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CIRCA
Showdown: Legends of Wrestling
(PlayStation 2 Game Review)
July 7, 2004

by Denny Burkholder
Courtesy of WrestleLine.com

 

When the first installment of Acclaim's Legends of Wrestling franchise came out a few years ago, the grapple engine was so bad that it made me long for the days of Kin Korn Karn and Fighter Hayabusa on the old 8-bit Nintendo.

The one strength the game had was its concept - there simply had never been a game that featured interpromotional pro wrestling history before. The market for old school names like Superstar Billy Graham, Harley Race, Ivan Putski, and Fritz Von Erich is a narrow one, but as we all know, it's a very dedicated fan base as well. Those wrestling fans with the old school mentality are the backbone of the Internet's wrestling fan contingent. We're not a large group, but if you keep feeding us, we'll keep coming back.

Acclaim banked on that when they released the sequel Legends of Wrestling 2 with a vastly improved career and storyline mode, along with an extended roster than now included marketable heavy-hitters like Owen Hart, Bruno Sammartino and Big John Studd. Adding a little novelty to the festivities, they also added one of Jerry Lawler's most notorious enemies in actor/comedian Andy Kaufman.

In 2004, Acclaim brings us the third installment in the series, Showdown: Legends of Wrestling. They've made even more huge additions to the enormous roster. There is still blood (although it doesn't splatter across the mat as in the past two games). Each wrestler still has four different costumes and looks to choose from - and for guys like Scott Steiner, Sting, or Hogan, the looks vary greatly from decade to decade. They even added a second theme song option for Hogan, this one a loose Muzak ripoff of "Voodoo Chile" to make the NWO-look Hulkster's entrance more fitting.

As with the previous two installments, the game has its flaws. Those will be covered below. But overall, for an old school wrestling fan like myself, this game is a great alternative to the THQ WWE series, though not as sophisticated. None of the bugs in the game take away the coolness of having Abdullah the Butcher as a playable character, or being able to take Owen Hart through the years to the world title that eluded him in real life.

And with that, let's introduce the stars of Showdown.

THE LINEUP

Newly added:

Sting
Dusty Rhodes
Nikita Koloff
Randy Savage
Ultimate Warrior
Jake "The Snake" Roberts
Curt Hennig
Rick Rude
Diamond Dallas Page

Returning from LoW2:

Hulk Hogan
Andre the Giant
Ted DiBiase
Harley Race
Bob Backlund
"Superstar" Billy Graham
Eddie Guerrero
Bret Hart
Owen Hart
"British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith
Dynamite Kid
"Rowdy" Roddy Piper
Paul "Mr. Wonderful" Orndorff
Bob Orton Jr.
Big John Studd
King Kong Bundy
Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat
Rick Martel
Tito Santana
Greg "The Hammer" Valentine
Iron Sheik
Nikolai Volkoff
Hacksaw Jim Duggan
Jerry "The King" Lawler
Andy Kaufman
Superfly Jimmy Snuka
Don Muraco
Scott Steiner
Rick Steiner
Terry Funk
Dory Funk Jr.
The Road Warriors
The Rock 'N' Roll Express
The Nasty Boys
Brian Pillman
Eddie Gilbert
Kerry Von Erich
Kevin Von Erich
Fritz Von Erich
Abdullah the Butcher
The Sheik
Sabu
Killer Kowalski
Mil Mascaras
Ivan Koloff
Baron Von Raschke
"Polish Power" Ivan Putski
Tony Atlas
Sid Vicous
"Dr. Death" Steve Williams
Bam Bam Bigelow
One Man Gang
"Bird Man" Koko B. Ware
George "The Animal" Steele
Rocky Johnson

Manager/Wrestlers:

Bobby "The Brain" Heenan
Mr. Fuji
Grand Wizard
Captain Lou Albano
Jimmy Hart

If you can't find some interesting pairings in that group of misfits, to hell with you. Personally, I could spend hours rekindling feuds, forming dream matches, and seeding tournaments out of this lineup.

The options for tag team action alone are mind-boggling. Observe...

