Wrestlemania 21

In THQ?s new grappler for the X-Box, WWE Wrestlemania 21, the player once again gets to enter the squared circle and throw down with the baddest wrestlers on the planet. By now everyone knows that wrestling is a pretty popular genre, and there have been countless versions of these games released over the years. Of all the publishers releasing these games, THQ has been the most consistent in putting out good wrestling titles. In recent years though, the ratio of good vs. bad wrestling games from THQ has started to even out, or possibly start to lean towards more mediocre titles than good. Is Wrestlemania 21 going to change this trend? Read on to find out.

Like most WWE games, all of your favorite superstars are here. With around 45 superstars to choose from, you won?t be limited in who you play as. All of the favorites are here, so if the wrestler is currently on the WWE roster, chances are they are in the game. This number also includes a handful of Divas, as well as some WWE Legends (Andre the Giant, The Rock, and Bret ?The Hitman? Hart, to name a few). There is also the now standard create-a-wrestler feature that you can use to further fill out your wrestler catalog. On top of this, the character models are some of the best you will currently find in a wrestling game. These guys (and gals) look awesome, and this time around they even have the wrestlers? real voices. That?s right: they have dialogue. Which I must say, adds a lot to the experience. So, graphically and aurally alone, the game has to be a gem, right? Well, appearances aren?t everything, so let?s take a look at the gameplay before we crown this one wrestling game champion.

First, you have your standard quick matches, where you choose your grappler, your opponent, and your match type, then wrestle. You have the entire WWE roster to choose from, and practically any type of match you want. Ladder match, tag match, cage match?you name it. This is standard fare these days. Secondly, of course, you have your career mode game type. You create your own wrestler, and through a series of story driven matches, you move your wrestler up through the WWE ranks until they become WWE champion at Wrestlemania. However, this is standard in most of the games now as well. There are some definite differences here though that really make this one stand out. We?ll start with the positives: with the WWE superstars actually lending their own voices for their videogame counterparts, the video game characters seem more alive. Coupled with the amazing looking character models, the wrestlers? real voices do a great job of giving their virtual selves a spark of personality that is absent in most of the other games. The actual game mechanics however could have used some of the attention that went into the character models and voice-overs.

The controls are extremely simple. The A button handles quick grapples, while B is used for submission grapples. X takes care of punching, kicking, and the like. The L trigger and the black and white buttons are used for interacting with the environment. Anyone can master these controls in no time at all. There is also a new countering system, which is actually pretty cool to use. For most moves, your wrestler can counter attack and reverse the move on your opponent. A small blue icon appears next to your wrestler?s name whenever you can successfully counter a move. The higher your wrestler?s stats, the longer the blue icon stays on the screen. Once you get the hang of this, the countering becomes a cinch.

So, with the pretty graphics and universally easy to use controls, you would think that we would have a terrific game. Not so much. There are some serious issues with the collision detection. The game doesn?t always get this right, especially when there is someone on the ground. As soon as someone has barely started to get up off the canvas, the game automatically registers them as standing. So, if you attack someone who is even barely starting to get up, you miss. Your attack will look like it hits them, but it won?t register and it?ll cause your grappler to writhe in pain on the ground while your opponent continues to get up unharmed. This can be very frustrating, and this type of thing is common in Wrestlemania 21. For instance, when you smash someone through a table, instead of collapsing, it just drops through the ring. The AI of your enemies gets really wonky once you get more than two wrestlers in the ring. Sometimes the second opponent will walk aimlessly around the outside of the ring, or they will actually stop their ally from defeating you. Weird glitches like this are abundant, and while a few might be tolerable, the large amount present here really detracts from the entire experience.

The Create-a-Wrestler mode is done well. With tons of options for every aspect of your wrestler, you have one of the more thorough wrestler creation tools out there. You can customize 11 different areas of your costume alone. Add in the extremely detailed face, hair, and body customization and you?ll have a unique wrestler ready to take on the world. The menu system can be a bit slow and tiresome though, which might limit how much some people are willing to customize their character. The amount of customization is important here, as THQ has included an online play option this time around. Now players can take their created wrestlers and compete against wrestlers from anywhere that X-Box Live has been able to stretch its tendrils. If functioning correctly, which it wasn?t at launch, this feature could be a hugely popular advancement in the wrestling game genre. Only time will tell how this feature works out.

The career mode is your standard ?low-level grappler works their way to the top? storyline. You do this by competing in various types of matches against opponents that increase in difficulty as you progress through the story. You will sometimes have specific tasks or goals to accomplish during a match that must be completed to move on. This is all pretty standard fare in this type of game these days. Wrestlemania 21 does a decent job with it, but there is nothing spectacular about the career mode. It is definitely better than some of the previous versions that have been offered in X-Box wrestling titles. Using the wrestlers? real voices, and even giving a voice to your created wrestler, goes a long way towards making this mode more enjoyable. Half of the fun of watching wrestling on TV is the dialogue between characters. In wrestling games so far, that has pretty much been absent as they have always presented these scenes in subtitled form with no audio at all. That changes here, and it is so great to hear these guys talk to each other. Here?s hoping the other developers working on wrestling games follow suit.

The graphics, as already stated, are very good. Not the best ever seen on the system, but as far as wrestling games are concerned, I haven?t seen anything that looks nicer than what Wrestlemania 21 has to present. The sound is alright as well. While it?s awesome that there are voice-overs in the game, they could have been executed a bit better. Most of the licensed music is a bit out of date, but this is balanced out some by the inclusion of the official wrestlers? themes and custom soundtracks.

On paper, this game looked like it was going to be the shining example of how to do a wrestling game on the X-Box. When all is said and done, and everyone has had a chance to get their hands on it though, it becomes obvious that this is just another false alarm. The game, while pretty, really took a nose dive in the gameplay department. Looks can?t save a crappy game, and that is proven once again here. Giving the wrestlers voices was an inspired move, and the create-a-wrestler tool is one of the most thorough so far, but aside from these few positives, the game stinks worse than Big Show?s feet after an hour long run in the Royal Rumble.

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