, you can't get a submission by using the hold early on in the match. Fans of No Mercy will also be happy to know that wrestlers will take damage when missing certain types of aerial moves off the top rope.
Knowing all the intricacies of the gameplay will help you through the path-of-a-champion mode. In this mode, you can choose any wrestler and go after one of any six championship belts, including the heavyweight title, the intercontinental championship, the European championship, the hardcore championship, the light heavyweight title, or the tag team titles. There is no women's championship to speak of, which is understandable considering that there aren't that many female wrestlers in the game (or in WWE for that matter), so you'll take them on in the light heavyweight option instead. For the less prestigious belts, you'll fight through a number of singles matches and maybe one or two fatal four-way or triple-threat matches before you reach the championship match. Once you win an individual belt, you can either continue to defend it or attempt to win another belt with the same (or different) wrestler.
You'll also unlock one of several hidden wrestlers in the game. When vying for the intercontinental and heavyweight championships, you'll have to go through several triple-threat and fatal four-way matches, which can take the form of a normal, hell-in-the-cell, steel cage, or hardcore match. Ultimately, this mode serves the purpose only for unlocking additional wrestlers, so you may not find it all that entertaining after you've won each championship, unless you feel like having champions in the game who match those who have the championship in the WWE TV shows, since they constantly change.
When you're done with the path-of-a-champion mode, you can move on to a mode called battle for the belts. Essentially, this mode lets you compete for dozens of fictional belts. You can even put your belts on the line against another players' belts by playing a unification match. It's an interesting mode that plays more into the multiplayer aspect of the game than anything, but it also seems to place a special emphasis on the create-a-wrestler mode because it gives you and another player an opportunity to find out whose created wrestler is the best.
But ever since WWE purchased WCW and "merged" with ECW, the create-a-wrestler mode seems a little less useful. Most of the big stars from the other two organizations, such as those from the NWO as well as RVD, Booker T, and others, are already in the game. Still, you'll probably want to create some of the more notable wrestlers who are missing from the game, such as DDP and the recently returned Shawn Michaels. Thankfully, there are outfits and animations designed specifically for these wrestlers, so you should have no problem creating them within a matter of minutes--and if there's any doubt of this, both DDP's and Shawn Michaels' tattoos and entrance animations are both available. The create-a-wrestler mode itself is structured similarly to that of No Mercy. You can edit wrestlers' appearances down to their facial hair and the color and pattern of their tights. You can also edit individual moves, ranging from standing strikes and grapples to running and ground maneuvers. WrestleMania X8's create-a-wrestler also gives you the ability to edit moves for all the currently existing wrestlers. But you can't change their appearance, so if you want to see Hogan in the yellow and red, you're going to have to create him yourself.
The wrestlers in X8 generally look quite good, though more work could have gone into making the faces for some wrestlers a little more realistic and less generic. All the wrestlers are built to scale, so guys such as Kevin Nash and The Big Show tower above the smaller wrestlers such as The Hurricane and Tajiri. There is also some nice facial animation during the introductions and over the course of the match, when wrestlers are getting punched or choked. The texturing in WrestleMania X8 is especially well done--you can visibly see the texture of different types of clothing. However, it seems that Yuke's was trying to replicate the visual style of the AKI games because some of the wrestler models have a blocky structure, which makes them look more like cartoon characters. It's not something that detracts from the game, but it certainly gives WrestleMania X8 a distinctly different look in comparison with Raw for the Xbox or SmackDown on the PS2. All seven arenas in the game look great, especially the WrestleMania X8 arena, with its three-monitor setup and massive tower of scaffolding at the top of the ramp. Unfortunately, there are no backstage areas to speak of, since fighting is restricted to the ring, the ramp, and the entrance area.
Sound is where WrestleMania X8 really suffers. Some of the entrance themes have been replaced with original tracks due to licensing issues, and if that isn't bad enough, the original tracks are absolutely horrible. In addition, some of the in-ring sound effects are just as bad, if not worse. The music that plays during matches isn't horrible, but you might as well turn it off since it's so subdued. Even though JR and Jerry "The King" Lawler are sitting at ringside, there's no commentary in WrestleMania X8, which may be a good thing based on the failed attempts of Yuke's to add commentary in the SmackDown games.
Judged on its own terms, WrestleMania X8 is an entertaining wrestling game. The gameplay mechanics are straightforward enough, and the reversal system gives an added element of depth. Even though the path-of-a-champion mode wears out its usefulness after you unlock all the wrestlers, the battle-for-the-belts and the create-a-wrestler mode should keep you busy for a while. The different match variations, such as hell-in-the-cell and steel cage, are also executed very well. There are certainly some flaws in the game. The AI can be really cheap, moves are lacking for each wrestler, and correct entrance music is also lacking, all of which hurt an otherwise solid game. So if you're expecting another No Mercy, you won't find it in WrestleMania X8. But if you're looking for a fun wrestling game for the GameCube, then you'll definitely want to check it out.