THQ's first WWE title has some redeeming qualities. Some.
Surprisingly, as big a WWE fan as I am, I’m less enthralled with this game than I hoped to be. With a WWE game, the title needs to be as close to the televised product as possible. It needs that accuracy, because that’s what makes us fans of the game to begin with. So how does Wrestlemania X8 stack up in that department?
The presentation and graphics are very good. The models are height and weight accurate; the entrances for the characters are accurate. Aside from the fact that the game is set during the Wrestlemania X8 time-frame (and is approximately 3-4 months out of date; eons in Wrestling time!) It does feel like watching WWE wrestling.
All of the former WCW wrestlers' music is new, unfortunately due to that detail being set before WCW was finished being sold to WWE. (The lack of Hulk Hogan’s Jimi Hendrix tune “Voodoo Child” is not surprising, as it costs WWE money every time they use it.) No matter, that sort of thing is excusable. Wrestlers don’t enter for their ring entrances. They just sort of appear on the stage after a crossfade. Again, not a big deal. The Undertaker does ride his motorcycle out, complete with rotating wheels. What is odd is that wrestlers like The Hardys have new music as well, when it’s fairly well known that their music is “public domain” and is included on numerous CDs. Also, entrances that should have a fair amount of intensity, like Triple H, are lacking in the details that would make them special.
There are some nice details included. A little “ding” noise sounds when you get hit in the “family jewels”, high-risk moves have impact on both the combatants, garbage cans and baking sheets deform when used to attack a wrestler. Wrestler attire is just as you’d expect, with Austin sporting knee braces, and Shane McMahon wrestling in a shirt and slacks. But again, they fall short, with the modeling for some wrestlers being overly blocky, and some face-mapping just painful to look at. What the hell is wrong with Triple H’s face???
Despite those nice inclusions, there are some other startling things missing...like talking announcers (regardless of how poor, it’s nice to have the OPTION). Jerry “The King” Lawler and Jim Ross are there, but they don’t say a word. Or BLOOD. That’s right. Even in Hardcore matches, it seemed impossible to make a wrestler bleed. Sure enough, if you look at the Ratings info on the back of the case, the Teen rating is for Mild Lyrics, Suggestive Themes, and Violence. Nothing about blood. Perhaps it can be unlocked, but somehow, I doubt it. You’ll also notice the lack of any backstage fighting, something that was initially promised as a feature.
Inexcusable is the numerous flaws you’ll run into right off the bat.
The game is loaded with things we largely thought we’d see the end of on next-generation machines. Clipping, mostly. Clipping through players, clipping through the ring ropes, weapons clipping through the canvas...and “jittering” when too close to other weapons on the mat. It’s more than a bit annoying, something that can’t be said for the god-awful collision detection. Some moves just don’t register on an opponent at all.
Your CPU opponents also appear to be able to pull off a finisher at any time, regardless of their adrenaline/finisher meters. This, and the ability (in Normal mode, at least) to beat an opponent very quickly under any pinfall situation creates a game that feels completely unbalanced. For example, in my first Hardcore Title match against The Undertaker (playing as Bradshaw), I was beaten rather quickly as The Undertaker quickly gained an advantage, used a chokeslam, followed up by a Last Ride finisher (without a charged meter), and I was a goner. All in under two minutes. To illustrate the lack of balance, I came back and did the same to him, keeping him on the mat with kicks, charged up my meter, hit the Clothesline from Hell and the title was mine. Again, all in under two minutes. There is NO gameplay balance in single-player mode.
Gimmick matches fare a bit better in challenge. They aren’t entirely accurate; in a cage match, the only way to win is over the top. No pinfall or going through the door will work. Your ability to climb out quickly is governed by your “Spirit” meter, and the closer to red it is, the faster you’ll climb out. You can pull people off the cage walls, run into the walls to knock them off, jump off the walls to attack an opponent ... everthing but jump off the top of the cage (once you're over, your over).
Ladder matches are a pain in the gonads. *Ding!* You have to set up the ladder as close to the center of the ring as possible, climb it, step up to the top, then grab the swinging belt before your opponent climbs up the ladder and performs a move, punches you off the ladder, or simply grabs it out from under you (VERY cheap). The hard part is that it’s very difficult to keep your opponent knocked out long enough to grab that belt. Yes, the ladders can be used as weapons, and can even be taken from an opponent (like the rest of the weapons).
Royal Rumble matches aren’t, really. Only four wrestlers in the ring at once, but there is still the “over the top rope” elimination rule. Unbelievably, you CANNOT suplex or throw a wrestler over the top rope; you can only whip them over it, or simply beat them over it. When will we ever get a REAL Rumble rules match?
There are other gimmick match oddities as well. In a Triple Threat Table Match, you only need to put one, not both, opponent through a table. Hardcore matches are pretty pointless, since wielding weapons is cumbersome and don’t do a great deal of damage. (No, there doesn’t appear to be any 24/7 rule in effect, since there are no run-ins or backstage fighting).
When you win a belt in the “Path of a Champion” mode, you get some credits with a nice WWE highlight video...which is pretty high quality for the GameCube (known for its pixilated video due to over-compression). The entrance videos are also of fairly high quality.
The Create-A-Wrestler (CAW) mode is fairly deep, but there is a definite lack of body types and what-not if you try it right out of the box. You’ll get some more options as you unlock hidden characters (of which there are only six) though. It’s really hard to tell, since the game doesn’t tell you when you’ve unlocked anything. You just have to figure it out.
The biggest disappointment has to be the speed of the game. It’s slow. Almost painfully slow for a game using arcade-style controls. Compound that slowness with the fact that there are multiple actions assigned to the same button combinations, and the game can be very frustrating.
Ok, I think I’m done ranting. Anyone that’s going to get this game is going to get it regardless of what I might say about it (which is why I’m ignoring the control scheme entirely, which is a SmackDown-type grappler with more emphasis on reversals and counters, but still too complex to understand in a review). Let me just run down some of the cool things you’ll find in Wrestlemania X8...
- 42 Superstars (six hidden), including the nWo, Austin, Triple H, the Undertaker, etc.
- Battle for the Belts mode, including unique custom belts like Austin’s Smoking Skull belt, The Rock’s Brahma Bull Belt, old-school WWF title belts, some reminiscent of WCW or ECW belts, and some totally new designs.
- Accurate movesets for each WWE Superstar, including finishing moves and double-team moves (yes, you can do the 3D through a table!).
- Several different match types, like Hell in a Cell, Tables, Ladder, TLC, Fatal Four-Way, Triple Threat, and the Ironman match.
- Put an opponent through the Spanish Announcer’s Table? You Bet!
Overall, wrestling GAME fans are going to hate Wrestlemania X8 with a passion, especially fans of the outstanding-by-comparison “No Mercy”. However, the game is pretty fun, and with such a wide array of match types and WWE Superstars, any World Wrestling Entertainment fan should get a kick out of the game.
However, it’s certainly a disappointment when taken as a whole. The game is rushed, and badly. There is a certain lack of polish where you’d expect it, and in a game based on a “sport” that relies on the presentation above all, the flawed presentation of Wrestlemania X8 is an embarrassment. Thankfully, the multi-player modes, and the innovative Battle for the Belts mode should keep people busy until we get a REAL wrestling title on the GameCube.