After years of integrating a handful of pro wrestling’s legends into the SmackDown vs. Raw series, and suffering through Acclaim’s horrendous Legends of Wrestling series, longtime wrestling fans have long-hoped for a game that did justice to a robust amount of the industry’s most historic talent. Sadly, Legends of WrestleMania isn’t that game. It does come closer than any other legends-centric game has, but given that field’s slim pickings, that isn’t much of an accomplishment.
LoWM features a very simplified style of gameplay compared to anything else Yuke’s has made, including its well-known SmackDown vs. Raw series. Here, all commands are executed with either the D-pad/left analog stick and the four face buttons - leaving a lot of buttons unused, and resulting in a very cluttered control scheme that makes basic things like kicking out of pins, running off the ropes, and climbing to the top rope a chore.
This simplified style also results in move sets being pared down quite a bit since roughly half of a system’s buttons go unused. This means there’s a ton of potential stuff you could be doing in the game, but can’t because the developers oversimplified things. In-ring action is surprisingly limited - you can strike and grapple, and have your grapple attack arsenal vary depending on how much momentum you’ve built up. It’s a system that allows you to do more attacks than you’d otherwise have just entering the basic button commands in, but since it’s reliant on the momentum you’ve built up in the match, it’s impossible to reliably hit the exact move you’re thinking of using at the time you want to use it. It’s also a chore to try and remember which moves are tied to which level of momentum. The overly-limited gameplay system doesn’t make the game bad per se, but it does make it get old much faster than it should and cripples the movesets of many wrestlers.
Beyond the momentum-centric grapples, LoWM is also filled with time-consuming QTEs for things as simple as a mid-ring clothesline, but also features them for finishers. It’s the only way finishers can be done - something I find to be quite annoying since the finishing sequences of three moves are mostly inaccurate, get old very quickly, take away from the spontaneity of being able to hit a finisher by surprise, and greatly reduces the amount of finishers available since there aren’t many of them available. QTEs happen far too often here for my liking, and while the amount of time given for them is adjustable, I find that they tend to take me out of a match more often than not. The most notable exception to that is the QTE for long mat-wrestling exchanges, which come off wonderfully thanks to the QTE system allowing players to have just the right amount of interaction, and adds an extra layer of comedy to things when you see a match with guys like Bundy and Kamala break down into chain wrestling on the mat.
Mode selection is a little more limited than fans might expect if they’re used to the SvR series. While things like the iron man match are basically identical to the SvRs, LoWM also features a slew of modes done differently. For some, like the Cell, it’s a massive improvement. Unlike the SvR cell, which hasn’t seen much improvement over the years and doesn’t allow you to do much with the massive cell structure itself, the Cell here allows you to interact with it to a fairly impressive degree. You can slam foes back-first into it, or even slam them through the side of it. Also, when falling through the top of the cell, you fall in a realistic manner on your back, instead of flopping around and magically landing on your neck as in the SvRs. The LoWM cell also allows you to do something never seen before in a game - use thumbtacks. You can slam, suplex, or chokeslam foes onto them, resulting in guaranteed blood loss. Their inclusion is a nice surprise, even if the execution is a bit limited, as you can’t move the tacks around or do every move into them.
Unfortunately, some other modes don’t turn out as well as the Cell. The ladder match is limited compared to the modern-day SvR incarnation in some ways. Here, you can’t even hit your opponent with the ladder when they’re on the mat - something you could do in WWF No Mercy, which featured the first in-game ladder match. Similarly, NM’s version also allowed for more wrestlers - three versus this game’s two, despite so much time passing by and this being on far more advanced hardware. With that said, there are some positive aspects to the mode. Slamming into the ladder into the corner via an Irish Whip sounds incredibly painful, and the struggle when both players are on top of the ladder together is more dramatic than the SvR “one guy punches, then the other does, then you either throw or suplex foe off the ladder” as you can do that kind of stuff plus slam your rival’s face into the top of it, or give them a sick-looking elbow smash to the head to knock them off of it. It’s kind of sad that this aspect of the mode is so well done, as no other part of it is, and as a result, it fails to live up to its full potential.
