On March 31st, 1985, Vince McMahon changed the face of the wrestling landscape forever by bringing together the biggest names in wrestling (alongside a number of celebrity guests) for the very first WrestleMania, a pay-per-view extravaganza that became the hottest event of the calendar year for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). While this event clashes with another I am running this year, I figured I’d take the chance to mark the occasion by marking the event in my own way today.
Released: 20 March 2009
Also Available For: Mobile and PlayStation 3
The WWE has a long and storied history with videogames that can be traced all the way back to the very first videogame ever produced baring the initials of their previous moniker of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), MicroLeague Wrestling (MicroLeague/Various, 1987). A number of releases made their way to various home consoles and even arcades over the years, with the format slowly evolving to include more and more wrestlers and match types, but the WWE’s foray into digital entertainment largely hit its stride in the late-nineties when Asmik Ace Entertainment, AKI Corporation, and THQ joined forces to produce popular titles for the Nintendo 64 and Yuke’s took their first tentative steps into the SmackDown sub-series (2000 to 2003). Many of the games produced during this time and by these developers are considered to be some of the best wrestling games ever made and, by 2009, the WWE was represented by the multi-platform SmackDown vs. Raw series (Yuke’s, 2004 to 2011), a series which was largely regarded as mostly hit and miss in terms of value for money and year-on-year improvements. Still, the series was profitable enough to convince Yuke’s to attempt a few additional WWE videogames, with Legends of WrestleMania being one of them; pushed intro production to coincide with WrestleMania 25, and focused far more on nostalgia and giving players the chance to relive and redefine some of the company’s biggest moments, Legends of WrestleMania was met with largely lacklustre reviews that took issue with its presentation and control mechanics.
Take control of a WWE Legend and relive some of the biggest WrestleMania moments of all time, such as Hulk Hogan’s legendary clash with Andre the Giant and Bret “Hitman” Hart’s bloody showdown with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, or rewrite and redefine history by playing these matches, and others that never took place, from the perspective of the loser (or another WWE superstar).
WWE Legends of WrestleMania is a wrestling title that gives players the chance to select from a roster of thirty-eight WWE Legends and pit them against each other in a series of matches, many of which will be immediately familiar to fans of the WWE or anyone who’s played one of Yuke’s WWE videogames before. Unlike many of the SmackDown! videogames, the focus here is much more on fast-paced, arcade-style action rather than simulating a real-life wrestling match, which has both positive and negative impacts on the gameplay. Players can move their Legend using either the left analogue stick or the directional pad (D-pad); having grown up playing the likes of WWF No Mercy (Asmik Ace Entertainment/AKI Corporation, 2000), I generally prefer to use the D-pad for these games (and most fighting games) as it feels more intuitive, but there’s little benefits from favouring one or the other. You can double tap towards or away from your opponent to run, but I had extremely minimal success with this; in most WWE games, running is mapped to one of the shoulder buttons, making it quick and easy to use, but that’s not that case here so the majority of my matches were slower, clunkier affairs as a result.
You can throw a strike at your opponent with X; land a few in quick succession to perform a simple combo or hold X to charge up a powerful strike, with both knocking them to the mat and leaving them prone for a leg or elbow drop or other ground-based offense. Grappling is performed with A; again, you can either tap it for a quick, weak grapple, or hold it for a stronger grapple, and use a directional input in conjunction with A to perform different moves (though your move pool is quite limited). As you attack and mix up your offense, you’ll build up a “Chain Meter”; as it reaches three different levels, you’ll gain access to more powerful grapples, with your finisher being unlocked at Level 3 and performed by pressing X and A together. Successfully landing attacks drains your opponent’s health meter and weakens them for either a pin or submission; submission moves are generally locked in when the opponent’s on the mat and see you mashing buttons to wear your opponent down, or you can pin them with B. If either of these things happen to you, you’ll need to mash buttons or full a circular meter to hit a small target in order to stave of the attack or kick out of the pin attempt.
