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Showdown: Legends of Wrestling (PlayStation 2) artwork

Showdown: Legends of Wrestling (PlayStation 2) review

"When most of them were lacing up their boots, there was never the prospect of them being immortalised in a video game. So it felt only right to go back in time and revitalise some of the biggest names in the history of professional wrestling, showcasing them to a whole new audience for, perhaps, the first time. "

When most of them were lacing up their boots, there was never the prospect of them being immortalised in a video game. So it felt only right to go back in time and revitalise some of the biggest names in the history of professional wrestling, showcasing them to a whole new audience for, perhaps, the first time.

And it sounds like such a great idea on paper. Showdown: Legends of Wrestling is the third (and final) time in which Acclaim put this concept into practise.

It would be unfair to say that the series didn't improve over its tenure. With such a promising idea betrayed by the title, and being the first wrestling game on the PlayStation 2 in mid-2001, expectations were huge. Alas, Legends of Wrestling featured a clan of 40 wrestlers who were pumped up beyond belief; looking more like sloppy cartoon characters than their real-life counterparts. A slow match engine and general over-simplicity countered a decent grapple and reversal system. Legends of Wrestling II the following year took a step towards looking realistic, and sped the gameplay up immensely, and, with a diverse 'World Tour' mode upon which the storylines revolved around randomly selecting a number, meaning there was a good chance of a fresh storyline with each play, and unlockables earned through LOW 'chips' gambling, it looked as if the series was beginning to get better, and live up to the huge status of its superstars. It wasn't an immense improvement, but it was an improvement nonetheless, with more to come when completing the trifecta, you would expect...?

Showdown certainly does have a huge visual improvement. While still exaggerating at times, such as André the Giant being incredibly tall, King Kong Bundy being morbidly obese, it is clear that there has been more care taken when designing the superstars - they look more lifelike than either of the two previous games. It doesn't match up to the SmackDown! series, however, and still comes out looking relatively poor in comparison, as Acclaim often has when running parallel to the rival grapplers.

There's also a lot missing in comparison to the SmackDown! series. One issue is that there are very slim pickings when it comes to match types (limited to single, cage, ladder and table matches). While you wouldn't necessarily expect to have The Ultimate Warrior and Randy Savage battling in a Hell In A Cell-Table-Inferno match, the lack of variety may leave it coming out inferior to a large portion of its target audience, while enthusiasts for old wrestling may see it as refreshingly simple. That said, there are a limited selection of weapons in the game, and intuitive blood effects where the 'crimson mask' drips and even stains the canvas! The 'Create-A-Legend' utility is also pretty basic, and reminiscent of WWF Attitude in terms of its custimisation structure. Another area of note is the complete lack of extra superstars, arenas, or anything to unlock, rendering the game modes I will elaborate on in due course almost completely obselete. This might have been acceptable in 1994, but really not in 2004. This means there's virtually zero incentive to play through the trials and tribulations of the game, and, trust me, this game needs all the incentive it can get.

With these points in mind, it's clear that the roster is the main selling point of the franchise, and, arguably, this is the greatest assembly of wrestlers on any wrestling game ever. Superstars from the 1960's to the present day are bundled into this game; there's Hulk Hogan, 'Million Dollar Man' Ted DiBiase, Eddie Guerrero, The Sheik, Jake 'The Snake' Roberts, 'Ravishing' Rick Rude, and lots, lots more, as well as managers such as The Grand Wizard, 'Captain' Lou Albano and Jimmy Hart. Each legend comes with four ring attires, reflecting different eras of their career, and their own move set, complete with multiple finishing moves for various situations. There's also a generous helping of notable venues from around the world, including Madison Square Garden, Maple Leaf Gardens, and even Wembley Stadium.

A nice touch are the game modes beside the standard exhibition matches. There's the Career Mode, and 'Classic Matches'. Career allows you to select a superstar and take them through the 1970s to the 2000s. Along the way, you will come across various title opportunities, and feuds with other wrestlers, though these are communicated in no way apart from a magazine front cover, and vague commentary now and again. Games released long before this have involved cutscenes, or at least some form of story you can influence and follow, even the previous games in this series did so. It would have been good to see this included; the introduction of voice-overs would be a no-go (due to half the roster sadly being no longer with us) but this is in no way an indication to ditch the element completely - if anything, voice-over considerably limits the storyline deviation and leniency. Ultimately, it's a run of 10 matches in each decade before moving onto the next one, which doesn't even match up to the Career Mode of games five years older than this - instead harking back to Acclaim's efforts with WWF War Zone and Attitude. It just comes across as lazy.

Then there's the 'Classic Match' mode, which is probably the most innovative feature of the entire series. Sixteen classic matches featuring superstars on the game are included, and progress in stature as you play along (assembled akin to a tournament) culminating with André the Giant vs. Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III. Upon starting a match, you will be briefed with a synopsis of the backstory behind the clash, and a description of how the match unfolded, up to a certain point. This is where you are introduced; it's up to you to assume control of one superstar and defeat the opponent, either repeating or rewriting history as it dictates. This is an excellent idea and brings back some memories of huge matches of Pay-Per-Views in the distant past.

The matches themselves, sadly, let the entire premise of the game down. It's quite embarrassing to Acclaim to see that they would let a game this buggy through the testing phase as it is. Almost every match you will play will involve some form of malfunction - whether it be the opponent being stuck in a lock-up, meaning you have to exit the bout, or some particularly bad clipping, it spoils the flow of the game fatally. Aside from this, the match system actually isn't that bad. It retains the simplistic yet robust control system of the previous Legends of Wrestling games, the double meter of both energy and momentum, and notably the good 'chain control' system in which you can link moves together, such as performing a Powerslam and pressing one button to remain on top of your opponent for a pin, or another to sit him up and lock in a sleeper hold. This is something which really stands up to the SmackDown! gameplay, but the fact that this game flows worse than both of the previous games in the Legends franchise extinguishes the threat in an instant.

There's more star power sprinkled around the game, too, with Bobby 'The Brain' Heenan (in-keeping with the buggy nature of the game, listed as Jerry Lawler on the box description) Larry Zybyszko, and Tony Schiavone, the latter hugely synonymous with the WWF in the early 90's, and then WCW in the midst of the 'Monday Night Wars' later in the decade. Their commentary is passable, but, again, it is executed very poorly and often leaves a large delay between the event and their commentary. At times they will say things completely irrelevant to what is going on in the ring, and will call moves incorrectly. Again, this just makes the game embarrassingly flawed.

If that wasn't enough retro pro wrestling glitz, there's also a video tutorial feature narrated by Bret Hart. It's nicely executed, if a little patronising, and would have been quite beneficial for beginners if the game didn't lock up or crash in 90% of your matches anyway.

You really get the feeling that you've been short-changed when you play this game. It just feels mightily rushed, with little reward for braving it, and they appear to have completely bypassed any form of bug detection. Which is a huge shame, as, under the bonnet, it's not a bad core game, and if it was fixed, its main drawing points - the stellar calibre of the roster and the 'Classic Match' mode, could have undoubtedly garnered a very decent reception indeed. But if you're looking for an excuse to get ultra-frustrated and wind up hurling your controller, console, and TV across the room, this unfinished mess will suit you perfectly. In this state, it's bordering on an insult to the legacy of its roster.


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Community review by Louisutton (August 09, 2010)

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