The lights are on
In my 10 years at Game Informer, I’ve had the chance to review a wide variety of games from everywhere on the quality spectrum. In Retrospective Reviews, I pick up an old game I reviewed a long time ago and give it another look. I’m not changing the original score – I just want to see what a little hindsight can contribute. In honor of WrestleMania, today's selection is Acclaim's 2004 title, Showdown: Legends of Wrestling.
What is Showdown: Legends of Wrestling?
Legends of Wrestling was Acclaim's answer to THQ's popular wrestling titles. While THQ's efforts from the early 2000s are still highly regarded among wrestling fans, Acclaim's attempts are far less noteworthy... mostly because they were almost universally regarded as bad games. Showdown: Legends of Wrestling is the third title in the series, which was known for filling its roster with wrestlers from every corner of the industry, from WWF and WCW stars to old-school independent legends. This entry is no exception; in the face of serious gameplay problems and a lack of overall polish, the developers at Acclaim focused on the fantasy of bringing several decades of wrestling lore together in a single game.
What I thought then
I had a short-lived burst of enthusiasm for wrestling in the early '90s, which meant that I knew a specific cast of now-obsolete wrestlers. It turns out that was the perfect knowledge to have for reviewing Showdown: Legends of Wrestling when it released in 2004. Anything that was happening in modern wrestling was off-limits, so the game doubles down on the history and personalities from days of wrestling past. That was the main thing that impressed me back when I reviewed the game in issue #136. In fact, it seems like that was the only thing that impressed me. I was just the "second opinion," so that didn't give me a whole lot of space to justify my score of 4.5 (the official review was a 6). I liked the huge roster and character variety (I was especially happy to see Andy Kaufman and Andre the Giant as playable characters), but I described the combat as having "sluggish controls, awful hit detection, and baffling collision," which is not a good sign for a genre where those three elements are the gameplay pillars.
What I think now
A 4.5 might seem like a low score, but upon replaying Showdown: Legends of Wrestling, I realize that it might have been too charitable. On one hand, the 70+ character roster and voice work from the likes of Rowdy Roddy Piper and Bobby "The Brain" Heenan demonstrates that this game was made by people who have a deep love and appreciation for wrestling and its history. On the other hand, it doesn't seem like they had a deep appreciation for creating a well-tuned and playable video game. If the act of wrestling in a wrestling-focused game doesn't work, then the game is a failure. It doesn't matter how many obscure wrestlers from different eras you cram in there; people have to play your game, and if it isn't any fun to play, nothing else is important.
I played several matches, and struggled with slow, unresponsive controls in every one. The story that unfolds between matches is just text, so you get no sense of drama surrounding your journey through the ages. Even the interface is terrible. Choosing your wrestler is difficult, since the selection screen is an infinitely scrolling grid that makes it hard to find a specific character. Some effort clearly went into making the character models resemble their real-life counterparts, but every other graphical aspect of the game – from the animations to the cheering crowd – is substandard at best. THQ's N64 wrestling titles, which came out years prior to this one, are still far and away better games than Showdown: Legends of Wrestling. However, Acclaim is long gone, so I'll stop beating up on one of the company's final efforts as a failing video game publisher/developer.
For more wrestling weirdness, check out our interview with Grasshopper Manufacture's Suda 51 on the subject, our wishlist for WWE 2K15, and our Test Chamber for Wrestling Revolution.
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