TAG TEAMS

Off the top of my head, I came up with 29 classic tag teams (including the obvious) you can play as in Showdown (and there are many more not listed):

The Road Warriors
The Nasty Boys
Rock 'N' Roll Express
British Bulldogs
The Koloffs
Strike Force
Iron Sheik & Nikolai Volkoff
Funk Brothers
Kerry & Kevin Von Erich
Steiner Brothers
The Mega Powers (Hulk Hogan & Randy Savage)
The Superpowers (Dusty Rhodes & Nikita Koloff)
Big John Studd & King Kong Bundy
Rick Rude & Curt Hennig
Bret & Owen Hart
High Energy (Owen Hart & Koko B. Ware)
Rocky Johnson & Tony Atlas
Owen Hart & British Bulldog
Don Muraco & Bob Orton
Roddy Piper & Paul Orndorff
Roddy Piper & Bob Orton
Harley Race & Bob Orton
Curt Hennig & Baron Von Raschke (80s AWA fans know what I'm talking about)
The Sheik & Abdullah the Butcher
Ted DiBiase & Andre the Giant
Rick Steiner & Sting (UWF)
The Varsity Club (Steve Williams & Rick Steiner)
The Executioners (Big John Studd & Killer Kowalski, although you'd have to "mask" them via the create-a-legend mode)
Blade Runners (Sting & Ultimate Warrior)

Man, there is no way around calling this roster of teams - and potential teams - anything but magnificent. There are only a few major teams missing besides the ones we know WWE wouldn't allow to be licensed (Demolition, The Rockers, etc). If they can get The Freebirds into the next version, they'll be absolutely golden.

ON COMMENTARY

Tony Schiavone
Bobby "The Brain" Heenan
Larry Zbyszko

As with any wrestling game I have ever played that featured commentary, this feature gets old after about a week. Schiavone, Zbyszko and Heenan only recorded so many quips and phrases, so you start hearing the same stuff ad nauseum. Although I must say it's a nice touch to have these three give a few random facts about the wrestlers in the ring while they're competing. When Andre's wrestling, Heenan will discuss how he managed him in the Silverdome. Zbyszko attempts a poor impersonation of Dusty Rhodes. As games with commentaries go, this one isn't too bad.

The timing of the comments is sometimes downright hilarious, though. During a match in which I was The Ultimate Warrior, I clamped a rest hold chinlock on Roddy Piper within seconds of the match starting. Tony Schiavone says "Warrior bringing out the big guns early!" In another example you'll hear at the beginning of every match, Schiavone and Heenan start off by welcoming fans to the game, and saying their names. There's about a two second pause after Schiavone and Heenan, when suddenly Zbyszko wakes up: "I'M LARRY ZBYSZKO!" If you've ever seen the skit on Saturday Night Live where Tracy Morgan yells "I'M BRIAN FELLOWS!", it's exactly like that. By about the tenth time you hear it, you begin to think of Zbyszko as some kind of mentally challenged dimwit.

RING ANNOUNCER

Gary Michael Cappetta

The last Legends of Wrestling game had latter-day WCW announcer David Penzer doing the honors. This time, we get former 1980s WWF and NWA announcer Gary Cappetta. In a lot of ways, Cappetta's voice adds to the old schoolness of the game. His classic intro of Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat brings back memories of the Flair-Steamboat classics. The game also reminds me that Cappetta perfected the delivery on the line "THIS... IS... STIIIING!" long before Penzer showed up. Showdown also provides a pretty close likeness of Cappetta in the ring doing the intros.

Another nice touch from Cappetta: Diamong Dallas Page is announced as "the THREE TIME... THREE TIME... THREE TIME" heavyweight champion.

THE ARENAS

Showdown gives you the option to choose from several different arenas for your matches, just like in past editions of the game. But unlike the previous two LoW games, the arenas are now just as legendary as the wrestlers themselves.

Madison Square Garden - New York, N.Y.
Pontiac Silverdome - Pontiac, Mich.
Cobo Arena - Detroit, Mich.
Cow Palace - San Fransisco, Calif.
The Omni - Atlanta, Ga.
Greensboro Coliseum - Greenboro, N.C.
Maple Leaf Gardens - Toronto, Ont.
Tokyo Dome - Tokyo, Japan
Boston Garden - Boston, Mass.
The Spectrum - Philadelphia, Pa.
Los Angeles Sports Arena
Dory Funk's Gym
Wembley Stadium - London, England
Texas Stadium
Sky Dome - Toronto, Ont.
Mid-South Coliseum - Memphis, Tenn.
Moscow (generic)
Legends Coliseum (generic)

This is a very, VERY cool addition to Showdown. It adds a ton of nostalgia to the game to be able to hold matches in the very arenas we remember them in. Now when you play as The Sheik to battle Abdullah the Butcher, it's not in some random-looking arena. It's right there in a graphically-recreated Cobo Arena in Detroit, just like the old days. Savage vs. Steamboat is where it belongs in the Pontiac Silverdome, Hogan vs. Piper is at Madison Square Garden, and so on. I never realized how much this would add to the game, but I'll be damned... I recognize these places! I have to say the Philadelphia Spectrum, Boston Garden and MSG look particularly sweet.