You’ll need to mix and match your offense in order to build up your Chain Meter (though simply mashing X can work just as well), and you can sacrifice a chunk of it by taunting with B and Y and gaining temporary buffs. This can all be a little clunky but it generally works quite well; what doesn’t work quite as well is the game’s reversal system. Rather than map counters to a shoulder button, WWE Legends of WrestleMania has them performed by pressing away from your opponent and Y or holding Y to block. I found this to be incredibly unreliable, as my Legend would often just step backwards or even run away, and I really don’t understand why this wasn’t just mapped to the Right Bumper. Unlike the majority of other wrestling games, WWE Legends of WrestleMania heavily relies on button mashing, button inputs, and quick-time events (QTES); you can’t even Irish Whip your opponent without a QTE flashing on the screen and many of the event matches in the WrestleMania Tour mode start, or are punctuated by, QTE sequences that see you mashing or hitting buttons in a test of strength, chain grapple, and other similar sequences. This also extends to the finishers; after pressing X and A, you’ll need to hit the QTE prompts to land your finisher sequence and do the maximum amount of damage, which is certainly unique but it comes at the cost of severely limiting the amount of finishers available in create-a-wrestler mode
Contrary to other wrestling videogames; there isn’t really a weight class or detection system in WWE Legends of WrestleMania; playing as King Kong Bundy is largely the same as playing as Shawn Michaels, but there are some notable exceptions. For example, while Mr. Perfect can body slam and lift the likes of Yokozuna without issue, some Legends are noticeably more nimble than others and some superheavyweights struggle with climbing cage walls and are limited in their aerial offense. Some wrestling games like to lump their roster into categories and assign them abilities that play to their strengths, but that isn’t the case here so the majority of the roster’s differences are reflected in their move pool: Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka isn’t going to be quite as technically adept as Ric Flair but it’s not as though the Undertaker exhibits any supernatural abilities that other big men, such as the Big Boss Man, have. One major aspect of the game is the presence of managers; the likes of Paul Bearer and “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart can accompany Legends to the ring and can interfere on your behalf at the cost of your current Chain Level, which makes them super useful when they’re in your corner and quite the hindrance when they’re in your opponent’s.
Wrestling matches have all the standard options you might expect; you can set the difficulty level of the CPU in the options, manipulating the computer’s use of strikes and reversals and such, and customise win conditions (such as turning pin falls and disqualifications on or off and changing the amount of time you can spend outside of the ring). There’s also a number of additional match types on offer that will be recognisable to fans of wrestling games, with most featuring a twist in the game’s new engine and mechanics that mostly boil down to button mashing. You’ll need to mash buttons to either escape from, or prevent your opponent from escaping, a cage or break up a pin fall in a tag team match, for example. Similarly, you’ll find finishers disabled in the Royal Rumble match (there aren’t even special Royal Rumble finishers like in other games) and you’ll instead have to mash buttons to try and force your opponent out of the ring or save yourself from elimination. These components are less prominent in Hell in a Cell and ladder matches, however; you can start Hell in a Cell on top of the structure, which is a nice touch, and can throw your opponent through the cage wall or down to the ring using environmental grapples. Ladder matches are actually much more enjoyable than in other wrestling games I’ve played; you pick up a ladder (or any weapon) by double tapping B and a helpful glowing target shows you where to set it up and climbing and retrieving a championship belt is quite simple compared to other wrestling titles. Retrieving a weapon from under the ring can be a little trickier, though, as can utilising the ringside area or battling into the crowd or up the aisleway, as it requires you to hit A in specific areas around the arena, which can be difficult thanks to the janky controls. You’ll also find such staples as Iron Man matches and Last Man Standing matches on offer here, which are fun ways of mixing up the gameplay, but there’s nothing to really set the game’s matches or gameplay apart from other wrestling titles and very few of these appear in WrestleMania Tour.
