Tournament of Legends (Wii) review
"I donít know what you imagine when you picture a snake woman fighting a robot, but I bet it isnít the two of them standing next to each other, occasionally slapping one another with their arms. Yet that's about as legendary as things get at this tournament."
Two things make a fighting game work: well-designed characters and solid controls. Tournament of Legends has neither. What it does have is a lack of originality that seems to be motivated by an attempt to cash in on the latest fad.
At this moment in the gaming world, there is no fad bigger than the Greek fad. Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise, then, that the cast of Tournament of Legends includes a Medusa, a Minotaur and a Roman Gladiator (who looks like a Greek Spartan). These fighters are thrust together by Fate, who jumbles up the literal threads of their lives in order to give them a shot at taking down Thanatos, the god of death. The fighters are all after him to gain his power and to grant themselves a single wish.
In the game, they call this ďlegendary.Ē In the real world, we call this ďgeneric.Ē
Tournament of Legends tries to hide its influences by giving the majority of the characters Roman names, like Jupiter instead of Zeus, but... well... thatís ironic, isnít it? The Romans created those names specifically to cover up their theft of the Greek legends. The fact that this game does the same thing doesnít convince me that Tournament of Legends isnít trying to hitch a ride on the successful coattails of 300 and God of War. Granted, there are a few less conventional fighters filling out the ranks that peaked my interest. I was genuinely looking forward to seeing how Volcanus, an eight foot automaton who loses gears (and eventually body parts) every time he is hit, would control compared to Narcia, the lithe and inexplicably French Medusa.
I was extremely disappointed to discover that they control exactly the same. A left swing from Volcanus moves with roughly the same speed and basic animation as a left swing from Narcia or any other character. The result is really boring to watch. I donít know what you imagine when you picture a snake woman fighting a robot, but I bet it isnít the two of them standing next to each other, occasionally slapping one another with their arms. Yet that's about as legendary as things get at this tournament.
Tournament of Legends does try, occasionally, to spice things up. You might be circling your opponent in the Underworld Bazaar, looking for the right opportunity to strike your Grecian-inspired opponent, when suddenly a Titan walks through the middle of the arena. Iíll admit, thatís a pretty cool idea. Its execution, however, is lame. The camera pulls back and the screen yells at you to wave around your Wii Remote in a specific way. You do it, you dodge, and the event is over. Any attack that you were about to initiate is interrupted and you'll go back to circling your opponent while waiting for the right opening.
The inclusion of armor is similarly uninspired. While itís cool to watch armor fly off as you beat on your opponent, the only thing that armor really adds to the experience is a confounding game of ďpat your head and rub your tummyĒ that comes whenever the timer runs out. In such instances, the characters take a ten-second break to heal themselves (AKA rub the tummy) and rebuild their armor (AKA pat the head). The computer is inevitably better at this task than a human player is, so usually the best idea is to win the match before this occurs and thus avoid the mini-games altogether.
Special attacks are another area where the game tries (and fails) to shine. In what is perhaps a bid for simplicity, Tournament of Legends emulates Smash Bros, with each character possessing four unique signature moves that are activated depending on which direction you are pushing the analog stick when you hit the ďspecialĒ button. However, unlike in Smash Bros, these moves arenít balanced between characters at all. Narcia, despite her supposedly speedy fighting form, takes forever to summon a horde of desperately slow snakes while huge Volcanus has the ability to heal himself for a large amount of life in mere seconds. This hardly seems fair. Then there are moves that are just ridiculous, like Bastís ability to set the arena on fire. I understand the reasoning behind the move (she is, after all, an Egyptian sun goddess) but I donít understand the reasoning behind blatantly ignoring game balance to make it happen.
Regardless of their power (or lack thereof), specials are secondary to the slap-fest. Fights ultimately boil down to an exchange of blows in close quarters. Unfortunately, itís incredibly difficult to match whatís happening on screen with what youíre doing with your controller. Attack range, in particular, seems almost random. When I first saw Kara, the Valkyrie woman who wields a huge spear, I thought I understood what the developers were doing. Here was a relatively weak character who had been granted the benefit of range to give her a chance against heavier hitters. But when I used her in combat my theories completely fell apart. Most of the time, the spear didnít have any more range than a dagger, forcing me to close with characters whose arm muscles were bigger than my bust. However, in the same battle, I would poke the area two feet in front of a character and watch as blood magically appeared from nowhere. What the game registered as a hit for Kara was based on some arbitrary interpretation of reality that I am not privy to. This oddness extended to all characters, making me wonder if the game were funded by the Equal Opportunities Act.
Another thing characters have in common are unresponsive controls. It all seems so simple when described: you wave your controller up and down to to perform downward swings, or side-to-side to execute side swings. Yet youíll be shocked and amazed by how often these completely distinct motions are mistaken for one another. Delay isnít a rarity, either. Iíve often rushed into battle, swinging downward with my Wii Remote, only to watch my fighter stand still for several seconds, take a couple hits and then perform a side swing that completely misses his opponent.
The best strategy that Iíve found for defeating opponents is to charge at them and then swing the controller madly for a few moments until the gameís only combo is executed (yes, itís the same combo for every character). Then it's time to back away and get ready to do it all again. This works just fine if you're playing as one of the larger characters. It's even satisfying on occasion, but not to the extent that things remain interesting throughout the ten fights that you must clear to finish the Story mode.
In spite of my complaints, Tournament of Legends does have a few features that Iíd like to see other fighting games incorporate. Characters have specific taunts for each other and thatís pretty cool. The banter does add something to the overall ambiance when Thanatos tells the Gorgon Narcia that ďeverything, especially ugly things, diesĒ or even when Volcanus taunts the Minotaur with "I really grabbed the bull by the horns that time." It's a little tacky and poorly written, but the effort is still appreciated.
Another thing that Tournament of Legends does well is... oh, wait. Thatís it.
Freelance review by Jonathan Stark (July 15, 2010)
Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.
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