GAME PLAY

- All the usual suspects are here for match types: you can go single or tag team (2, 3 or 4 members, one fall or elimination style, normal or "hardcore," no-DQ). There's the cage match (still the traditional wire cage, and you can escape either through the door or over the top). There's a pretty fun battle royal mode with four wrestlers in the ring at a time, replaced by new characters as they are eliminated. There's a first blood match and a tables match. There is a ladder match. You can go hardcore, although you can accomplish the same type of match by simply turning off DQ and countout in your game options.

There are 30 and 60-minute iron man matches, which are very useful for practicing with a character (I used the 30-minute match to get my timing down with Curt Hennig before jumping into career mode with him, and I used Bret Hart as my punching bag). Iron man matches are also more fun in multi-player mode, so you can literally test the endurance of your opponent with a controller.

- New to Showdown is the "Classic" mode, which is a collection of legendary matches such as Sting vs. Diamond Dallas Page, Hogan vs. Andre, Jake Roberts vs. Rick Rude, The Road Warriors vs. The Koloffs, Dusty Rhodes vs. Abdullah the Butcher and the Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy Savage. Each of these matches are joined in progress. You click on one to get a brief history of the match (sometimes incorrect... Savage attacked Steamboat with the ring bell in Binghamton, N.Y., not Boston). You're then charged with joining the match in progress as a specific character, and winning the match (usually after the opponent has been pounding you, so you start with low power and make a comeback).

- The career mode has undergone a drastic change from Legends of Wrestling 2. It's been renamed "Showdown Challenge" and simplified almost to a fault. The territorial path of the first two LoW games has been replaced by decades. Now, rather than win your way up the ranks in Texas, Tennessee, Missouri, California and New York, you have to conquer the decades of the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s. Ditching the territory-based career mode probably makes the newly-introduced assortment of classic arenas more useful. As you fight your way through random challengers in each decade and collect the era titles, you can see the appearance and attire of the wrestler change over the years. After you've beaten those three decades, you must battle Hulk Hogan for the Legends title in the final matchup of Showdown Challenge mode.

- Showdown has a new grapple engine that runs much more smoothly compared to past LoW games. The movesets make more sense. In many cases, a smaller wrestler who attempts to bodyslam or suplex King Kong Bundy or Andre the Giant will wind up holding his back in pain and getting socked in the face. It's not totally infallible though, as you can fail in a bodyslam attempt and turn right around to powerbomb Andre with authority. Acclaim has taken care to add a smidgen of realism to reflect size and fatigue when performing moves, but a few moves do slip through the cracks.

- There are still some major bugs, but they're occasional annoyances rather than game-spoiling glitches. You'll find yourself connecting on a punch thrown in the exact opposite direction of your opponent. On a running attack, wrestlers may glide weightlessly across the ring to give you a bulldog, even if they started running a different direction. Every character is prone to no-selling even the most spectacular moves, unless their strength is very low. On the other hand, you can stun your opponent with random strike moves right after they spring up from the powerbomb. Only as the character nears zero strength do they start selling moves on a regular basis.

If you go into matches with multiple wrestlers, like a six or eight-man tag match or a battle royal, the chances of the game freezing increase. Sometimes it's just one character that freezes and begins walking in place, immune to your offense and powerless to mount one of his own. Of course, this means you have to restart the game, because he's impossible to defeat.

The only glitch that bothers me significantly, though, involves the commentary skipping or slooowing waaayy doooowwwnn. It sucks to be in the middle of a fun match and have to mute the TV because Bobby Heenan exclaiming "He's not gonna be able to hold him!" has become a skipping "He's not gonna be's not gonna be's not gonna be's not gonna be's not gonna." Worse yet, sometimes the commentary echoes itself on a one-second delay, so now you've got TWO of EACH of Schiavone, Zbyszko and Heenan talking over each other and saying the exact same things.

- Like I said, though, the engine is still improved and much more fun than the previous two games. You can easily overlook the match play bugs, if not the audible ones. Otherwise, the matches are much improved.

