Thursday, 23 July 2020

GAME REVIEW: Legends of Wrestling - PlayStation 2 (2001)

Legends of Wrestling (PS2) Review - Game Cover
Confession time: I've been meaning to write this review of Legends of Wrestling for at least three years, if not more. 

I picked up a second-hand copy of the game back in 2016, sold on the excitement of being able to play a game featuring a huge collection of wrestling heroes from multiple decades and promotions. I mean seriously, how cool is that, right?

It turns out, not very.

After spending a good, solid weekend playing characters such as Hulk Hogan, Bret 'The Hitman' Hart, Terry Funk and Ricky Steamboat I came away feeling so disappointed that I couldn't face playing it again -let alone writing about it- for years afterwards.

That's a shame too, because this really could have been one of the greatest games of all time.

Released in the wake of World Championship Wrestling's demise and featuring a roster of stars who weren't signed to the WWE at the time (Jerry Lawler gave his likeness to the game during his time away from the company in mid-2001), the game's premise is flawless:

Harkening back to the territory days, you go around the various pro wrestling hotbeds competing as -and against- some of the most recognizable names from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and early 00s. All this is presented in a unique visual style that really does look like the game is going to be a whole lot of fun.

Then you press the start button and...well...see for yourself.





First Impressions 

Turn on Legends of Wrestling and you'll see why I originally thought this was going to be one of the best wrestling games ever.


A music-hall version of Rookie by BoySetsFire kicks crackles over an old radio as polaroids of wrestling greats float onto a table where a championship title glistens. It's all sepia tones and nostalgic vibes until...Until the batteries on the radio die and the real Rookie kicks in, a raucous post-hardcore track that slams every bit as hard as the moves you see the game's stars performing in all their full-color, high-octane glory.

From there, you're taken to rich, colorful menus which, though basic, do continue to tease you that you're in for a good time.

Roster 

Legends of Wrestling (PS2) Review - Roster selection
Again, it's the cast of characters that really makes Legends of Wrestling so appealing. Not only is there a lot of them, but there's also a wrestler (or wrestlers) to suit the tastes of just about every wrestling fan.

Prefer the larger-than-life superstars of the 80s and 90s? Then along with Hogan and Hart, you've got The Road Warriors, Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, and Superstar Billy Graham. 

Prefer classic technical wrestlers and high-flyers? Do as I did and spend most of your time playing as Brian Pillman, Dynamite Kid, or Ricky 'The Dragon' Steamboat.

Want to go back to the territory days? You've got the entire Von Erich family to play with, Terry and Dory Funk Jr, The Rock 'n' Roll Express and yes, the King of Memphis himself, Jerry Lawler.

Prefer the modern superstars (or at least modern as it was in 2001?) Rob Van Damn and Sabu are there for you.

Elsewhere, there's a veritable who's who of recognizable names from wrestling's past, with everyone from Iron Sheik and Ivan Koloff to Ted Dibiase, Tito Santana, and Rick Martel

All in all, there's a roster of 40 playable characters (including managers like Captain Lou Albano and Jimmy Hart), though some you have to unlock by playing tournaments and 'career' mode, more of which later.

Legends of Wrestling Create-a-Wrestler Mode 

Legends of Wrestling (PS2) Review - Create-a-Wrestler
Since the late 1990s, Create-a-Wrestler has become commonplace in pro wrestling games. Unfortunately, this is where this particular game starts to slowly fall apart.

Though it's not necessarily bad, it's certainly far from good. 

On the positive side, there are are plenty of attire options and recorded wrestler nicknames (announced during the ring introductions) that will help you create genuine wrestlers missing from the game like Ric Flair and Rowdy Roddy Piper

On the downside, however, there isn't an awful lot of flexibility in terms of what you can actually
Legends of Wrestling (PS2) Review - Voodoo Cowboy Created Wrestler
customize, and even if you spend hours on this, your created wrestler is still going to look pretty crappy compared to the ones officially in the game.

Case in point, here's my created character, a pink-haired, green-bearded, zebra-print wearing, flamboyant pimp-like character that I called Voodoo Cowboy simply because the game gives "Cowboy" as one of the recorded entrance names you can use.

Again, it's OK, but plenty of other games do this kind of thing far, far better.

Match Types 

Back in the day, there was a rumour floating around that Legends of Wrestling was going to feature barbed wire and scaffold matches.

