Finally THQ has come back to the Xbox! And we are taking an indepth look into THQ's third WWE installment exclusively for the Xbox.
If you are a wrestling fan then you have been waiting, and waiting for Wrestlemania 21's release. Although THQ's newest grappler was off to a shaky start with the unexpected manufacturing problems, the new batch is out and it is online ready! The fans have been asking for a solid online wrestling game since Xbox live has been released, and now you can lay the smackdown on opponents from around the globe.
A good wrestling game needs a few things to be successful. A drama filled story mode, an updated roster, customizable characters, lots of match types and most importantly fluid gameplay. Wrestlemania 21 can boast all of these aspects to a degree. Like WWE RAW 2, Wrestlemania 21 is on the right path to making a classic grappler, but like every other wrestling game to be released for the Xbox it's filled with glitches galore.
THQ has dropped Anchor the developer behind the Xbox's first two WWE games, RAW and RAW 2: Ruthless Aggression. Anchor received mixed reactions from their RAW games and THQ decided it was they needed a chance and went with Studio Gigante, a relative new company who gave us the fighter Tao Feng. It's unknown to me why they just don't get Yukes to develop a game for the Xbox considering the Japanese company makes THQ's WWE games for the other platforms. Studio Gigante did a good job in certain areas, but overall didn't quite make it to the main event.
Wrestlemania 21 is fairly easy to get into and the controllers are pretty straight forward. The grappling system is pretty standard and a little less intuitive then the Smackdown vs. Raw system. Timing reversals are the only thing that requires some skill, but like any game the more you play the more you will get it. I was happy with the overall feeling of the game, set at a medium pace with some easy to learn gameplay. Although, like any fan of a sport (yes I called wrestling a sport) I could have used more simulation content for the extra realism. but I understand they want to capture the action packed feeling of the TV show.
In the story mode you will be treated to some great cut scenes as you follow your egotistical player through the ranks of Velocity to eventually making it up to the prime-time on Smackdown and Raw. You can't use a superstar from the roster such as Christian or JBL, you are forced to make you own jobber and go the original root. The game is fairly easy and I completed the story mode without boosting my characters stats. Of course there is a hard mode which helps balance this out a bit, but like every wrestling game they are just too damn easy. Unfortunately the story mode is linear so there won't be any branching storylines like we have been accustomed to in the Smackdown series. It's a shame really given the excellent quality of the cut scenes. Having a static storyline kills the replayablility of Wrestlemania 21, but that's when multiplayer comes into play.
Wrestling is a great multiplayer game and it falls into the same category as other sports game which provide a quick solution to a dose of boredom. Wrestlemania 21 goes a little bit deeper then your average boxing match, or a round of Dead or Alive, so it can provide allot of fun with up to four of your buddies. Wrestlemania 21 has a bunch of different modes including the always entertaining TLC, Hell in the Cell and the now standard Bra & Panties match. It's not the smorgasbord like Smackdown's line-up of matches, but the basics are covered. Wrestlemania does include Blood for your gore fans. It cracks up nicely and it's good to have it included in the game.
The Create-A-Wrestler (CAW) section of Wrestlemania 21 is a little weak given the poor navigation system. Sure, they have a good assortment of clothes, moves, and extra items... but it can't compare to the Smackdown series of layering, or the easy build system in RAW2. For allot of gamers the create-a-wrestler part of the game is the most important considering its how you can update the rosters and add the legends the game didn't get too. When it's all said and done the characters look great, but you'll be sacrificing your design talents. One creative aspect that is pretty damn cool is the Create-A-Championship (CAC) mode, where you can create belts and defend them in multiplayer, online or single player. And for those wondering, yes the wrestlers wear the belts to the ring!
Another part I dug was the task rewards which increase you're ranking in the game so you can unlock various items. I didn't realize this at first, but if you view your profile you will see an overview of your game and what you need to unlock the next level. It's strange how the game locks you out of season mode once you finished it, but you probably wouldn't be going through it again. Yes, the navigation is poor all around the game.
Graphics & Sound
The graphics in Wrestlemania 21 will catch your eye. This is one of the best, if not the best wrestling game out - graphically. The character models are excellent, and they really did a great job capturing every nuance of the superstars. They used motion capture for this game over animation and for the most part it looks perfect. There are some spots where the characters don't connect properly or will float in the air, but besides that glitch it works out for the better. I did notice some bizarre things while playing the game, like wrestlers floating around the area stuck in loops. It really shouldn't be tolerable, but when you look at the history of Xbox grapplers it's a common deal. The graphics also take a bit of a dive because of the slow down when loading between sections, and when you have four players on the screen at once. Again, we really shouldn't be having issues like this considering other developers have no troubles.
In the sound department they nailed my expectations and then some. This is how you do voice overs! If you have played Smackdown vs. Raw you know what I'm talking about, it was bad acting along side horrible audio quality. Wrestlemania sounds great and the wrestlers have a little more enthusiasm this time around. The cut scenes really come across great with the combo of good sound and visuals. Your lead character is performed nicely and you'll probably get into his arrogance and vigor. The commentaries from the Smackdown and Raw duos are good enough too keep the option on. Of course it isn't as the same level as the real deal, but its getting closer all the time.
Overall the gameplay is average, I know fans will be expecting more. If you're new to wrestling this is a good place to start with a career mode that will eat up about 8hrs.
The first innovative feature you would have to mention is the online capability. Even though it's not the best and I have had a bit of lag on my games, it works. Secondly, Wrestlemania 21 has a well written story that could easy blend onto Monday nights, the cut-scenes are the best in a wrestling game and even though it doesn't branch it feels more like the real deal then games in the past. Unfortunately for Wrestlemania 21, Smackdown vs. Raw on the PS2 beat this game to most of the new innovative features like tasks, online play and create a belt mode. Hopefully they can think up some new tricks in the future.
If you're a fan then you will like any wrestling no matter how good or bad the product to a degree. I've been all the Xbox wrestling games, yes even the Legends of Wrestling series so I'm digging Wrestlemania 21. Still I'm glad I have my PS2 to plug in for some Smackdown action whenever the urge arises. Wrestlemania 21 is a cool game with tones of mojo working for it, too bad it's just not what was expected.
Wrestlemania 21 isn't the wrestling holy grail fans have been waiting for rather a small sampling of what the future might be for wrestling games. THQ's new development team really put the polish on the games visuals and sound, but failed to polish up the final product. WWE fans I suggest renting this one and deciding if it's worth the price of purchase.
Gameplay: 6.5, Graphics/Sound: 7, Innovation: 6, Mojo: 7.5. Final: 7
Reviewed by Downtown Jimmy |
June 11th 2005