- Oddly, when you enable manager mode for non-career matches, Randy Savage is accompanied to the ring by George "The Animal" Steele. Which looks fine if you do Savage vs. Steamboat in the Pontiac Silverdome, until Steele starts interfering on behalf of Savage instead of The Dragon (as it was in real life). Same thing if Savage is part of a tag team, like The Mega Powers... he and Hogan come down the aisle with The Animal. No idea why they did that.

EXTRAS

- In a very classy touch, one of the extras of Showdown is a Memorial to all of the deceased wrestlers portrayed in the game, with their animated likeness, character name, real name (where applicable) and year of death. Leading off the tribute is a message thanking all of these men for giving their all to entertain us through the years. This all goes back to respecting the legends they're licensing as well as the market they're selling this game to. I'm sure a lot of people are buying this game because they miss Andre, Pillman, Hawk, Rick Rude and other deceased legends. Likewise, those gamers surely appreciate the memorial.

The only minor nitpick with the memorial is that for The Grand Wizard, they list his real name as Eddie Creachman, and his year of death as 1994. While Eddie Creachman was indeed the manager of The Sheik in Detroit for a time (and off the top of my head, I think he may have passed away in '94), the man who made the Grand Wizard character famous is of course Ernie Roth, who died in the early 1980s. It's a little odd that Acclaim licensed the Grand Wizard character - presumably from Roth's surviving family - but yet, they got his name wrong in the tribute. Maybe I'm way off, but I don't think so.

- Another handy feature is a series of tutorial sessions with Bret "Hitman" Hart. Especially helpful for Showdown newbies, the tutorials feature the voice of Bret describing how to control different aspects of the game, from rope attacks, to defense, to finishing moves. The voiceover is accompanied by a demo of the actions being described. The tutorials are brief and to-the-point. It definitely is helpful to take a few minutes to watch these upon first playing the game (especially since the controls are quite different from the THQ Smackdown series, which can be disorienting until you catch on).

- The create-a-legend feature is still there, but it's only marginally better than in previous installments. I'm a big fan of creating characters in the THQ Smackdown games, but I rarely bother trying with the Legends of Wrestling series. I just don't have any luck getting a close likeness ot anyone I try to create. But I will say this: it's a lot less buggy than the other two LoW games. Before, you ran the chance of your game freezing or somehow losing all of your data by accident. Now, it at least allows you to complete your creation with minimal distractions.

You can alter the look of an existing legend, too, which can be a cool feature if you decide to mask someone (such as Studd and Kowalski as The Executioners).

- Those of you familiar with LoW2 will note two glaring omissions from Showdown. Unfortunately, Showdown offers you absolutely NOTHING to unlock. All the characters are playable from the word go. there are no hidden arenas, no special prizes to strive for, and nothing at all to gain besides winning match after match. This is a big negative for fans of career mode. The other omission is the notorious gambling game introduced in LoW2, in which they forced you to earn money by winning matches, and then forced you to gamble with that money in a mini-game, in order to get the coins needed to unlock some pretty important stuff (guys like Big John Studd, Owen Hart, Bruno Sammartino and Bobby Heenan were locked in LoW2 until you passed this gambling challenge). Some people loved the gambling game while others were frustrated all to hell to finally get some big wins only to piss their money away and be back to zero. Personally, I liked it, and was sad to see it go. There is no such extracurricular game in Showdown.

WHO'S MISSING?

Criticizing Showdown because of the wrestlers that are NOT on the roster is a bit nitpicky, given the incredible lineup they do offer. You also have to consider that Acclaim has expanded and improved the lineup with every sequel. But it's only natural for a wrestling fan to see all of these legendary characters and wonder if a few others can't be added. My choices would be:

Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy & Buddy Roberts - The Fabulous Freebirds
Chris Adams
Gino Hernandez
Kamala
Honky Tonk Man
Tully Blanchard
Magnum TA
Junkyard Dog
Pedro Morales
Chavo Guerrero Sr.
Big Van Vader
Stan Hansen
Bruiser Brody
Adrian Adonis
Nick Bockwinkel
Dick the Bruiser
Ray Stevens
Bobo Brazil (The Sheik needs his biggest foil)
"Big Cat" Ernie Ladd
Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart

I would strongly encourage adding The Freebirds and/or Chris Adams and Gino Hernandez, if only to make the presence of the Von Erichs more worthwhile in the game. While Fritz, Kerry and Kevin are legendary, only Kerry has a few classic foes in the current lineup (Lawler, Hennig, One Man Gang). True fans of old school Dallas wrestling would probably salivate at the idea of recreating the Freebirds-Von Erichs war or reuniting Adams and Hernandez against the family. Hell, it might even warrant putting David and Mike Von Erich back into the game (they'd been in the first two installments). I'm guessing Hernandez might be hard to get, though, since he died of an overdose in the mid-80s and his family has had next to nothing to do with the business since. Would anyone even know where to look for his relatives?

