It's nice to see that THQ balanced out all the sweaty man-on-man action in WrestleMania 21 with sweaty girl-on-girl action as well, by way of a bra and panties mode. Perhaps influenced by the success of Rumble Roses or perhaps as a way to distract from the games many faults, we now not only get to "smell what the Rock is cooking" but also see what is supporting the lovely "assets" of the WWE Divas in all their mo-capped glory.
So do Xbox owners finally get their own must-have wrestling title? Well, yes and no. Sure, it's nice you're able to make Stacy Keibler lose her pants but there's nothing enjoyable about having to pound the controller like a savage baboon as you struggle to get your character to get up from the mat. While the motion capturing is an excellent touch, the brilliance is easily overlooked due to poor collisison detection and a frustrating recovery system.
However, all is not lost -- especially since the Xbox has offered very little in the way of spandex and man-sweat. In honor of The Hulkster's return to primetime, I was inspired to break out my boots and don my very own banana-colored Speedo. After dimissing the odd looks from family and friends, I was ready to give the Big Boot to all the chumps and become a superstar in Career Mode. Crafting your own fighter is fun and well, I decided to make mine the fattest and most odd-looking wrestler ever, just because I could--there are more accessories and skills to unlock as you move along in career mode and move sets are customizable as well.
With stars in our eyes, Bananaman (I know, so original!) and I set out to rock the WWE. Hard. The only problem was that neither of us were prepared for the road ahead. Fortunately, WWE 21 sports a simple control system where A and B are used for grapples, X executes strike moves and once your "heat" bar is filled, special attacks are unleashed with A + B. I had only to consult the manual on a few occassions, which I shold point out, contains a pretty extensive moves list. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm started to lose steam on account of the inconsistent pacing throughout the game.
The game also features a simple reversal system, but it's unlikely that you'll get to enjoy it. I spent more rolling around the ring in the hopes of being able to safely get up before I'd be endlessly struck by elbow drops. Actually, this could work in your favor early on if you manage to drop your opponent first--that is until the computer AI decides to kick it up a notch--which may compel you to unleash a few kicks of your own against the nearest wall out of frustration. Perhaps the real challenge here is keeping your nerves from getting rattled.
Outside the career mode, you can take the huge roster of current and past stars as well as Divas into a cage match, tag, or a number of other modes. You can even use your custom characters as well and this is where the game really shines, in its presentation. Quality intro and career animations, tons of wrestlers, and more modes than there are colors of spandex, well not really...but all this is pointless when you are in the ring, and forced to deal with a less-than-stellar combat system. It's a shame really because there are tons of moves and had controls and collision detection been tightened up just a bit, we'd have a 4 or maybe even 5 star title on our hands.
Among the exhibition, career, and online modes (make sure to download the Xbox Live patch before creating a character for online use), there's some relief to be had for Xbox owners waiting for their next wrestling fix. The stars look good, probably one of the better motion-capture productions seen in a wrestling game that will offer a few hours of thrills. And despite what the box says, this game is progressive scan compatible. If not for the sluggish, unreponsive fighting system, I'd be able to justify playing this game on a long-term basis; something which a bit more tweaking in the QA process would have easily remedied. Fans expecting to relive their dreams as an all-star wrestling will be disappointed WrestleMania 21 couldn't deliver a hyperkinetic experience. Regardless how remarkable the visuals are, it's nothing without solid gameplay.