Full Review: The only place you'll find Hulk Hogan with a (nearly) full head of hair.
Wrestling games as of late have carried a bad rap. The PlayStation 2's WWF Smackdown game is practically a step back with a weak upgrade of the previous PlayStation effort, and the Xbox wrestling title WWF Raw is more of a multiplayer kind of game than anything, with a small set of features for a single-player experience.
In-between both of these WWF games, the company that used to hold the WWF license, Acclaim, released their latest wrestling game, Legends of Wrestling. While certainly lacking the high-profile of the WWF games, LOW carried the creative premise of loading up the game with a ton of legendary old-school wrestling games, with a more traditional feel instead of the glitz and glamour that wrestling has become these days.
However, this is Acclaim. This should suck, right? Hardly. Believe it or not, Legends of Wrestling is a superior wrestling game to either of the current WWF releases. It's not the best wrestling game ever made, but it's a creative and playable game that has enough depth for a single player, and of course plenty of multiplayer options. Some things need to be addressed for an eventual sequel, but LOW is simply the finest wrestling game Acclaim has made in a long, long time.
LOW features 42 legends of the sport ? from older stars like Terry Funk, Fritz Von Erich, The Sheik, and Ivan Koloff; to more recent stars like the late Brian Pillman, Rob Van Dam, and Sabu; to some of the biggest stars ever, like Bret ?Hitman? Hart, The Road Warriors, and the star of the show, Hulk Hogan. Also, managers Jimmy Hart and Captain Lou Albano are included for use in the Career mode. While there's a ton of missed legends (no Ric Flair, Randy Savage, Roddy Piper, Andre the Giant, Bobby Heenan, Sting, hell, even Goldberg), what's there is the largest collection of popular old-timers that'll get old-school wrestling fans excited.
If you can't pick a certain star that you like, there's always the Create-A-Legend ? however, this is one area Acclaim dropped the ball. Back in the PlayStation 1 era, Acclaim was known for their ridiculously deep CAW mode ? as a matter of fact I spent more time creating wrestlers in WWF Attitude than I did playing the game, because of how deep it was. LOW's is fairly deep, but still lacking in many areas. There's only one face variation, so you'll have a bunch of guys who look the exact same. Along with that, there's little in the way of customization, so it's a chore to make a legend that hasn't been included.
What is cool though, is the ability to edit an existing legend. You can edit a legend and base a CAW after him, if you'd like to create an alter ego of a legend, or try to more accurately tweak new legend. It was fun making a Hollywood Hogan and putting him up against the yellow and red Hulkster, thanks to this mode.
Now don't worry, there's more to LOW than the CAL process; there's a rather deep feature set for the actual gameplay. The main draw is the Career mode, which takes a legend on the old-school trek across the multiple territories in the US, out to win each belt and unify them to become the United States champion. From there you hit the world circuit and try to become the world heavyweight champion.
There are 5 different territories to conquer ? the northeast, southeast, midwest, southwest, and pacific. This is reminiscent of the old days of wrestling before Vince McMahon Jr. took it to the national scale it is today. Of course, your main goal is to win that territory's heavyweight (or tag team if you pick one of them) championship. There's no set amount of matches you fight until you get a crack at the championship ? it all depends on how fast you can make a name for yourself and build your popularity meter. The popularity meter is the means to gaining the gold. The meter grows depending on what you do in the matches ? the more you build up the ?match excitement? gauge, the more ?points? you get to build up the popularity meter. Once it's at 100%, you earn a title match. I find this highly creative, because it rewards you for doing particular things in the matches instead of repeating moves over and over. Various things build up the match excitement ? doing a wide variety of moves, making your opponent bleed, pull off lots of combos, using a weapon, performing your finishing move, even knocking out the referee will build that meter. Once it's full you get the maximum amount of possible points for the popularity meter. You can lose points, however, if you repeat the same moves over and over, or lose the match. That's the funny thing ? you can practically build up your meter even if you lose all your matches.
Once you win a belt, you must defend it once before you can move on. Once you do, you can pick the territory you want to go to next. However, the popularity meter drops back to zero when you move on, thus you must work your way up the ladder again.
A small thing I noticed through my career ? the difficulty level ups as you go. I had it set on the default level, and when I got to the final territory it raised it up to legend difficulty without my knowledge. Just a warning if you find the game suddenly more difficult than before.
If you don't feel like messing with the Career mode, you can always just pick from a set of base exhibition matches ? there's nothing really fancy, just one on one, triangle, and fatal-4way matches, along with a tag team match. No cage matches or things like that in the PS2 version (the upcoming Xbox & GameCube versions will have them).
There's also a cool tournament mode ? you can have a single match tournament, a tag team tourney, or a tag team championship tournament. Here you and up to 5 other people (thanks to the Multitap) can fight it out to see who's the best of the best.
The actual gameplay of LOW is dominated largely by the creative ISP system. ISP stands for Initial Starting Position, and it's basically a combo engine to chain moves together like a traditional fighting game. It's the first wrestling game that lets you link moves like you might see in the WWF.
The ISP also works with reversals ? hit the button indicated on the meter when you're supposed to, and you'll possibly be able to reverse the move and avoid taking damage. That's how the combos work also; press the button at the right time and you can link a powerbomb into a pin, or a suplex into a ground hold.