Guys like Honky Tonk, Vader, Hansen and Blanchard would be excellent additions to the lineup with lots of rival characters already on the list. Of course, with Tully, you'd almost have to consider adding Magnum TA. I would ask for all Four Horsemen, but realistically, there's probably a limit to how many WWE employees Vince will allow in this side project. But hey, if they can pull off Flair, Tully and Arn - or hell, even just Tully and Arn - they've made the Showdown locker room instantly better.

Kamala is a great character for this sort of game because of his unique look and gimmick, but I read somewhere that he turned down the previous two Legends of Wrestling games and vowed to never be featured in them because (allegedly) they didn't offer enough money. I find it hard to believe the money was good enough for Ricky Morton but not Kamala, but who knows... maybe they lowballed him.

And hey... they have Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Davey Boy Smith, and Brian Pillman in the game... would it kill them to license Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart and complete the Hart Foundation? Get rid of Sid Vicous or Sabu if you need to free some room in the budget.

FINAL RATING

Personally, I really like this game, warts and all. But that's largely because I am a wrestling fan from way back. To really grade this game accurately, you need to figure out who you are. Here's how I size it up:

For casual fans (of both gaming and pro wrestling): 7/10.

A majorly deep roster, slick graphics and and overall smoother playing experience make this well worth checking out. It's good clean fun, despite the sometimes annoying bugs. It loses points for a career mode which was significantly more fun in LoW2, but otherwise, the game is another step forward in the franchise.

For hardcore wrestling fans (with a casual interest in gaming): 9/10.

Wrestling fans are the real winners with Showdown. If you're the nostalgic type that longs for the days of The Road Warriors vs. The Koloffs, Bret vs. Owen, and Savage vs. Steamboat, this game is absolutely worth picking up. Actually, this game was created specifically for you. You know Acclaim didn't bother licensing Baron Von Raschke, Kevin Von Erich or Eddie Gilbert thinking the average joe would be tempted to buy it! And now that the Legends of Wrestling matches can be held in their natural habitats - MSG, Cobo Arena, the Omni in Atlanta, the Maple Leaf Gardens, etc. - it's all the more satisfying to relive days gone by.

For hardcore gamers (with a casual interest in pro wrestling): 5/10.

Between the bugs and the relatively simple play mode, Showdown isn't necessarily going to impress hardcore gamers who aren't up on wrestling history. The engine allows for some very smooth, competitive matches, but the all-important career mode took a turn for the worse in this installment. Career mode is what turns a fun, time-waster game into an addictive, where-did-the-time-go experience. LoW2 had that, for people patient enough to play it until they figured out the kinks. Showdown's career ("Showdown Challenge") mode is too simple and anticlimactic. You beat a few very random opponents in the 70s, 80s and 90s. You dethrone The Hulkster (every time, your final match is Hogan). You get a simple graphic that you're the new champ. And then the whole thing clears. You can cycle through a complete season in about 2 hours, possibly less.

In comparison, unless you had absolutely no life and played the game 24/7, LoW2 took a good, solid week to play a character through career mode to retirement. And that's if you were lucky enough to have a near spotless win-loss record and avoid redoing any matches. When I retired Owen Hart or Dynamite Kid in LoW2, I actually felt like I'd accomplished something. With Showdown, I can take a guy to the title quickly and without much reward, always knowing who my last challenge will be.

I still whole-heartedly recommend this game to serious wrestling fans who appreciate history. The positives of Showdown outweigh the negatives, and even if they didn't, I appreciate that Acclaim at least makes the effort to put a game like this on the market. It's a pretty rare thing to have such a wide scope for a pro wrestling product not affiliated with a major promotion like WWE. This is not the best wrestling game I've ever played, but if my consumer dollar will increase the chances that they'll keep producing titles like this and expand upon the Legends of Wrestling concept, then I will continue shelling out for it.

E-MAIL DENNY
BROWSE THE CIRCA ARCHIVES


  
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