Legends of Wrestling II
Game Boy Advance
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I've said many times; I'm a huge fan of handheld wrestling games. Well... the good ones, anyways - but I guess that goes without saying. Recently, I (finally) bought a Nintendo Switch. One of the benefits of subscribing to the Switch Online service is getting access to the classic NES collection of streaming games. Included in the collection of classics (and rightfully so) is Pro Wrestling. For the last few months; that's made NES Pro Wrestling my go-to wrestling game when I'm on the go.
Even more recently, I was able to try this game out for the first time. I put my fair share of hours into Legends Of Wrestling II but it was always the PlayStation 2 version; never this one. How will this competitor from Nintendo's Game Boy Advance stand up against my current handheld wrestling champion on my Switch? Can it become my latest, go-to handheld wrestling game to tag along with me everywhere? We're about to find out...
This particular Game Boy Advance version of this game was the first version to get released in North America, one day before the release of the PlayStation 2 version, on November 25, 2002. The Legends Of Wrestling series was always published by Acclaim but this port of the game was developed by Powerhead Games. I can't find much information online about Powerhead Games upon giving a quick glance. I'm thinking that might be a bad sign.
Once I turn the game on and get past the title screen, I'm surprised at the modes of play available here. It has options for single matches, tournaments, and even a career mode. I'll be honest, outside of the two Fire Pro Wrestling games released for the Game Boy Advance, I haven't seen many respectable career modes being utilized by GBA wrestling titles. I'm intrigued to see what this one holds in store.
As far as single matches go; there are also a few types of matches to choose from including tag team, singles, 3-way, and 4-way Dance matches. Sadly, the "gimmick matches" (ladder match, cage match, etc.) are absent. Also, the blood effects and weapons under the ring during normal matches seems to have gotten the ax as well. It's a shame that when trimming down the game to fit on the GBA; they ended up cutting out some of the best parts.
The roster here is surprisingly large, at least. I believe there are 32 legendary wrestlers included in all and close to half are locked in the beginning so that gives the game some replay value as you try to play through and unlock all the grappling greats. Plenty are unlocked at the start of the game, though. There's no shortage of wrestlers to pick from like LOD, Bruno Sammartino, Sabu, Eddy Guererro, Paul Orndorff, etc. The list goes on...
For my first attempt at career mode, I chose a favorite legend of mine and one that I always use heavily in the Legends series of games - The Sheik! Whichever legend you choose to go with; you're then presented a choice on which United States territory you want to compete in first. Obviously, with the Sheik hailing from Detroit; I chose to start my career off in the midwest territory.
This career mode is a little watered down from its PS2 counterpart. There aren't any promoters to interact with but you do get one of the greatest managers of all-time to guide you - Capt. Lou Albano! Good ol' Capt. Lou gives you tips (as in actual game tips) in between matches and tries to psyche you up for your next opponent. Sometimes, I questioned how many 3 on 1 handicap matches he was willing to throw me into, though. Was he with me or secretly against me?
Once the matches start, the graphics are okay, in my opinion. As Dusty Rhodes might say, "Passable, if you will". It looks like the developers basically took the polygon graphics from the PS2 version and somehow "digitized" them into a 2D format. It reminds me a little of how Konami's "Max Voltage '96" (forgive me for not remembering the entire, extremely long title of that game off of the top of my head) looks.
The matches more or less play out as they do on the PlayStation 2 version of the game. It still utilizes the time-based reversal system, which I like. The goal is still not to necessarily win as quickly as possible but to make your matches as exciting as possible and max out the "excitement meter" in each of your matches. This is how you "get over" and earn your title matches etc.
The controls and move sets for the wrestlers are a little simplified but that's to be expected, considering this is the handheld port of the game. It feels natural enough to control (not clunky), just limited in what you can do compared to the other ports of the game. Also, as I mentioned, the matches are missing the weapons and blood effects which makes you feel even more limited with what you are able to do to wreak havoc on your hapless opponents.
This game was pretty well panned by critics and players alike when it was released. Actually, all of the games in the Legends Of Wrestling series got mixed reviews at best but I've always been a proponent of them. They're not the greatest games of all time but they're not bad at all. Far from the worst, I've ever played. Like the rest of the series; this game is also not bad considering what it is - a full-size console game hacked down to fit on a handheld system.
Still, that being said, I think I'll continue to carry around my Switch and NES Pro Wrestling for when I need my wrestling fix on the go.
Until next time... keep mashing those buttons!