Two degenerates, a Brahma bull, and a Texas rattlesnake walk into a bar...
Professional wrestling is not a competitive sport. It is a dramatic event wrapped in the trappings of a competitive sport. The interesting thing about video game adaptations of professional wrestling is that there is no distinction. Wrestling video games are as much sport games as Madden NFL Football, and thus every year we are treated to a new release with a roster update and a few new modes. WWE 13 for Wii has the distinction of being the last wrestling game, and probably last sports game, to launch on Wii before it is officially a last-generation system. Even so, it’s a slobber-knocker.
The main campaign mode in this year's WWE game is Attitude Era mode, a carefully crafted set of video packages and matchups that tell the tale of some of the major superstars that rose to prominence during what is often considered the WWE's finest era, the WWE Attitude era, which stretches from 1997 through early 2000. The game breaks Attitude Era mode into six main chapters; the first five focus on specific superstars, and the final showcases the events that led to WrestleMania XV. "The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Mankind, The Undertaker, Kane, and The Rock are among the icons featured in this mode, with many supporting characters appearing along the way.
Seeing a modern wrestling game dedicate a mode to recreating these classic matchups and personalities is a treat, especially for anyone who followed wrestling during this period. The video packages, as per usual, are superb, and while the specific pairings get a bit repetitive (How many times did Kane, The Undertaker, and Mankind all meet in the ring during 1999?), the objectives in each match keep things fresh and fun. You can also unlock tons of bonus matches if you go the extra mile and recreate the original matches with specific stunts and sequences. The more you play, the more characters, outfits, and arenas you unlock. The game dedicates almost half its roster to wrestlers from the late 1990s, including alternate (younger) versions of superstars that still wrestle today like The Rock, The Undertaker, Chris Jericho, and Triple H.
In addition to Attitude Era, the game includes WWE Universe mode, which returns from prior years mostly unchanged. It's essentially a way to recreate whatever WWE storylines you want, and at the pace you desire. If at any point things get too crazy for your tastes, you can reset the mode back to its default settings. With this mode, dedicated wrestling fans get a chance to shape the WWE world as they see fit, for as long as they want to play. The game automatically puts matches on each card, but you can change them around as you see fit before beginning each show. You can even change the difficulty on the fly by setting it to a Quick, Normal, or Epic length match. The lack of direction felt a bit daunting to me, but for many wrestling fans, this dream booking will provide many hours of gameplay. This mode allows you to play the game in perpetuity, playing or changing up matches on the various WWE events that take place during the year. Championships swap, teams form, and alliances break.
The gameplay is polished, as you may expect from a developer who has made these games for about a decade. The grapple/strike/reversal system feels somewhat simplified, but has many combinations that aren't necessarily obvious. Though the game doesn't come with a detailed manual (the era of the single-page instruction pamphlet is upon us), there is a somewhat helpful tutorial in the pause menu. It doesn't tell you much about how your specific wrestler operates, but it does provide instruction in executing useful maneuvers like submission holds or Irish Whips, and repositioning your opponent as needed.
The game looks great at times, awful at others. From a distance, things look fantastic; the wrestlers animate just like their real-life counterparts, and actual superstars provide the voice acting. Unfortunately, closer views reveal some incredibly ugly models, notably among the audience members. The game doesn't show them up close very often, but when it does, they resemble Silent Hill monsters. The wrestlers are much better, of course, but even among the superstars some duds crop up. Faces are hit and miss; some look great, but others are completely unrecognizable.
As a complete package, WWE 13 may be the best wrestling game on the market in years. Although the storyline mode caters to a bygone era, there are still plenty of modern wrestlers to choose from, and match types aimed at current WWE fans. Though the Wii version lacks the downloadable content and online play of its HD counterparts, it still feels like a solid update.