Legends of Wrestling (PS2) Review

I remember being excited by the idea of Legends of Wrestling but it wasn’t until the second entry that I really enjoyed myself… and then the less said about entry #3 the better (well, until I review it, obviously…) So going back to LOW it was a strange experience, the golf swing-o-meter system is here like in LOW II though slightly worse and the roster, move variety and graphical style are also all far less. Makes sense given it came out first, but that did make it rather a chore to play through for this review… Oh well, let’s take a look!

Background:

Bret Hart vs. Jerry Lawler: a.k.a. a good chunk of my childhood TV…

Legends of Wrestling came out on the PS2 December 3rd 2001 in the US, and February 15th 2002 in PAL territories. A Gamecube and XBOX version was released May 27th 2002 in the US and June 7th 2002 in Europe. It was originally supposed to be a new ECW game before the promotion collapsed so it was repurposed, though RVD, Sabu and The Sheik all appear thanks to the prior game’s licensing…

Legends of Wrestling II was released at the end of 2002 / start of 2003, so you can tell that this was one of those cases where the original was only half what they wanted to do but the company needed the money. Given Acclaim went bust shortly after releasing a clearly unfinished third entry of the franchise that’s not a surprise…

The roster features Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Road Warriors Hawk and Animal, Jerry Lawler, Ricky Steamboat, Ted DiBiase, Greg Valentine, Brian Pillman, Rick Martel, The Sheik, Rob Van Dam, Sabu, and Jimmy Snuka.

Plus the (Western) game debuts of Harley Race, Terry Funk, Dory Funk Jr., Dynamite Kid, Ricky Morton, Robert Gibson, The Iron Sheik, Billy Graham, Don Muraco, George Steele, Tony Atlas, Nikolai Volkoff, Tito Santana, King Kong Bundy, Eddie Gilbert, Koko B. Ware, One Man Gang, Ivan Koloff, Ivan Putski, Kerry, Fritz, Kevin, Michael and David Von Erich, Captain Lou Albano, Jimmy Hart and Mr. Fuji.

Gameplay:

A preview of the ECW game we never got…

As I described briefly in the opening paragraph the system is very odd and involves a swing-o-meter. Basically you can do strikes and grapples standing, on the floor, running and jumping off the ropes, but it’s the countering is where the unique golf-like meter is found. Just before the strike hits or the grapple move happens a bar appears underneath your health and a red triangle swings across the bar, if you hit the button while the triangle is in a green part of the bar you block it, and there are other smaller chunks of the bar representing counting the move and/or going into a pin. So it means every move, from the basic strikes to the big finishers have counter animations, which is cool. It also means the variety of moves and counter animations is very limited, and given the majority of the roster comes from a time period where the move flashy moves weren’t around it can lead to a lot of matches feeling very samey. It also has to be said that to give your opponent time to … time the button press there is a few second delay from pressing to do a move before it either hits or is countered, and that makes some matches feel slow. You can do a swing-o-meter on your own moves if it’s the kind that can float over into a pin, but these are quite rare.

As you take damage and your health decreases the part of the bar you have to press becomes smaller and smaller, and given the same swing-o-meter system applies for kicking out of pins you see how it works. Thinking about it the modern WWE 2K games have the same sort of system for kicking out of pins at the moment, which is a funny coincidence rather than any kind of inspiration, I assume! The match types are extremely bare-bones, allowing just a singles, tag, three or four way match, and no gimmicks like cages or ladders and not even any kind of over-the-top rope battle royal options. I know it’s the start of a whole new engine, but you’d think they’d at least be able to toss a cage match in there. Ah well, once again it’s “fixed” in the sequel.

There is a career mode based on your chosen wrestler going through the different territories and winning their top title before winning the equivalent of the NWA World title for the whole of America, and then going on a “World Circuit” to claim an actual World title. During the course of this either Jimmy Hart or Captain Lou Albano will be managing you and giving you advice. It’s fun enough, but once again it’s something I feel LOW II got right, so this feels lesser. The only other mode beyond exhibition is a standard tournament mode, plus a very basic Create-a-Wrestler, which combined with the limited moves on offer means it was rather hard to create any Legend not featured in the game with any kind of accuracy, even given the more exaggerated cartoony appearance of the in-game stars.

So overall very barebones, but Acclaim did make a whole new engine so it’s hard to be too harsh on them, especially as their old engine had ran out of steam a few games ago so they definitely did the right thing by creating a new one.

Graphics and Sound:

Bret Hart somehow misses the fan’s hands as he tries to slap them.

The graphics are… fine. They went with a cartoony overly-muscular look which helps get rid of the worry of trying to nail likenesses of people who are either dead or no longer look like they did in their prime. The ring and audience are about what you’d expect from a PS2 game like this, as in retrospectively not good, but at the time were fine.

Sound is pretty generic, obviously no licensed themes but there are quite a few music tracks in the game anyway, and crowd noise and grunts are all pretty standard, which is a big bonus after the weird voice recording grunts and moans on the previous Acclaim engine…

Thoughts Then:

Wow, the dream match can finally happen!

At the time I enjoyed the roster and playing through the career mode but once I did that there wasn’t really anything to keep my interest thanks to there being such limited match options. Plus the Smackdown! series was about to hit its two-game hot streak which took a lot of potential time on this game away…

Thoughts Now:

Brian Pillman ties the ref in a headlock…?

Well as you’ve probably gathered now the original Legends of Wrestling just feels like a beta version of the Legends of Wrestling II game I actually enjoy playing (well, enjoyed, we’ll see if I still enjoy it or not in a few games time…) and frankly that’s clearly the case. This was creating a new engine and then getting some money to build on top of it, so it’s very basic and featureless, plus the swing-o-meter system is slower and more clunky, making for an overall not very fun experience…

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