WWF: Road to Wrestlemania is THQ's first attempt to bring the squared circle to Nintendo's Game Boy Advance handheld. In terms of features and options, the game shows much promise. There are 24 wrestlers to use in five different match types and seven different gameplay modes--the majority of which support up to four players through the GBA's link-cable feature. Fans of Fire Pro Wrestling will bemoan the simplicity that defines Road to Wrestlemania; however, this same ease of use may also attract many players who were reluctant to try out Bam's more advanced offering.
Fans of the televised Raw and SmackDown! events will no doubt recognize the game's cast--the likenesses of Steve Austin, Triple H, X-Pac, the Hardy Boyz, and many others are present for your fantasy fighting pleasure. Whether you follow a career week by week in the season mode, test your endurance in the survival mode, or just have fun enjoying the other five modes (exhibition, king of the ring, ironman, royal rumble, and pay per view), there is no shortage of variety. Tag team, cage, triple threat, and handicap matches also spice things up a bit. In terms of single-player gaming, the season mode offers the greatest overall bang for your buck, since total success isn't achieved until you've won all five championship belts. However, the inclusion of multiplayer support also creates endless tournament possibilities for you and three friends.
Once you enter a match, you might be surprised at how easy it is to play and enjoy Road to Wrestlemania. The controls aren't overly complex. Roughly speaking, the two face buttons control kicks and grappling, while the shoulder buttons enable your wrestler to run or to swipe a weapon out from under the ring. Advanced takedowns, signature moves, and finishers occur as a result of button and D-pad combinations performed during grapples, and it is possible to execute maneuvers while running or while leaping from the turnbuckle. Leg locks and submission moves for downed opponents round out the list of available techniques--a list of about 40 moves that doesn't seem so minimal when you're actually competing. The presence of adrenaline and special indicators that influence your stamina and ability to perform high-risk maneuvers also keeps things interesting.
Perhaps the best measure of Road to Wrestlemania's worth is that it borrows some of its key gameplay elements from Bam's Fire Pro Wrestling--another highly regarded GBA wrestling game. The grapple system requires that you pause before inputting a takedown sequence, with overall timing playing a major role in whether or not you actually land a particular move. Exhaustion also plays into the mix, in that it takes a steady progression of weaker moves before you can successfully perform takedowns and signature moves. Should you attempt to unleash the Stone Cold Stunner early on, your opponent may just punch your lights out. Reversals and counters are also present, although they're not as important for advancement as those found in Fire Pro.
Unfortunately, the two areas where THQ's effort hits its harshest hurdles are also of great importance to a majority of today's players: graphics and sound. The game's sprite-based characters are large and true to life, but they don't move nearly as smoothly as those found in Fire Pro Wrestling. The tilted, sideways viewpoint allows ample room for 3D movement, but a lack of variation between arenas, as well as a minimum of audience interaction, limits the overall amount of sensory appeal. In a similar vein, the Titantron introductions and cinema sequences that occur between matches are hampered by a lack of motion. As for sound, other than a single rock-music background track, the announcer's count-out and submission speech samples, and a few standard punch and kick sounds, there's not much to the presentation.
For those who can overlook a little lack of polish, WWF: Road to Wrestlemania is an excellent addition to the wrestling enthusiast's game library. The gameplay is simple enough for beginners to enjoy, which should please those turned off by Fire Pro Wrestling, but there's also enough advanced strategy to keep you occupied long after landing all five championships. It's a shame there's no create-a-wrestler feature, but there's plenty to like regardless.