The Legends are back, bigger than life, and that's not just their egos. But is it any better than the last outing?
There are two types of wrestling fans in this world. The “fair-weather” fan watches wrestling on TV occasionally, but doesn’t really “get” wrestling. Then there is the “hardcore” wrestling fan, who has likely been watching for years (even decades), knows a lot about the business of wrestling, and is really going to appreciate a game like Legends of Wrestling 2.
There are over 65 Wrestlers in LOW2, including recent superstars, and old-time favorites. Certainly the “fair-weather” fan will recognize mainstream characters like Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Bret “the Hitman” Hart, Scott Steiner, and others, but the majority of the “stars” in the game will be totally lost on you unless you’ve been a fan of wrestling for a long time. Characters like Bruno Sammartino, Killer Kowalski, Ivan Putski, Ivan Koloff, the Von Erichs … most fans of the WWE style of wrestling will have no idea where these wrestlers fit in, which is unfortunate since many of them are more “legendary” than a Scott Steiner. There are a ton of big names in this game, and you have to take your hat off to Acclaim Studios for going back into the history books for so many great wrestling heroes of the past. It’s just a shame that it’s going to be wasted on teenagers who will likely spend most of their time going “Who are these guys?”
Acclaim touts the game as having “signature entrances” for each legendary wrestler. It’s sort of a half truth, as each wrestler does come to the ring in a way that fans will recognize (likely from hours of studying old wrestling tapes), but many of these legends didn’t have music, video packages, or any sort of particular way of coming to the ring when they were in their prime. Not to mention that stars that are still active today don’t have more recent music, which gives away the fact that the game isn’t licensed. As a result, there is a bit of revisionist history going on here, as they add some of these elements to spice things up a bit. The wrestlers do have multiple costumes, and in some cases, those “costumes” can be completely new models. For example, Scott Steiner has three different costumes that all reflect his more recent look from his WWE and WCW days, but old-school fans can choose a fourth look that reflects his career in the 80’s tag teaming with his brother Rick, complete with long hair. The biggest disappointment is that for a great deal of the wrestlers, Acclaim wasn’t able to secure the signature music of these favorites, leaving wrestlers like the Road Warriors coming to the ring in generic rock guitar riffs. Lastly, in Tag Team matches, the wrestlers come to the ring separately which is not only completely different, but forces you to hear the same bad guitar songs twice for each team.
As if professional wrestling weren’t “over-the-top” enough for you, the characters are modeled in a very plastic and cartoony way, which, strangely enough, works well in this title. We tend to remember the big stars in a particular way, and by intentionally keeping the game away from being photo-realistic, it keeps players from wanting to say, “That doesn’t look like Hulk Hogan.” Unfortunately, the characters move as “plasticky” as they look, making this game look more like action figures being played with on the screen.
The music and sound effects in the game are just atrocious. It’s almost as if they just tossed in every generic rock song they could find, and the end result is that everything sounds the same. They did have their hands tied in this respect, since getting the rights to music and video from WWE would have been difficult, if not impossible. However, since many wrestlers used public domain music at the time, much of this is present when possible. The crowd will cheer or boo depending on their mood and how “into” the match they are, which can help spice things up a bit.
Legends of Wrestling 2 has a rather lengthy career mode, including the chance to challenge for the championship in 5 different regional wrestling promotions. Along the way, there will be various special matches you will need to compete in, including a nice tip of the hat to history as you compete in the Big John Studd Bodyslam Challenge. Unfortunately, this “challenge” is nothing of the sort, as it’s just a matter of repeatedly mashing the A button to fill up the “SLAM!” meter. You do get bonus coins (used to unlock features) for completing the challenge, at which point you’re free to slam Studd to your heart’s content during the following match. It was a nice attempt to recreate history, but it ultimately falls way short.
