If anything, THQ deserves credit for avoiding the temptation of slapping a retro theme on the Smackdown engine and calling it a day for Legends of Wrestlemania. Instead, all of the in-ring action is mapped to the face buttons, which creates a convoluted system that ruins all of the nostalgia created beforehand. It’s a treat to watch for die-hard WWE/WWF fans, but from a gameplay standpoint it doesn’t work.
THQ has managed to create a rather beefy experience from a simple concept. Four modes carry the game, the largest being Legend Killer in which you take a created wrestler up against the legends in the game, earning experience to level up as you go. The three others, Relive, Rewrite, and Redefine, recreate actual matches with specific goals.
Each of the latter modes matches are introduced with a video describing the actual matches from WWE On Demand. It’s great stuff. Classic entrance themes play over the menu, and additional ones are available. All of the text, fonts, and arenas are accurate (to an extent in the case of the arenas). Fans wear period-specific clothing, further setting the tone.
Unfortunately, this spectacular presentation is destroyed by a myriad of problems. Character models are inconsistent in their look, but their animation is worse. Some don’t even seem to have moveable shoulders. Moves look unnatural, and the moves rarely respect the wrestlers (backbreakers to Andre the Giant? Not likely).
With a decent gameplay system, all could be forgiven. In an effort to simplify the engine, everything has been crammed into four face buttons. While this can work for a number of different things, other actions suffer. Climbing the ropes is frustrating, requiring a double tap of the B button. However, this also pins, so if an opponent is close, the pin is executed instead.
Quick time events decide a number of encounters, from certain reversals, tests of strength, and finishers. Whoever hits the on-screen prompts first gains an advantage. It saves on the button mashing, and the game also lets the player hold the buttons to get up, further saving thumbs from maddening button tapping.
Anyone who finds roster problems can easily step into the expectedly deep create-a-wrestler. The game isn’t complete without Randy Savage, and it’s a shame anyone considers Batista worthy of inclusion instead. Also, the entire Smackdown 09 roster can be imported, linking the games and creating some great match-ups.
There’s a solid game buried in Legends of Wrestlemania somewhere. While it may seem like a cheap cash-in, there’s a surprising amount of depth and value. Online play will continue to increase the lifespan, although most players will find the intricate Smackdown vs. Raw system more satisfying and stick with the latter. After a price drop, Legends can hold it own despite the sloppiness of the engine.