The roster is also disappointing to some degree. For a game called “Legends of WrestleMania”, it lacks some big names, like Randy Savage - who isn’t anywhere to be seen in the game despite taking part in some of the most historic matches in the event’s history, like his classic against Ricky Steamboat at WM III. Speaking of Steamboat, he isn’t in the game either, despite working with WWE throughout the game’s development, while Michael Hayes, who had nothing to do with any of the WMs you can either relive or rewrite, is. It’s also odd to have Arn Anderson in the game in his Brain Busters attire, but without his partner in that team, Tully Blanchard. Similarly, Shawn Michaels has his Rocker attire as an alternative outfit, but Marty Jannetty is nowhere to be found. Despite its flaws, it’s hard to call the roster bad - just not all it could be. Being able to import most of SvR ‘09’s roster over enables you to have dream matches pitting existing legends like Hulk Hogan against future ones like Cena, and have matches between the SvR ‘09 roster using the LoWM game engine - making them completely different - especially in the case of Cell matches.
LoWM lacks a career mode, which is fine by me, as those have become far too generic. In its place is a Hall of Fame mode that allows you to rewrite history by playing as the loser of a match and fighting to become the winner, and also allows you to relive history by re-enacting key moments in the matches and having the same result. For example, the Bundy-Hogan cage match awards bonuses for making Bundy bleed and preventing him from leaving the cage like he did in the real-life match, while the Austin-Hart WM 13 match gives bonuses for making Austin bleed or (in another video game first) locking him in the ringpost figure-4. Fulfilling all of the bonuses unlocks things like alternate outfits for some characters, so being fun to do, they also.
The “relive” history portion of things is a blast, while “the rewrite” portion can become boring as the conditions for bonuses go from exciting to mundane. Instead of doing things that are either exciting or bring back fond memories, you’re stuck doing things like countering three times. Still, like the “relive” section, rewriting history does at least allow you to see some well-crafted video packages chronicling the feud, and are worth playing through just to have those available to view at any time.
Visually, LoWM features a larger-than-life style for the characters, giving them a very action figure-esque appearance. While that might sound bad for some, the models are intricately-detailed, and unlike the ones featured in SvR ’09, actually look like they were crafted from the ground up for the current-gen systems - an issue that becomes readily apparent when you have a match with an SvR ’09 wrestler against a LoWM one. Move animations are mostly new, although some are recycled from the SvR series, and while I could do without the overly-limited move sets, what relatively few moves you can do here usually look good.
Aside from the more modern-era announce tables and “WW” block logo in place of the original WWF ones for the stage, the presentation of the in-game arenas is fantastic. They really went all out in that regard, giving players the choice of accurately-rendered WM I-XV arenas, along with the Royal Rumble, and even allow you to use the DX bandstand area from WM XVI. The entrances feature accurate for the time graphics for the wrestlers - so if you enter in the late ‘80s WM stages, you’ll see the simplistic red and yellow bars for them, but when you jump to the ‘90s, you’ll see far more sophisticated graphics used. It’s a little thing that adds another touch of realism to the game, which I like quite a bit.
With that said, it seems odd that they didn’t throw in more belt designs - they’ve done it for the SvR series, and this game seems a bit limited by only featuring one WWE Title design instead of the numerous ones used during the years represented by the game. Similarly, there’s only a white IC title featured - despite the vast majority of wrestlers using a black one. It’s strange that such things were overlooked as they do take away from the game. More belt choices would have worked wonders to resolve those small, but glaring, issues, and a create a belt mode would have been fantastic - especially since SvR ‘08 enabled you to make a more accurate-looking version of this game’s eras’ titles than are featured in the game itself.
LoWM’s audio is pretty good overall - the commentary by Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross does an excellent job at getting across the context of the historical matches, and the sound effects for both weapon shots and strikes (especially chops) are realistic. The latter really adds to strike-heavy matches, so if you’re a fan of using Ric Flair, you’ll be happy to
Musically, there are more fictional themes used than I expected going into it. WWE’s used “Badstreet USA” and the excellent late ’90s Horsemen theme for Arn Anderson recently, so I expected them to be in - and excited about that as they’re two of my favorite themes ever. However, they aren’t here, and were replaced by a sound-alike to the former song and a fairly generic song for Double A. There are some other theme music inaccuracies, but those were the two that stuck out at me the most. Fortunately, they can be replaced by the real deal if the player has a CD with that theme on it and puts it on their system, so it’s an issue that can be remedied - it’s just a bit of a hassle do to so.
In the end, Legends of WrestleMania fails to completely live up to its potential, but does provide a fun experience for a short time. The game is riddled with control problems and the gameplay is far too simplistic to recommend for a full-price purchase. However, because it is fun in short bursts and should somewhat satisfy long-time fans hoping to recreate classic bouts, it’s an easy recommendation for a rental. Hopefully, future installments rectify the debut entry’s roster issues and feature more robust gameplay since what’s here just gets the job done.