Speaking of the coins, earning them is a large part of how you unlock wrestlers and features in the game. You earn Green Coins in special matches, which you then need to “gamble” to win Red and Blue coins. It’s a pointless and trivial challenge (purchase a spot on a grid, then stop the cursor on that spot to win), and should have been omitted in favor of other ways of earning the more difficult coins, especially since you need plenty of all the coins to unlock the features. By the way, don’t believe your manual when it says that you can unlock interviews with some of the legends, as the feature was removed from the GameCube version. Bad form, Acclaim, bad form. Unlocking some of the legends can be as tedious as completing the career mode with a specific wrestler and then purchasing the one you want with your coins … but at least it’s done in a logical way. For example, playing as Bret Hart will unlock his brother Owen, similarly for Scott Steiner and his brother Rick. Play as Jerry “The King” Lawler, and you’ll unlock the infamous Andy Kaufman.
There are a boatload of game options, including Battle Royal, Ladder, Cage, 3-way, 4-way and more. A very nice option is to have the 3 or 4-way matches fought elimination style, or a simple one-fall-takes-all mode. There has yet to be a decent Battle Royal mode in any wrestling game, as no console has had the horsepower to have 15 or more wrestlers in the ring at once, all with separate AI. However, you can choose from 15, 20, 25, or 30 wrestlers total to battle against. You can only have four wrestlers in the Battle Royal at a time, which is odd with the 6 and 8-Man Tag matches included. You can have your partner cheat in tag team matches, as well as performing two-man tag team moves against an opponent. In exhibition tag matches, you can only pick from SIX tag teams, which is a major disappointment, and two of those are locked at the outset. You’d better like The Road Warriors or The Rock and Roll Express, since you’ll be using them a lot.
The Ladder match, one of the most anticipated match types, is a total disaster … flawed from top to bottom despite its enormous potential. The belt is raised and lowered in the air, making you really work to capture it. Unfortunately, every time the belt moves, the camera cuts away, leaving you to get beat up by your opponent. The control scheme for manipulating the ladder is needlessly complex, requiring presses of FIVE different buttons. You press Z to pick up the ladder, Y to set it in position, L to climb the ladder, X to grab the belt, and lastly A repeatedly to pull it down. Only one person can climb the ladder at a time, so you won’t have any slugfests at the top of the ladder with your opponent, nor any moves from the top. Lastly, ladder matches are one-on-one ONLY. It’s a huge disappointment, and anyone who buys the game for the Ladder match feature alone will feel robbed. The “Create a Legend” option is back and with more features than its predecessor. It doesn’t have quite the excruciating depth and detail as some other wrestling games where you have to adjust every nuance of the face of your created wrestler, and that ultimately works in it’s favor.
The gameplay engine is improved over the previous version. No longer can you reverse a move at will, as each attempt gets harder and harder. The game punishes button mashing by requiring timed presses to pull off moves, reversals, and adding damage to a stunt. The “intermediate start position” feature of the controls is a very nice idea, basically giving you different types of grapples and a different set of result move possibilities. You’re either going to love or hate the grappling engine in this game, and that’s going to depend entirely on the types of wrestling games you’re used to.
Very interesting is the “excitement” meter, which basically makes whether you win or lose in non-title matches irrelevant … you are rewarded for simply having an exciting match. The concept may be alien to people unfamiliar with the way “real” pro wrestling works, but is very true to the sports-entertainment aspect of wrestling. You’re given bonus points for innovative and risky moves, and for keeping your move-set fresh. You’re penalized for using the same moves over and over again. This is again a great idea and kind of a neat way of breaking “kayfabe*” in a game that celebrates the concept.
*(Kayfabe is an old carny/wrestling term that means staying in character and pretending wrestling is “real”. To break kayfabe means to expose parts of wrestling that people outside the business usually aren’t meant to see.)
Acclaim is really on to something here, and seeing how they’ve managed to improve the game over the last Legends title is admirable. Still, there is also a lot of wasted potential, as some modes fall flat or just don’t work, and the tedium of unlocking features will leave some of the best parts off limits to casual gamers. You really need to be a long-time wrestling fan to appreciate all of the effort Acclaim went through to include so many names from the past, something that will likely be wasted on the populace. Unfortunately, there are enough flaws, mistakes, and outright omissions of advertised features to keep this from being a recommended game. However, if you were a fan of the first game, you’ll probably love the second for what it does manage to offer in spades, which is a veritable time-capsule of wrestling’s past. Acclaim is working on a third game, so we can just hope that the third time is a charm.