Version tested: Wii
So often in history it has fallen to the 3D fighting game to establish the appeal and capability of a console in its formative days. Tekken communicated the pace, pluck and glowering J-cool of Sony's PlayStation; Virtua Fighter bespoke the sometimes finicky technical prowess of Sega's Saturn; Dead or Alive 2 the weight and wobble of the Xbox; while Soul Calibur, in its jaw-dropping polish and elegance, secured Dreamcast's legacy even before SEGA had a chance to secure its demise.
Why should a relatively niche genre so often be responsible for defining hardware in its earliest days? In part it's visual: the language of one-on-one combat is universal, allowing the viewer to focus on the showboating flamboyance of the characters, without being distracted by having to interpret what's going on. Then, in the speed of battles, the split-second combo windows that allow players to link together chains of rock paper suckerpunch, the fighting game reveals how good a console is at speed maths, in parsing the causes and effects that fire any videogame.
And they can do all of this at the start of a console's life-cycle because the fighting game's straightforward structure - pitting one character against another in a linear string of discrete battles - provides tight scope and focus, yielding the most visually impressive results in the shortest space of time. 3D fighters allow a skilled developer to say: this is what this machine is capable of. They are a shorthand account of competence.
On the evidence of Tournament of Legends, Nintendo's Wii is a decrepit appliance capable of little more than some awkward, shuffling, cat-swipe animations interrupted by impromptu quick time events.
Tournament of Legends' archaic visuals clothe a lacklustre fighting system that is heavy on shallow gimmicks that fail to combine into a competent whole. The paltry character roster consists of mythological stereotypes - the gladiator, the Valkyrie, the Medusa, the birdman - each so generic they could have been pulled from a stock library of 3D objects.
A substandard, under-featured one-on-one fighting game, the game pushes not one of its host hardware's technical boundaries. The high point of its creative endeavour is the inclusion of Volcanus (Roman slang for Vesuvius' gluteus maximus, perhaps?), a gold-plated robotic golem controlled by a bespectacled professor who drives around in a hyperactive, malfunctioning electric wheelchair. Without him, the game would be entirely devoid of flourish.
That is not to say the developer High Voltage was without ambition. Efforts have been made to bolt unusual systems together in an effort to create something distinct. Before each fight you are free to choose which weapon you'd like your character to wield and which performance-enhancing orb you would like to equip it with. As you work your way through the nine battles that make up Story Mode (the only combative mode available for the single player), you claim the weapons and orbs or your foes, building up your arsenal and options one by one.
Each character has two unique special moves, which use up one piece of a segmented move gauge. These are based around the mythological theme: setting a tiger on your foe, for example, or trapping them momentarily in a bear trap. Added to this, each weapon has its own attached special move, so there's some scope to mix and match offensive abilities as you progress.
The structure of each battle is unorthodox, too. The first to three rounds wins. Win a round, and your remaining health carries over to the next, with just a short series of QTE inputs allowing you to fill the gauge slightly. Manage to take three rounds from your opponent before the clock runs down and you'll be victorious. But if the time runs out before you do, you'll be taken to a curious mini-game in which you rotate the analogue sticks in order to refill your health gauge and repair your character's armour.
The developer's over-reliance on stick-twiddling micro-games is carried over into battles themselves. Each arena is home to a different giant mythological creature - a Titan, Kraken or frost dragon, for example - that, at a random point during the battle, bursts in on the scene. An on-screen prompt gives you a couple of seconds to copy the displayed inputs. If successful, you'll dodge the beast's attack, while failure to do so will see your health bar depleted.
This awkward interruption would break the flow of battle - if there was one. But the system makes threading combos together difficult (indeed, anything above a three-hit string is deemed "epic" by the plum-voiced announcer). Likewise, while it's possible to block and quick-dodge, there's no true counter system, so fights have a staccato, unsatisfying rhythm that fails to flow or excite.
Once you have a grasp on the basic systems, it's an easy game, with only the final fight with Jupiter in Atlantis causing difficulties. Perhaps for this reason the developer failed to invest any effort into the Training mode, which offers nothing more than a short instructional video before dumping you into an arena with an enemy who cannot take damage. There aren't even any move lists to reference here, let alone any of the more useful training features that have been found in fighting games for nearly two decades now.
The game's 10 characters are divided into three different weight classes: lithe, rugged and massive. Each dictates the speed and power of the fighter, either fast and weak or slow and strong, with the most fun to be had with the faster characters that at least allow for some semblance of flow in lining together attacks.
A game with far fewer features than 3D fighters 15 years its senior, Tournament of Legends is an anachronism. Its back-of-the-box boasts of "massive 3D fighting" and "the opportunity to trade weapons and magic" sit somewhere between exaggeration and myth.
As a showcase for the Wii's technical abilities, the game is an embarrassment, graphically equivalent to those relics of 3D gaming's earliest days. And while the paucity of game modes would be forgiveable if those on offer sizzled with brilliance, in this context they bespeak a game rushed to completion and released with the very minimum of functional requirements. As a result, the only redeeming quality is the echo of ambition that can be faintly heard in the ruins of execution.
3 / 10