Legends of Wrestling (PS2) Review - Match types
Sadly, neither of those materialized, and what we're left with is a pretty limited match selection. 

As well as the obligatory singles and tag team options, you're can also choose either a three-way or four-way dance.

That's it. 

No special gimmick matches, no novelties, just standard one-fall-to-a-finish bouts with your choice of two to four competitors.

Arena Choices 

Legends of Wrestling (PS2) Review - Arena choices
To make up for the lack of match options, the game does at least offer multiple arena choices. 

In career and tournament modes, these are selected at random, but for exhibition matches you can pick your own.

Most of these arenas are styled to represent different territories (Mid-West, South-East etc), though at least one (FABER Gymnasium) has a decidely ECW feel to it -at least in terms of the logo- while the Iguana Hotel & Casino brings back haunting nightmares of the Heroes of Wrestling PPV.

It's a nice touch, admitteldy, but it doesn't exactly make or break your gaming experience.

Game Play



And right about here is where Legends of Wrestling completely falls apart. 

Make no mistake about it, this is just not a fun game to play. 

Sure, there's an impressive selection of moves and, when you pull them off, the animation makes them look just as impressive, but actually pulling them off is a frustrating experience.

Sometimes, you'll press a button and nothing happens, or it happens after a pause. Add up enough pauses and this becomes a slow, cumbersome game to play. Sometimes you'll hit a strike and your opponent doesn't even finch. Othertimes your opponent will throw an uppercut that goes nowhere near you and yet you fall down anyway.

Sometimes going to the top rope works and sometimes it doesn't. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to this. You can put your wrestler in one position and press the right controls and he goes up and hits a move. Other times, you can put him in exactly the same position and hit exactly the same moves and he just stands there like a goof.

With so much going for it otherwise, this frankly piss-poor gameplay really lets the whole thing down in dramatic fashion.

Career Mode and Tournaments 


If you get bored of playing in exhibition mode (and you will, pretty quickly), you can always try your luck at the career mode.

This sees you going from territory to territory competing in matches until you reach maximum popularity in that area. In between each match, your manager will give you some advice, and then it's on to another match. Once maximum popularity is hit, you simply go on to another territory and repeat the whole process.

If the game play was decent, this might be a decent way to get a lot of life out of a fun game, but since it's such a chore to play, career mode gets very tiresome very quickly. 

If you want to unlock all of the hidden characters then this is the only way to do it but, honestly, I really don't think it's worth it.

Elsewhere, there's a tournament mode, but again, this is just another way to give you something different to look at in between endless, repetitive singles matches.

A big thumbs down on this part.

Graphics and Appearance 

On this plus side, this is a cool looking game in its own way. Eschewing the realism of the WWF-branded games that were out around this time, Legends of Wrestling takes a cartoony approach with wrestlers looking more like over-the-top comic book characters than real human beings.

A lot of people said that the wrestlers look a lot like action figures and the more I look at it, the more I have to agree. In particular, they look a lot like those old rubber WCW figures you used to get back in the day.

While this does produce some funny results (King Kong Bundy, for example, looks how you'd imagine Bundy would look if he ate Yokozuna) it creates a fun aesthetic which, as I said at the beginning, lures you into the false sense of security that you're actually going to have a good time playing this game.

Sound and Commentary 

Unlike most wrestling games, this one has no commentary track even though I'm sure Akklaim could have roped in one or two notable names to yell out various soundbites.

Meanwhile, most of the music is Generic Stock Rock Music Track #1 - #150. Honestly, it's not very interesting and I only mention it here to follow the same formula as the rest of our Retro Pro Wrestling video game reviews.

Final Impressions 

If you've read this far, then you no doubt know my take on this game:

It isn't very good. 

However, the worst part about it isn't that it isn't good, it's that it had so much promise and yet failed to deliver on such a spectacular scale that it's almost heartbreaking.

The nostalgia trip works really well as a game concept. The fun, cartoony, action-figure-style graphics work really well too, but the lousy, frustrating gameplay, repetitiveness, and overall half-assed approach make Legends of Wrestling a total letdown.

Amazingly, two more games in this series were produced, Legends of Wrestling II and Showdown: Legends of Wrestling. 

After this experience, I'm vary wary to give even one a go.





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Retro Pro Wrestling

New reviews of classic WWF/WWE events recalling every moment from Wrestlemania 1 - 30. You'll also find reviews of WCW, ECW, TNA and the occasional indie event, along with a look at old school magazines, merchandise and more.