While the ISP isn't exactly deep, allowing for 2 or 3 chained moves at the best, it's a really nice step forward for the wrestling genre. It really lets you mix things up and put on a good show for whoever's watching, be it another person or the in-game crowd. I think it's a brilliant idea that can only get better with more practice from Acclaim.
Thanks to the ISP system, the moves are simple to execute, unlike the past batch of Acclaim wrestlers that require 100 button presses to do a bodyslam. It's all pick up and play, and the execution of moves become second nature.
The pace of the game isn't super-fast like WWF Smackdown, but it isn't plodding either, like the old WWF/ECW games from Acclaim were. The speed represents the slower pace of the era being replicated, where match psychology and a deliberate pace was the norm, instead of the highspot, fast action era of today. It's actually not that slow at all, and feels very natural and gives you time to plan out your next attack without feeling like it takes forever, or it comes up too fast.
The controls take a little getting used to, but once you do, they're seamless and not too sluggish. Some of the more basic commands like running or climbing the turnbuckle are more complicated than usual, and don't always work right until you get it down. The only thing that's really a pain is the button used for finishers ? most require you to rotate the right analog stick to pull off a finisher. That's great ? too bad 9 times out of 10 it doesn't work. The finishing command should have been a press down of that stick, not some silly rotating of it, that's not even close to effective. So most of the time you'll be living without executing the final moves of your favorite legend.
What's important though, is the game is a ton of fun. Because the pace seems to be just right, and the controls are pretty much perfect once you take the time to learn them (something many ?gamers? want to avoid these days), it's a blast to take your star to the top of the territories and conquer the world. And there's a ton of unlockable items and wrestlers, so the incentive to play through the lengthy career mode multiple times is there if you choose. It's also just as fun to play with friends and reenact old matches you possibly remember from the old days of wrestling. The uniqueness and freshness of the whole idea just adds to the already fun gameplay.
Visually, LOW is also unique. Instead of realistic features, the game tends to paint more of a cartoony feel to the legends. Guys like Hogan are barrel chested and huge, with a goofy face to go along with it, win or lose (not that Hogan doesn't have a goofy face to begin with). All the legends have their trademarks ? George ?The Animal? Steele is just as much of a hairy freak as he really is, Bret Hart comes to the ring in his traditional jacket and sunglasses, and Terry Funk carries the Funk family cow brander to the ring. The only really weird design is King Kong Bundy, who looks 3 times as big as Hogan and could probably eat him whole and still have enough room to eat a member of the Rock ?N Roll Express for dessert. All the wrestlers are created in the image they were in their prime, so Hulk Hogan has 3 strands of hair instead of 1 like now.
However the animations of the wrestlers are a mixed bag ? they're real, like Hogan doing his arm flexes and the cupping his hand over his ear to hear the crowd screaming, but they're repeated constantly and look really fake. During the matches they're fine and look really good (and not the forced, robotic motion capture Acclaim used to live on like it was the only way to make a wrestling game), but coming down to the ring is really poorly done in this regard.
That's not to say the entrances are bad ? but then again, they aren't spectacular. But remember; this is from the era where it was more about what went on in the ring, not the current days of fancy lighted entrances with fireworks, and that sort of pomp and circumstance. They just come out to the ring with some generic theme music and get down to business.
There's about a dozen different arenas to pick from ? 6 in career ? and all are different. The northeast and world arenas are of course the biggest, since the northeast is ?WWF? territory and the world circuit is of course monstrous. Other arenas include a backlot-type locale, and a high school gym. It's both sad and humorous to see some of the biggest stars ever wrestling in a little gym in front of like 10 people.
All put together, LOW's graphics are decent, but nothing really pushing the PS2's power. It looks good and gets across the look and feel Acclaim tried to use, and it works well. While Smackdown tries for a realistic look that comes across as rather fake, LOW doesn't even bother for realism and just stuck to caricatures, and it's pulled off to perfection.
The sounds are the weakest point in the game ? the music is bland, the grunts and groans are boring, and the ring announcer irritates 10 seconds in. And the squeaky voice of Jimmy Hart would drive anyone to the brink of insanity. While there are no wrestler voices, it's somewhat hard considering a few of the legends aren't exactly alive anymore. How do you get voices of Eddie Gilbert, Brian Pillman, and half the Von Erich's if they're 6 feet under?
The music as I mentioned is bland and forgettable, with boring rock riffs that might fit the era, but are still nothing to write home about. Each wrestler has his own theme, and some sound similar to their real one, but they're still nothing to waste your time hoping for a game soundtrack.
The ring announcer takes the cake for poorness though. While the voice is done okay, it's the delivery that's repetitive and stupid. When he announces the 5 foot, 11 inch tall Bret Hart as ?towering?, and claiming his 235 pounds ?tips the scales?, you know something's wrong. It'd be fine if you were talking about King Kong Bundy (who's just snacked on RVD a minute ago ? must have been hungry again), but when the average-sized guys are announced this way, it's just plain dumb.
Legends of Wrestling is far from a technical achievement graphically ? and I don't think it was really meant to be either. Where it achieves is the ISP system, the deep career mode, and the pure fun and replay value this game carries with it. Having plenty of things to unlock also helps out and increases the desire to open everything up (which you can do with a cheat code, but then you suck if you do that). If you're looking for an alternative to the WWF glitz games and just want a plain old wrestling game that's a lot of fun or reminiscent of the old ?pick up and play? Acclaim wrestlers of the 16-bit era and prior, this one's worth a shot.