Boy, Legends of Wrestlemania really brings me back. Wrestlers and their moves were different back then. It was a simpler time, a fun time - but in some ways a painful time.
Some of you know what I'm talking about, because you lived through it, too. I am writing, of course, about Showdown: Legends of Wrestling and its two predecessors. I thought I had put them all behind me, but like the Deadman version of the Undertaker, the series just sat right back up and stared me in the eye.
The idealized, action-figure renderings. The chain wrestling. The numerous video extras. Everything old is new again, and not just in the way the game's marketing would have you believe. Like the Legends of Wrestling series, the similarly named Legends of Wrestlemania is targeted at nostalgic wrestling fans, but unlike the Acclaim games, the new Legends is a polished and accessible experience. It's meant to be a supplement of sorts to the WWE SmackDown games, and you can, in fact, import the entire male SmackDown vs. Raw 2009 roster with your created Superstars into Legends as long as you have an SvR save file.
Seeing the build-up to the match then being thrust into it is a wrestling fan's dream come true.
The gameplay is somewhat arcade-like, using only the control stick and the four face buttons to attack, run, block, and taunt. Yep, the triggers, bumpers, directional pad, and Back button all just sit there unassigned. As you might expect, there is some button mashing required, but timing is important - especially in chain wrestling, where the first player (man or machine) to press the button corresponding to an on-screen command gets his move out. These quick time events (QTEs) have two or three parts to them, so winning the first part may get your opponent into the right position, but if he wins the second QTE, the action will branch out in a new direction, where you can try to reclaim your dominance with the third event. All the moves designated as finishers play out as QTEs, but you can't mix and match the parts, so your created Superstar will set up the ending in the exact same way as one of the thirty-eight Legends.
Play options include an old-school steel cage match; Hell in a Cell; a well-designed Royal Rumble; ladder, submission, and iron man matches; and other standards. There aren't any six-man tag matches, unfortunately, so Dusty and the Road Warriors can't take on the Heenan Family, and while you can have one of four managers in your corner to interfere on your behalf, he can't be fully controlled. But, overall, the game is a fun change of pace. Taking your opponent outside the ring is an exercise in frustration, however, since you can't just fish out a weapon from under the ring or go for your favorite move through a table. Instead, the outside area is a field of hotspots where you can move your opponent into position for various punishment. So you go activate the designated spot, press a button, and hope it's the one corresponding to the action you wanted to carry out. Why is it like that? I don't know. Does it make the game worse? That's easy: yes.
So the wrestling's passable, but what about the "numerous video extras" I mentioned? Where the old Acclaim series had mini shoot interviews, Legends of Wrestlemania has those slickly produced promo videos that the 'E uses to get you all hyped up for pay-per-views. You can watch more than two dozen video packages, each showcasing a different feud from wrestling history. These are used best as part of a separate game mode that is based on some of the great Wrestlemania matches. For each match in Wrestlemania Tour Mode, watching the video psyches you up for the upcoming contest, where you must either "Relive, Rewrite, [or] Redefine" the match. The "Relive" area is the most effective, starting you out the same way the match actually started and giving you bonus points for hitting key spots. In the Wrestlemania III match between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, for instance, you play as Hogan and score for escaping the bearhug and finishing with a body slam and leg drop. Seeing the build-up to the match then being thrust into it is a wrestling fan's dream come true, and if you are even moderately a fan of old-school, you will "mark out" heavily at least a few times.
I can definitely understand someone wanting this disc for all the great promos it contains, but if you are just looking for a good wrestling game and don't care for those kinds of frills, Legends of Wrestlemania may just be a rental candidate. Playing the Rumble with a couple of friends is fun, and the game will provide you with maybe the easiest 1000 Achievement points you will ever earn, but I don't foresee many people playing this more than the time it takes to unlock everything. Unless, of course, they still have giant "Hulk #1" foam fingers or wear Hitman glasses to the 7-11 to pick up Superstars ice cream bars.