Speaking of which, you’ll be given three single-player options here: “Relive” (where you recreate specific WrestleMania matches), “Rewrite” (where you tackle other WrestleMania matches from the perspective of the historical loser), and “Redefine” (which features unique “dream matches”). Each of these matches is proceeded by a short hype package that features clips from real-life wrestlers and the matches and feud between the competitors, and you’ll be given a series of optional objectives to fulfil in order to earn points. These range from performing a certain number of attacks, grapples, counters, and finishers, winning the match, performing taunts, winning pre-match sequences, and more specific environmental situations (such as winning Chain Grapple sequences, slamming your opponent through an announce table, or grappling up near the entrance). Earning points fills a meter and, once it fills high enough, you’ll earn a medal that will award you with unlockable match types, attires, and more. There’s nothing to gain from playing WrestleMania Tour on anything other than the easiest difficulty, with the computer’s abilities completely neutered in your favour, beyond personal pride so you may as well manipulate the game’s settings to make things easier for you. This mode is also probably the best part of the game as it lets you recreate some iconic WrestleMania moments and matches, and meeting the objectives can be fun, but things quickly get quite frustrating if you’re trying to earn all the medals and monotony sets in quite fast as there’s not much variety in terms of the match types (there are no multi-man matches in this mode, for example) beyond the odd cage or ladder match and you can completely ignore the objectives if you like since winning is all that really matters.
Graphics and Sound:
Wrestling games can be a bit hit and miss when it comes to their graphics, especially with their in-game character models. WWE Legends of WrestleMania favours a slightly exaggerated, action figure-like aesthetic for its Legends, which is typically common when bringing the WWE’s old school superstars to life, and for the most part this actually looks a lot better than in some of the SmackDown! titles. This is primarily because WWE Legends of WrestleMania is largely consistent with its presentation, rather than fluctuating wildly between hyper realistic and massively off-model. Notably, however, you won’t find any female Legends or superstars on offer here, and there’s no on-screen referee either, which is a pretty big step back for me.
The number of arenas on offer isn’t exactly much to shout about either. There’s very little variety on offer as you can only fight in WrestleMania arenas; there is a Royal Rumble arena, however, (and ironically you can only ever fight a Royal Rumble match in this arena) but there’s no Raw, SmackDown!, or other pay-per-view arenas on offer. The crowds are as sub-standard as ever, sporting signs and attire tied to their favourite superstars and parting to allow you to fight over the barricade (though essentially acting as barriers to keep you enclosed), but entrances have been a bit neutered. The game does offer the old-school gondola entrances, which is kind of cool, and recreates the old-school name plates and presentation of the pre- and early-“Attitude Era” of the WWE. Unfortunately, however, the presentation does take a bit of getting used to; the camera is very zoomed in, meaning that your Legends take up a lot of screen space and this can make it a little difficult to be fully aware of your surroundings. The camera is prone to wild swings and odd positioning, which is very annoying, and there’s a noticeable delay between button presses and executing grapples, making for a much more deliberate and slower pace to the game. Though I eventually learned to live with these niggling problems, it did take me a while to adjust to the presentation and gameplay style of the game.
The inclusion of video clips and real-world footage adds to the drama and intrigue of the WrestleMania Tour mode, but these are nothing you haven’t really seen before in a wrestling title. The same goes for the entrance videos and music, which is all pretty much as you’d expect (with a few inconsistencies here and there, such as the Big Boss Man utilising his Attitude Era theme), and this extends to the in-game commentary. Provided by the legendary duo of Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler, the commentary is basically exactly the same as in the SmackDown! series, though there are some specific new sound clips added in to refer to the game’s roster and the rivalries on offer in WrestleMania Tour. I don’t play these games for in-depth commentary or crowd reactions but even I was astounded by how cheap and lazy these aspects were here. The same can be said of the create-a-wrestler options, which offers clothing, body, and hair options all ripped straight from the SmackDown! games but actually have less to offer in some respects: there’s less naming options available, less moves, less finishers, and even less clothing options as everything is geared towards meeting the old-school aesthetic and altered gameplay mechanics of the title.
