Besides the first party software, the best reason to buy a Nintendo 64 last gen was the wrestling games. Starting with 1997's WCW vs. NWO: World Tour and culminating in WWF No Mercy, developer AKI brought immeasureable multiplayer fun to the struggling system. Competing titles on competing consoles just didn't measure up, even those by Yuke's, another company under the THQ umbrella. Inpatient (and financially comfortable) fans in the U.S. even gobbled up the Japanese Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 - the overseas cousin of Wrestlemania 2000 and No Mercy with enough added features to distinguish it as a truly separate (and superior) entity. The "If only . . ." game was in full swing:
"If only [so and so] were selectable."
"If only [such and such] were an option in create-a-wrestler."
"If only [this or that] mode were included."
Notice, the requests focused on additions to what was already given. Update a roster here, add a Hell in the Cell there, but don't mess with what worked.
Come 2002, more than a few people were looking forward to the first GameCube wrestling release. When it was announced that Yuke's (SmackDown!, Toukon Retsuden) would handle the duties this time around, using its own engine, you could almost hear the groaning and forehead slapping in the fan base. AKI would devote its time to the multi-platform Def Jam Vendetta, leaving the once reliably solid Nintendo wrestling "series" in the shadow of a colossal question mark.
Since Yuke's is made up of talented professionals with a proven track record, I guess you can say the worst fears were realized with the first Cube release, Wrestlemania X8. It wasn't a bad game, but it wasn't the successor to the N64 series that we had all been waiting for. THQ asked the fans how to make it right, and the suggestions turned into Wrestlemania XIX, a marked improvement over its predecessor, but still not undisputed world championship material, especially with Yuke's other baby, SmackDown!, looking better than ever with its latest PlayStation 2 installment scheduled for later that year.
Now, the GameCube team is back, after having listened to even more fan suggestions (if only the WWE were this responsive). WWE Day of Reckoning descends from the rafters, bat in hand, ready to claim the title. The previous two episodes, flawed as they were (though, honestly, WMXIX was pretty decent outside the ill-conceived "story mode"), sold big, and THQ is hoping to capture the loyal players' hearts as well as their wallets this time. Indeed, it's looking very, very promising.
The first thing WMXIX veterans will want to know is: What is the story mode like? Gone is the almost universally berated "Revenge Mode," which had your selected wrestler breaking glass, beating up rent-a-cops, and climbing all over construction sites in a challenge that felt like a bunch of strung together mini games. Day of Reckoning scraps that in favor of something a little closer to the career mode in Legends of Wrestling, but on a much grander scope. The play mode, called "School of Hard Knocks" follows your created wrestler from humble beginnings in minor-league training, pre-WWE contract, through his days as a preliminary bum, all the way to the World Championship. Along the way, you'll get mixed up in backstage backstabbing and the kinds of twists and turns you see on WWE programming every week.
Speaking of the WWE shows, Day of Reckoning attempts more than ever to capture not only the TV drama but the presentation as well. From the lighting effects to the wrestler models and from the pyrotechnics to the lively 3D crowd, the world of pro wrestling has been lovingly and painstakingly rendered. And the developers are working hard to make sure that all entrances are authentic, including the music. The music, facial expressions, and camera angles in-ring will also add immensely to the feel of the product.
All the old match permutations appear to be back, with the addition of the Bra & Panties match, first seen in last year's SmackDown!: Here Comes the Pain! on the PS2. No word yet on whether the Elimination Chamber (another SD: HCTP first) is in.
Okay, career mode, graphics, music, modes . . . that covers it, right? Uh, oh yeah. There's that gameplay thing. Well, good news again.
The AKI strong/weak system is back: tap the button for a weak move, hold it for a strong one. It skipped Wrestlemania X8, made it into last year's Wrestlemania, and returns here in even better shape. In addition, there is now location-specific damage with an on-screen representation of each wrestler next to his health meter that shows which parts are at the breaking point and which are in need of some hurting. You can work on a specific body part and go in for the submission when the time is right. When you do, you'll find a new submission meter to help you guage how close your opponent is to giving up. Attempting to rip off a piece of clothing in a Bra & Panties match also brings up a meter. Superstar attributes in strength, stamina, submission, speed, countering, and charisma help decide how easy it is for you to manhandle your opponent, confound him, or outlast him.
I look forward to spending some quality time with this title at E3. I doubt the promised all-time legends like the rumored Andre the Giant will be playable, and Create-a-Superstar will most likely be locked, but Triple H and I have a score to settle, and last year's release just didn't do it for me. Let's hope there's blood this time around.