Wrestling games have never featured highly in my list of gaming priorities but the PlayStation’s Smackdown! series served to change my and many other gamers feelings about the genre. It was actually a decent game for a start and it appealed to most gamers. Unlike the PlayStation, the N64 didn’t have Smackdown to call its own, but instead WrestleMania made a name for itself as it jumped onto Nintendo’s sinking ship just in time to receive a warm reception. It was different in terms of gameplay to the coveted Smackdown but none the less it worked. Needless to say WrestleMania X8 has been highly anticipated by the Gamecube fan but now it’s here I don’t hear any song and dance. Unfortunately it’s turned into an average grapple fest.
Unfortunately the gameplay has a few flaws, which at first, are hard to excuse. The first thing you’ll notice is a lack of a career mode, which makes the game kind of shallow, however there are enough modes to keep you occupied.
There’s the usual exhibition match, where you can choose from hell in a cell to the formidable cage match. All of the most popular matches are there, including the ladder matches and newcomers and fans alike are sure to be satisfied, especially when looking for something different in terms of multi-player, which is where most of the fun can be had.
You’ve got the usual option to create your own wrestler and they can be customised down to the smallest degree, such as personality attributes and all characteristics are available to change using a friendly interface but improvements could be made. There is the problem of having to select something before you see it and every time you do select and attribute you heard a large bashing sound, which becomes very annoying.
When playing the game you wrestlers move around in much the same way as most other games, e.g. slowly and sometimes annoyingly slowly. It seems that perhaps with WrestleMania though, the players move to a degree that’s a little more sluggish than usually seen. Frustration can get to you especially when your wrestler won’t get up when being pummelled in the head and finally when he does he won’t move fast enough to get out of another impending attack. This will continue until your wrestler has enough strength to counter-attack or, more likely, until you opponent misses/ makes a mistake.
The controls don’t help with this and they probably are the main contributor to making things feel slow at points. The grapple system is more like Smackdown now, which is an improvement in my book but things become complex when trying other moves. Counter attacks for instance are done using two buttons, either L or R. L for punch counters and R for grapples. This seems completely pointless and it would be a lot easier if both counters were assigned to one button. Picking things up also becomes an annoyance as you have to press A and X simultaneously to do so. These combinations may seem simple and they are, but when you are just learning the game they result in frustrating button bashing.
A good number of moves can be pulled off and all signature moves are present. To do a signature move you must first fill you adrenalin gauge, which is done by consistently beating the crap out of your opponent, much like Smackdown or any other wrestler.
WrestleMania redeems itself in multi-player mode where you’re guaranteed to have a right laugh. Together with the impressive range of matches on offer, the four-player game is the best thing the game has to offer.
As well as the usual stuff though, there’s a new multi-player feature, which involves custom belts. You can create your own belt in the game, save it to memory card and then take it round to your friend’s, where they can challenge for it. If they win then the belt is then saved upon their card, which is pretty novel.
Wrestle-Mania’s worst feature has to the music. It takes nothing from the TV shows and instead plays repetitive beats reminiscent of 80’s arcade machines. It’s annoying to the point that you’ll want to cut your ears off and it spoils a game that is supposed to recreate all the thrills of live wrestling entertainment.
Possibly the game’s strongest point is the graphics. Unfortunately they don’t deviate much from the PS2’s incarnation of Smackdown but there are a few things that give it the upper hand.
All the superstar’s from the WWE and the NWO you could hope for are present and they’re all realistically formed and detailed, complete with their signature features and dress-codes. Muscle contours are realistically shadowed and the lighting from the crowed cameras has nice effects on your stars. You just get the feeling though it looks a little average - like it’s been seen like this before and the truth is, it has. Perhaps it was even done better on the PS2. Yet there are details, which do treat the eyes, such as moving hair seemingly individually stranded.
The arenas are also detailed to a good degree but again nothing really makes you stand and stare. This isn’t jaw dropping as I expected and the crowd really lets it down as it does it every wrestler and even most sports games I’ve come across. The crowd consist of the most pixelated, two dimensional people I’ve ever seen. They look like they’ve been drawn by a two year-old and probably wouldn’t look out of place as extras on Doom. This has also been seen in the PS2’s Smackdown but what makes it worse here is the fact that they all seem to be stood about a metre apart from each other, making the whole audience look sparse, thus bring more attention to their ugly, out of place mugs.
In game animations are also another average aspect but in this I found something that did make lean slightly closer towards the screen. The facial animations of your favourite superstars are very classy. Never before have I seen ’The Rock’ look more distressed or ’Stone Cold’ infuriate with pain so convincingly without looking constipated.
Other than this the only other attribute that really disserves a mention is the way it’s presented. This time around we actually have a wrestling game with easy to navigate menu screens with sensible colours and fonts.
Other than the problems outlined the graphics are at a respectable level.
Playing the single player games is pretty boring. Without a career mode your only option is to play through winning each belt. Some satisfaction is gained from unlocking the extra characters here though.
The multi-player mode is however, extremely good fun in certain circumstances and a lot of fun can also be gained from pairing this with the ’create-a-wrestler’ mode. Things like the music though let it down here as well and if it weren’t for your volume control then you probably wouldn’t want to play it at all.
The GameCube has unfortunately gained itself a surprisingly average game, which will disappoint WrestleMania fans and those who were looking forward to its release. It falls short of recreating the action and thrills of live wrestling and too many flaws hinder it. With WWE Raw getting the worst of all reviews at present all eyes lie on PS2’s Smackdown! 4 to retain its title and I for one predict that it will be the best of the bunch, no question. For GameCube owners though I would advise the hardcore fans only to buy this game and for the rest of you, just rent it when your mates are round.