26 Jun, 2005

WWE Wrestlemania 21 Review

Xbox Review | Surely you can make your own sweaty-man-in-leotard joke.
Wrestling games are something that Xbox developers haven’t quite been able to pull off so far. There has been the average Legends of Wrestling titles, and the rather forgettable Raw series. Not really anything to write home – or anywhere, for that matter – about. In fact, THQ thought it was so forgettable that they decided to move the series away from developers Anchor Inc, in favour of Studio Gigante – with a name like that, they would surely be able to pull off a good wrestling game, right? Right!? Well, not particularly. While the game isn’t totally awful as you might think from initial impressions, it’s certainly not exactly something you should consider buying.

From the outset, it’s clear that Wrestlemania 21 doesn’t have particularly lofty goals. The presentation is many steps below the PS2 Smackdown titles, with simplistic (and even jaggy) menu screens. These menu screens are also horribly unresponsive, with a small but noticeable delay from when they appear until when you can select an option. In an even more curious omission, the game doesn’t even automatically load your profile, forcing you to manually load it every time you play. Basically, you can wrestle fifteen matches, but you won’t earn a cent because you forget to load your profile. Annoying. These aren’t major issues, but they don’t exactly get the game off to a running start.

It’s actually a little known fact that the Undertaker is the United States air guitar champion.

It’s actually a little known fact that the Undertaker is the United States air guitar champion.
The simplistic feel is carried through to the gameplay. You have two grapple buttons, A and B. Tapping A will apply a quick grapple, whilst holding it will apply a power grapple. Likewise, quickly pressing the B button will initiate a signature grapple, but holding it down will trigger a submission. In all of these instances, pressing the d-pad/analogue stick in a certain direction will trigger a unique move. Then there are your standard strike attacks, ground attacks, top rope moves and so on. If it doesn’t sound unique, it’s because it isn’t. It should be noted that strike attacks are close to useless due to the fact that a quick grapple is faster on absolutely every occasion. And, if that wasn’t enough, they are incredibly easy to counter.

Countering moves is somewhat unique. At the start of each grapple sequence, an icon appears on the screen, indicating that you can counter. Pulling the left trigger at the right moment will counter the move, which always gives a nice feeling of superiority. Grapples can also be counter mid move, as can strikes, with the use of the right trigger. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it does work. It should be said that this indicator is removed on the hardest difficulty, making it an exercise in button bashing. The grapple/striking system appears to be completely woeful at the outset, due to the fact the controls aren’t quite as responsive as they should be. But, with time, things start to ‘click’, and you begin to understand the timing required to execute the various grapples. But, it never ‘clicks’ to the levels of the Smackdown titles.

The display doesn’t feature anything out of the ordinary. There is your standard ‘energy’ bar, a body indicating how damaged your grappler is, and a ‘heat’ meter – obtaining maximum heat allows you to pull off your finisher. Draining the energy bar of your opponent is ridiculously easy, with less than a dozen moves rendering them basically useless. On top of that, the heat bar takes an eternity to actually fill up, meaning that you won’t use your finisher a whole lot.

Artificial intelligence in Wrestlemania 21 is a somewhat generous term. The computer opponents are positively stupid, especially in gimmick matches involving more than two people. For example, in a three way ladder match, you can basically go straight to the outside, pick up the ladder and grab the title to win, and nobody will look twice at you. In tag matches, your opponents always try to break up the three count, but always arrive there late – or even miss breaking up the pin fall. And cruiserweights seem to have some sort of magnetic attraction to the top rope, sprinting up them whenever they are within five feet of one – even if you are just standing there waiting to throw them off. Then there is the game’s idea of what is standing up or sitting down. For example, if a computer character is just beginning to stand up, then it means they are completely stood up from a collision detection point of view. This means your top rope splash doesn’t count, even if it lands on your opponent’s head. On top of this, there is also a serious balance issue. Once you get that pivotal first strike or grapple in, it’s possible to control an entire match without your opponent getting a shot in, be they computer or human. This can also work against you, too. The counter system goes someway to restoring order, but not far enough.

This chap is Batista. His interests include steroids.

This chap is Batista. His interests include steroids.
Like any self respecting wrestling game, Wrestlemania 21 has a create a wrestler mode. It’s a step down from the likes of the past Raw games though, with a sparse selection of attire and accessories than what we have come to expect. Move selection is especially down on past games, with disappointingly few moves available. There doesn’t seem to be a preview section on the various options though, as it forces you to select an option in order to see what it looks like on your wrestler. This is where the game menus are at their most clunky, due to moving rapidly through menus searching for some pretty clothing. The mode is serviceable, but it just isn’t outstanding.

Wrestlemania 21 has your average horde of match types, just like any wrestling title should. TLC, Bra and Panties, Ladder, Cage and so on are all here. The bulk of the single player game lies in the career mode though, which is quite disappointing. You first must create a wrestler, then you can take on the WWE as a young rookie. While the story itself is good, it has to be said that it has absolutely no replay value because of its linear nature. Yup, no branching storylines here, unfortunately.

It’s obvious that a lot of time has gone into the motion capture process behind the game. Moves are executed both fluidly, and with the utmost realism. Characters are also excellently designed and detailed for the most part, with wrestler faces being instantly recognisable. However, the bodies of characters are somewhat deformed at various angles, when it looks like 90% of their body weight is located in their shoulders. Erm. Arenas also seem to look just a little bit bare, unfortunately.

All wrestlers in the career mode have loaned their voices to the game to mostly good effect. It does seem like some have been recorded in a rather small room though, due to some unnerving echo. Most also have been a bit more civil than you would expect though, lacking the over the top screaming they might have on TV. Licensed music has also been bought the party, although it’s hard to see exactly why, as by default it’s turned off in game. The Anthrax/Public Enemy collaboration of Bring The Noise has popped up again, too – why do Anthrax bother with reunion tours when they can just live off the royalties this song brings in? Custom soundtracks are also supported, so you can give your created wrestlers a real theme rather than Generic Entrance Music #54. Commentary is also available, and is a step up from Smackdown! vs. Raw. Less repetition is evident, but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot sampled. Everything seems to be a long the lines of “wow, look at that quick grapple!” It lacks the detail of modern sports games – are wrestling games that much harder to design scripts for? Apparently.

Due to the linear nature of the career mode, don’t expect to get a terrible amount out of the single player game in Wrestlemania 21. Multiplayer is an enjoyable affair in short doses, thanks to the pick-up-and-button-bash controls on offer. Online will be a big draw to many people too, thanks to being able to create a championship and defend it online. But, it still doesn’t excuse the mediocre gameplay. You can buy new moves, new characters and so on with the money you earn during the game, but it’s nothing spectacular.

The referee attempts to use the force. Or something.

The referee attempts to use the force. Or something.
While WWE fans may get something out of this title, it’s hard to imagine anybody else will. Although, it should be said that even they may be disappointed due to some old rosters. Everything is current as of around May 2004 – ludicrous when the game is titled Wrestlemania 21, an event that happened only a few months ago. The game is simply too simplistic and unresponsive to be among the wrestling elite. The potential is there, however – a lot of tweaking could see a sequel that challenges, or even surpasses, the Smackdown titles. Until then, you’re better off buying Here Comes the Pain (and a PS2 if need be) for any sort of wrestling experience.
The Score
While it gets better as you persevere, the game overall isn’t as strong as we would have liked. Ok for a wrestling fan to rent, but everyone else should avoid. 5
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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