Enemies and Bosses:
Being a wrestling title, every single in-game Legend is potentially your enemy; however, as mentioned, it’s not really necessary to play as or fight against each of the game’s roster in order to learn their strengths and weaknesses. Once you’ve played as and against a couple of the Legends, you’ve pretty much experienced all of the variety the game’s conflicts have to offer; your biggest hurdle will be getting the timing of the weird reversal system down, but you can circumnavigate this by just attacking your opponent head-on with strikes and landing strong grapples as and when they unlock. Guys like Bam Bam Bigelow might look big and intimidating, and the Honky Tonk Man might be the ultimate opportunist, but it’s not like you have to worry about character-specific abilities so what works against one will work against all as long as you can hit the QTE prompts when your opponent does get the drop on you.
In the Relive portion of WrestleMania Tour, you’ll have to battle against specific opponents in recreations or classic WrestleMania matches; this means you’re forced into assuming the role of the historical victor, or loser, of specific matches. One of the most recurring playable characters in this mode is, of course, Hulk Hogan, who must take on King Kong Bundy in a steel cage, and Andre the Giant and the Ultimate Warrior in recreations of their iconic matches. As long as you win your matches, you’re fine, but you’ll need to meet a certain amount of objectives to earn your medal; this includes stuff like kicking out of a pin attempt, causing the opponent to bleed, or winning with a specific move. As you play through these matches, the amount and difficulty of the objectives will increase; I first noticed them becoming more complex in the classic clash between Steve Austin and Bret Hart, which requires you to attack Austin’s leg five times, fight into the crowd, utilise a steel chair, and win with the Sharpshooter but the difficulty severely ramps up for Relive’s final match. This is a recreation of Austin’s WrestleMania XV bout against the Rock; to achieve this medal, you need to meet every single objective, which can be extremely laborious as one of your objectives is reversing the Rock Bottom, to say nothing of all of the many environmental grapples you need to hit on the outside of the ring. I definitely recommend turning the game’s difficulty level and sliders all the way down in your favour and making liberal use of the health regeneration taunt to increase your chances in this match.
In Rewrite, you tackle different WrestleMania matches in the role of the historical loser and must fulfil different objectives in order to change history. Since you’re rewriting the outcome of these matches, these objectives are far less demanding and start off as simple stuff like performing and reversing grapples, taunting, and hitting a finisher and don’t really get more complex than landing more attacks, performing more taunts, maybe making the opponent bleed, and performing multiple finishers and reversals. Honestly, these matches were an absolute breeze, with even Bret and Shawn’s infamous WrestleMania XII Iron Man match providing little challenge beyond a ten-minute time limit. This carries over to Redefine, though the matches and competitors at least have a little more variety; here, you can pick which Legends you want to play as and will witness the likes of Andre and Giant and Big John Studd in a Hell in a Cell match and Mr. Perfect and the Big Boss Man in a ladder match. Redefine culminates with a dead simple no disqualification match between the Undertaker and King Kong Bundy that might have a lot of objectives but they’re nothing compared to the Austin/Rock match (boiling down to stuff like hitting five moves in a row at the start, two top rope moves, three reversals and taunts, and two finishers, which is still laborious but nowhere near as frustrating as in that aforementioned match).
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
There are a few options available to you during matches to help turn the tide in your favour; you can toss your opponent to the outside of the ring and interact with the steel steps, announce tables, and barricades to deal more damage to your opponent and, when your opponent is positioned correctly, pull weapons out from under the ring to bust them open or beat them down. When near the aisleway, you can clunkily force them up to the entrance way where there are often other environmental grapple points on offer that let you choke your opponent with wires, toss them into the stage dressing, and even make use of a drum kit but there’s no backstage brawling here. As your Chain Meter builds up, you gain access to taunts that can provide you with temporary buffs; these include regenerating your health, upping your speed and durability, and making reversals easier to pull off for a limited time. Managers can also provide many of the same temporary buffs and also attack or distract your opponent to give you the edge in matches, though utilising these will cost you part of your meter so you’re often asked to pick between receiving a temporary buff or earning your finisher.
