Does Wrestlemania X8 reach the pinnacle of excellence akin to Shawn Michaels’ Summerslam performance, or does it fall on its face, clutching it’s leg in pain not unlike one Kevin ‘Big Lazy’ Nash? Click to find out.
On March 17th, the WWF held its largest annual Pay-Per-View event, Wrestlemania X8. Headlined by The Rock taking on an evil Hollywood Hulk Hogan, HHH challenging Chris Jericho for the Heavyweight Title, and Stone Cold Steve Austin battling NWO member Scott Hall, the event was definitely one to remember. In June, THQ released the Yukes-developed WWE Wrestlemania X8, which focuses on the aforementioned PPV and its respective storylines. Despite The Rock currently off filming movies, Hogan being good and injured again, a now evil HHH challenging Brock Lesnar for the championship, Stone Cold walking out on the federation and subsequently arrested for allegedly beating his wife, and Scott Hall long fired from the company for his well known alcoholism, WWE Wrestlemania X8 remains the most up to date wrestling title available. Did THQ capitalize on releasing the first WWF/E featuring Hulk Hogan in over half a decade?
Graphically, yes. Taking advantage of the GameCube’s hardware, Yukes has given X8 a very polished look, despite the relatively short development period the title endured. The characters are modeled somewhat adequately, though they do seem to be covered in an unexplainable glossy sheen. Whereas some characteristics of the character models are above average, such as the terrific texture work on nearly all of the wrestler’s outfits, other portrayals are confusingly depicted inaccurately. For example, nearly a dozen of the playable superstars feature very apparent Cro-Magnon styled foreheads looming over their eyes, an effect that makes a wrestler like HHH look less like a cerebral assassin and more like a lemming. Other models just don’t seem to be constructed correctly, whether you unwillingly focus on Booker T’s erect dreadlocks or Molly Holly’s face, which looks like it’s been preserved in a transparent layer of porcelain.
However, the arenas in X8 are more than adequate...they’re amazing. Watching the Rock walk out from under the giant, metallic fist exploding through large shards of glass that make up the majority of the Smackdown set is definitely an impressive sight. Everything from the grainy, white floor, to the grated, steel walkway harbors very nice attention to detail. Though the root of X8’s graphical prowess often boils down to the sharp and detailed textures, little touches, like the reflection of the ring’s apron subtly appearing on the black, rubber mats at the apron’s feet, add extra polish that is sure to capture the eyes of both wrestling purists and casuals. Finally, I’d like to mention that X8 features the best two-dimensional sprite crowd I’ve ever witnessed in a videogame.
Yukes has also gone to great measures to replicate the feeling of watching a WWE program on TV. Wrestler’s intro cinemas are displayed through full motion video, a welcome improvement over THQ’s N64 titles, which comparatively displayed a handful blurry, pixelated frames from a superstar’s movie. As the wrestlers emerge from the backstage, panning camera angles fade into one another while dozens of flood lights sweep over the crowd. The lighting and camera angles really give X8’s presentation a professional look. Unfortunately, once that match begins, the trademark jerky animation Yukes seemingly loves providing their faithful kicks in. Though many of the suplexes and holds are performed with fluidity, the rest of the game features the wrestlers walking around as if they’re standing on a giant slab of metal with magnetics on the bottom of their feet. Overall, the title features smooth and polished graphics which sometimes contain uncharacteristic oddities.
Unfortunately, Wrestlemania X8’s audio can be disappointing. More than half a dozen licensed entrance themes have been removed for no apparent reason. Those of you looking forward to hearing Booker T’s trademark music or the NWO’s classic guitar riff are bound to be let down. Though THQ not being able to attain the copyrights for a song like the NWO’s entrance theme is understandable, there is absolutely no plausible reason why The Hardy Boyz’s music is not in the game. To make matters worse, a lot of the music featured in a wrestler’s entrance is quieter than the other sound effects. This really hurts the presentation of the title, which really is a shame. Aside from the many entrance themes, you have the usual generic music THQ feels fit to play during the match, and the handful of sound effects which mainly consist of bodies hitting the mat or weapons hitting the bodies. For most areas, the sound in X8 is acceptable, but the lack of commentary and numerous entrance themes hurts the game’s aural appeal.
