Legends Of Wrestling II
Sony PlayStation 2
What defines a game as retro? For my purposes, retro is anything at least two generations behind current-gen consoles (which at the moment means anything on the Playstation 2, the original Xbox, the Nintendo Gamecube and everything prior to that).
There are quite a few PS2 wrestling games that are pretty good. In fact, my all time favorite wrestling game is on the PS2. I've been DYING to review that one, I won't spoil which game it is, but I've been trying to hold back on reviewing the best wrestling game of all time in my opinion, for as long as i can because...well...you gotta let the match build. you don't start the match with the finisher if you catch my meaning. Still, this one is good so... on to the game!
BACKGROUND: Legends Of Wrestling 2 was published by Acclaim and released on November 26, 2002 for the PS2 and GameCube (it was released the following month for the Xbox). It features a huge roster of legends in the wrestling business. The European release featured a few bonus characters of some UK wrestling legends but I have not been lucky enough to play that version as of yet. Sadly, no Lucha Libre or Japanese legends are featured though. (although.... Mil Mascaras, perhaps the most famous luchador of all time, is a playable character). Eddy Guerrero was the only current WWE wrestler included at the time because he happened to sign a likeness deal to be used in this game while he was working independently, but before the game was released he had re-signed with WWE. Hulk Hogan was also unsigned at the time, either that or like always, he had complete creative control of himself and did whatever he wanted because he was basically the "poster boy" for the entire Legends Of Wrestling series. Jerry Lawler is also featured in-game but, like Guererro, he was in between contracts with the WWE. All in all, it has a huge roster. Everyone from Piper to Hogan, Andre, Sammartino, King Kong Bundy, Sabu, Abdullah The Butcher, The Funk Brothers, The Road Warriors, even The Rock 'n' Roll Express. The list goes on and on, so let's hesitate no longer and replay this retro wrestling classic!
GRAPHICS AND SOUND: This is where the game hits a small snag. There are tons of wrestlers to choose from but some of the character models don't look great. This was before facial scanning and whatnot - so obviously the grapplers wouldn't look perfect, but still.... Some of these guys look like "create a wrestlers" fans made just for fun. Most look decent. Some are better than others but Rick Steiner and Ted DiBiase look particularly bad.
One nice feature though is when you pick a wrestler, you can choose one of four "outfits". Instead of just clothes, the "outfits" alter the whole look of the wrestler. For example, if you choose Terry Funk, the first couple of his outfits make him look like the Terry Funk of the 60's and 70's back when he had the shorter, curly hair and no facial hair and outfits 3 and 4 make him look like the more recent Funk with the long, straighter hair and the goatee. Same with Andre the Giant. You can choose to be 70's Andre with the afro and sideburns and short trunks or you can be 80's Andre with short hair and singlet style trunks. Being able to play as the wrestlers as they appeared in different decades really is a nice touch. Once the match starts, all of the graphics are passable. The crowd looks kind of bad when viewed up close but they aren't too important.
Also, everything sounds good. This game actually has licensed music, e.g. real songs by actual popular bands at the time. I realize I may have an obsession with blood and wrestling. I seem to bring it up a lot but just to bring it up once more....the blood effects in this game are really good. You actually see the blood drip from your head and it stains the mat and stays there for the entire bout. By the end of some matches it looks like an old CWA Memphis ring with blood everywhere. It never looked like they never used to wash the canvas back in the day.....
GAMEPLAY: This is a pretty good game all around despite some graphical flaws. First off, there is a bonus section of actual "live" interviews with a lot of the wrestlers featured in the game which is really nice. They all briefly talk about their career and then cut a promo for the camera, even George "The Animal" Steele (which was really interesting because even though I've heard him talk, I've never heard him actually cut a legitimate promo outside of his "Animal" character).
There are a few match types to choose from like the basic singles or tag match, 6 or 8 man tag and even a ladder match or cage match is available. The story mode is also very nice. You tour around territories in the U.S. like the old days of wrestling. Depending on which legend you pick and which territory you go to, the game will generate one of a few different storylines for you to play through so that helps the replay value as in you can play multiple games that will feature different storylines. I started a career out as Dynamite Kid and went to the Northeast territory first. My angle was that King Kong Bundy was their champ and I was a new contender in the region. It started with a couple jobber matches and then during one match Abdullah the Butcher did a run-in and attacked me. After that, the promoter said Brian Pillman had a grudge against Bundy and Abdullah and that Pillman was there to watch my back. Flyin' Brian started to accompany me to ringside after that....pretty cool stuff. I even got to wrestle The Sheik in his old stomping grounds of Detroit along the way. There are also other legends you can unlock via playing through the different storylines. If you play as Jerry Lawler and go to the Southeast territory, you can even play through his classic angle with Andy Kaufman and unlock Kaufman to be playable afterwards!
Also, the way you advance through your career is very realistic. Just like real pro wrestling, it doesn't really matter whether you win or lose, as long as you put on a good match. Each match is rated on an "excitement scale" and you grow more popular as you pull off high spots, big damage moves, bleed or get weapons involved....even ref bumps give you a bonus. I also like that as a standard, all matches are no DQ matches. There is no count out and weapons are always available IF you want to use them. The game basically runs on old ECW rules which I think is pretty cool. The grappling system took me a match or two to get used to but it's not complicated. Reversals are based on timed button presses that take a minute to get the timing right but that's about the hardest part. After you get the hang of it you'll have to turn up the difficulty pretty quick.
VERDICT: Legends Of Wrestling 2 is a pretty solid game. It was a big step up from the first game in the series, which was a good game in concept but a little too simple and scaled down for the time. It had fewer playable legends and no gimmick matches, etc. Acclaim is not the most loved publisher of games over the years and towards the end of the company they were veiwed as alomst sleazy with some of the marketing tactics they used. They actually went out of business just a couple years after this game was published. They were always seen as a sort of a "B-squad" when it comes to most of their games and it shows with the way some of the wrestlers look her....e but they did a pretty good job all around when it comes to this particular game.
The career mode is great and realistic in its presentaion and the couple of gimmick matches available add to the fun factor somewhat. I'd give it +2 stars......I'd give it an even better rating but I have to knock off some points for the graphics. Still, a game every virtual grappler should experience at least once.