There are a mere nineteen Achievements on offer in WWE Legends of WrestleMania, which is astoundingly low for a wrestling title. Achievements are primarily tied to obtaining medals in WrestleMania Tour or making and using a created wrestler but you can also earn them by winning matches using only grapples or with other specific moves. Sadly, in a game featuring so many WWE Legends, there aren’t more fun or notable Achievements; for example, you can use Hogan to slam Andre all you like in the WrestleMania III arena but it won’t pop a “Unstoppable Force” Achievement. As you play, however, your win/loss record and other statistics are recorded in the “Hall of Fame”, which is good for the statisticians out there, but there’s no way to compete for championships outside of the WrestleMania Tour mode, no create-a-pay-per-view mode, general manager mode, or even WWE Universe mode so you’re basically limited to exhibition matches and the WrestleMania Tour.
Well, not entirely; there is also the “Legend Killer” mode. Here, you use a created wrestler to take on six tiers, comprised of ten back-to-back singles matches and culminating in a showdown with one of six WrestleMania Legends. You’ll earn experience points (EXP) by winning matches, and even more for mixing and matching your gameplay style as you play, which you can spend upgrading your created wrestler’s attributes and earning more Achievements. The create-a-wrestler mode is basically the same as in the SmackDown! series, including many of the same hair and clothing options as in those games and you can also fully customise their entrance or even create a tag team, though there’s very little incentive without a Universe mode. While there’s no downloadable content on offer here, you can transfer basically the entire male roster of WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009 (Yuke’s, 2008) if you have a save file for that game on your system, which greatly expands the amount of moves and finishers available to you. While this is a cool feature, and something I wish WWE games would implement more often, it doesn’t equate to much more than adding modern superstars to the roster (which really doesn’t mean all that much as you can’t play as them in WrestleMania Tour).
I do enjoy a bit of a wrestling title, and quickly and easily nabbing a few Achievements, and as a big wrestling fan I enjoy revisiting some of the classic wrestlers of the past but WWE Legends of WrestleMania is a quite a bare-bones title. You can see everything the game has to offer in an hour or so and plough through the main story campaign in an afternoon; the Legend Killer mode might take a little longer but it’s hardly going to take up all your time and attention like a General Manager or Universe mode. The gameplay is a bit jarring at first thanks to the odd camera perspective and the plodding, clunky, QTE-heavy nature of the mechanics, but pretty easy to master and, before long, you’ll be winning matches in no time at all, meaning the game quickly gets boring. Yes, there’s a few other match types on offer but there’s little incentive to play these as you can’t compete for belts and I can’t imagine it’s that much fun to play against other human opponents, either. The create-a-wrestler is more lacklustre than ever and there’s a strange lack of focus on guys like the Undertaker, and some notable omissions from the roster (neither Kane nor Mankind are available, for example), though the ability to transfer the roster from WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009 is a neat touch. Ultimately, it’s not bad if you pick it up cheap but probably not really worth keeping in your collection once you’ve mined all of the Achievements. I appreciate the developers trying something a little different but this clearly isn’t a Triple-A title and is really only for fans of the rock ‘n’ wrestling era of the then-WWF. If you’re really in the mood for an arcade style wrestling game from around this time, you’d potentially be better off playing something like WWE All Stars (THQ San Diego, 2011).
Could Be Better
Are you a fan of WWE Legends of WrestleMania? Did you like that the developers actually tried to do something a little different with this release or did the dumbed down gameplay put you off? Which of WrestleMania Tour’s matches was your favourite and did you ever achieve Legend Killer status? What did you think to the finisher system and the abundance of QTEs? How did you find the create-a-wrestler mode and were you disappointed by the lack of WWE Universe in this title? Were there any classic WWE superstars you felt were missing from the game and which of the available Legends was your go-to character? How are you celebrating WrestleMania’s anniversary this year and what’s your favourite WrestleMania moment? Drop your thoughts below by signing up or leave a comment on my social media to let me know what you think about WWE Legends of WrestleMania and check back for more wrestling content throughout the year.