Unfortunately, all of the previously mentioned positive aspects come crashing down once Wrestlemania X8’s gameplay shows up. Instead of continuing down the more simulation-style path AKI spent years building on the N64, Yukes decided to use their own WWF Smackdown engine (PSX/PS2) and simply add some choice mechanics that were situated in AKI’s WCW/WWF games. This results in a shoddy gameplay experience which leaves the player even more frustrated when they realize that it could’ve been much better had the developers not changed the style of play that Nintendo wrestling fans were accustomed to. Instead of having nearly forty grapple moves at your disposal, which was the case in the AKI titles, X8 gives you just over ten. This results in matches where Rob Van Dam will do the same chin breaker move fifteen to twenty times before the match is over. The lack of a healthy move set is a facet that encourages a repetitive nature in wrestling games, yet Yukes thought it would be a good idea to take away this all important feature that millions of wrestling fans have adapted to and loved throughout the years of playing AKI’s N64 titles.
Sadly, a lack of variety in grappling is not the only problem riddled within X8’s engine. Whether you’re grabbing your opponent or Irish-whipping him into the ropes, practically every action available both feels and looks unnatural and awkward. Wrestlemania X8’s collision detection also features imperfections, specifically when you’re striking an opponent or trying to pick up a weapon. Nothing is more frustrating than getting knocked down to the floor because of another wrestler’s foot tapping your shoulder while he or she was in the process of being suplexed. While X8 features some excellent animation during suplexes and other grapples, the process of climbing the turnbuckle, leaping over the ropes, or even simply attempting a flying clothesline looks horribly manufactured. The speed at which these actions are displayed completely conflicts with the otherwise regular movements of the wrestlers, and it hurts the balance of the game deeply. While the addition of countering both striking and grappling attempts by pressing one of the analog triggers (pressing them both simultaneously counters finishing manoeuvres) could be viewed as a welcome addition to the Smackdown engine, it’s been done before in AKI’s titles, and better too. Wrestlemania X8 can be described as nothing less than an utter disappointment in the all important gameplay department.
Though X8 does lack a storyline option, the game’s shallow approach is somewhat aided by the numerous gameplay modes. While you’re offered the usual single, tag, handicap, triple threat, and battle royal matches, Yukes has also included Hardcore, Cage, Ladder, and Ironman matches. The game also features the Hell in a Cell mode and TLC matches, something wrestling fans had never experienced on the N64. To attempt to make up for the lack of a storyline mode, X8 features a Path of a Champion mode, where one selects a wrestler, and engages in multiple matches leading up to a title shot. While the effort is apparent in this instance, the lack of a storyline option hurts X8’s replay value when it comes to playing alone. The title’s Create a Wrestler mode is a bit of a mixed bag as well. Although there are dozens of grapples, strikes, and holds available for you to choose, the cosmetic choices for your wrestler’s appearance are quite low. The option to change the height, width, and girth of your wrestler from any of his or her main sections is a nice feature, but the lack of clothes, masks, and other normal apparel really doesn’t make it worthwhile. Finally, if both you and a friend happen to own X8, you can both create a custom belt, and then fight for them in a Unification match. Though the feature is more of a novelty, it’s a neat inclusion that I’d like to see in future wrestling games from THQ.
When screenshots of WWE Wrestlemania X8 first hit the web, I was giddy with anticipation. Seeing stills of Rob Van Dam leaping off the top rope, attempting to kick a giant ladder out from under Booker T had me foaming at the mouth. When reports of people first playing the game at the WWE’s pre-Wrestlemania fan show mentioned the game’s eerie similarities to the WWF Smackdown titles, I refused to believe THQ would switch to an inferior wrestling engine after having provided a superior one for the exact same audience for the past six years. While this game title is nicely polished in many areas, it’s nothing but disappointing when you look past the pretty exterior and focus on the game itself. GameCube wrestling purists will soon look to Electronic Arts for their wrestling fix, as WWE Wrestlemania X8 has shown that THQ only wants to cater to the casual gamer.