A bloodthirsty gladiator enters the ring. With eyes narrowed in steely concentration, he eagerly awaits his chance to use his serpentine sword for the purpose for which it was created. Across from him stands a towering monument to death. The stone golem has no soul within him; no human emotions to hold him back from doing the one thing he knows how to do: kill. They slowly walk toward each other. The yells from the expectant crowd dull to a whisper as these two goliaths size each other up. It is only when the epic battle is under way that the secret shame of these supposed warriors is revealed: They are fighters in appearance only. They move with the clumsy grace of a dancing sloth, swing their weapons with the precision of a bag of hammers, and exhibit the tactical ability of a cuddly kitten. When the fight mercifully ends, no one feels like a winner.
Tournament of Legends has enough features to make it appear as if it were an in-depth fighting game. The 10 fighters are based on classic archetypes, such as a Gorgon-like monster and a Minotaur, and have a variety of abilities to appeal to a wide range of fighting preferences. After each fight in the single-player tournament, new weapons are unlocked, each with its own power, speed, and reach attributes. The fighters have four unique special attacks apiece, including buff spells, melee attacks, and long-range blasts. In addition to your standard assortment of horizontal and vertical swings that you can combine into combos, you can imbue your weapon with spells that either harm your opponent, empower you, or both. When you throw all of these different features into a 3D fighter that allows you to freely move around the arena, it seems as if you have a foundation for a solid fighting experience.
But unresponsive controls keep Tournament of Legends from reaching its promising potential. Every fighter is equipped with a weapon--whether it's a sword, axe, or some other implement of death--but a variety of issues mean there is little tactical difference between how they function during the course of a match. There is often a slight delay between when you push the button (or swing the controller, depending on your control setup) and when your onscreen avatar completes the action. This hiccup makes it difficult to string moves together, resulting in choppy confrontations in which the two fighters trade blows instead of smoothly stringing together long combos. Furthermore, because the camera is often situated at an awkward angle, it's tough to tell how far you are away from your opponent to line up a crushing blow. This unpredictability is compounded by questionable collision detection that frequently sees blades pass clean through body parts with no harm being doled out.
The finicky controls make up-close combat a chore, but movement is hindered as well. The fighters range from a lumbering robot to a lithe valkyrie, but even if you select one of the fastest warriors, you still won't be able to dance away from your opponent with poke-and-move tactics. The arenas are so confined that slow opponents can easily saddle up next to their quicker competitors and ensure the battle takes place face-to-face. And there is little tactical recourse because the defensive commands are just as unresponsive as the other actions. Blocking suffers from the same delay as attacking so consistently staving off strikes is troublesome, and the sidestep button often doesn't give you enough distance to avoid the incoming attack. Because all of your actions are so clumsily executed, battles feel clunky and slow. There is no pace to the proceedings, so things often boil down to spamming on buttons and hoping you fell your opponent before he gets the best of you.
Despite the sluggish controls, the fighting does become more interesting as you learn the intricacies of battle. Every character has four unique special attacks that are activated by hitting a button in conjunction with a specific direction on the stick. These are the most powerful and useful moves in the game, but you have to use them sparingly. A special bar on the bottom of the screen dictates what moves are available to you, and filling it up while making sure you use the correct spell are the main focus of battle. There is a good variety in the moves that each fighter has as well. The gladiator can summon a bear trap from the ground to hold his enemy in place or call a lion to knock down his opponent with a jungle leap. A separate gauge determines your elemental power, and once enabled, you can poison, burn, or otherwise harm your foe. These two aspects are more entertaining than the hand-to-hand aspect, and though the shoddy controls are impossible to ignore, these moves at least add some flair to the beatings.
The arenas in which you duel are re-creations of the places these legendary warriors call home, complete with environmental dangers to spice up a fight. You may have to avoid a swooping roc or horde of angry skeletons midfight, and though the simple quick-time event needed to avoid these monsters isn't particularly interesting, it does keep you on your toes. Unfortunately, QTE are so prevalent that they can distract you from the action at times. You have to wiggle the joysticks or shake the controller when you fall down in battle, and you have to go through the same dance between rounds to repair your armor and increase your health. It's a neat gimmick initially, giving you something to toy around with outside of the core fighting, but it just becomes annoying once you get in a rhythm and have these sequences pop up at an inopportune time.
Tournament of Legends has interesting elements that give it a personality, but sluggish controls hinder much of that potential. It's just too difficult to have a satisfying back-and-forth match because neither stringing together blows on the offensive side nor countering your opponent's attacks is reliable. Furthermore, versus matches are offline only, while the story and a limited training mode are the only ways to play the game alone. Tournament of Legends has a solid core, but it gets the fundamentals wrong. If you're new to the genre and just want to see legendary warriors duel, this is fun for a little while. But fighting fanatics should stay far away from this clunky brawler.