"Legends of Wrestling II". It doesn't really have the same kick to it as "WWE SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth", does it? There's none of the flamboyance, egotism, showmanship and outright lunacy of a SmackDown title in the words "Legends of Wrestling II". As a brand, it sounds more like one of those 60-minute-long videos full of cheap archive footage, which you only see advertised on second-rate digital TV channels. And if you do buy it, you have a 30 day no quibbles money back guarantee, as long as you can get hold of the company before they leg it with your dosh.
Oh well, at least it's consistent.
This bout is scheduled for one fall…
As you might expect from our depressing intro, Legends of Wrestling II is by-the-numbers in all but a handful of areas. There's a career mode, which has you fighting to win through territorial qualifiers by whipping the crowd into a frenzied mob, with simple storylines and largely predictable outcomes. Beyond that, there are the obligatory multi-player and create-a-wrestler modes. The latter is a bit of fun, but since you can't play with the model's height and girth, you'll soon lose interest and go running back to SmackDown. This is a recurring theme.
Right: next up, before we part the ropes and hit the canvas, let's address the so-called innovation that runs through the heart of LoW2; the "IPS" system. And no, sorry, we don't care what it means. IPS is a simple principle, which drives every bout in the game. When you get into the position to reverse an opponent's move or extend your own combination, a little meter pops up and you have to jam a button when a dancing pointer hits the shaded area. Do this and you'll reap rewards. Besides this, the basic gameplay consists of grappling (triangle/circle) and then sliding into piledrivers, suplexes and other moves to inflict damage.
However, as you'll quickly see from your AI opponent's adeptness with IPS, victory in LoW2 is all about timing a reversal and engineering it into a combo - by hitting a button at the right time. Success is a matter of using the meter to your advantage more often than your opponent can, flatly ignoring for the most part the rigorous task of learning arsenals of moves and developing strategies. You could plug away until the rest of the game is second nature and moves, modifiers and combos flow from your fingertips like a river of milk and honey, but why bother when you can just stab a button in the right fraction of a second to greater acclaim?
Naturally, the IPS system also strips the multi-player game of much of its entertainment. Once you both get the hang of it, matches turn into long, drawn out affairs which only end when either your opponent's or your own hand-eye coordination give way too often. Or if you take to physically attacking them.
Old and hairy
Visually, Legends II it's the closest thing to those old chunky action figures everyone had as a kid, with huge, disproportionate muscles and menacing looks. Sadly though, frustrating problems with collision detection mean they behave a lot more like action figures than real wrestlers. Characters occasionally fall beneath a blow but rarely line up correctly, failing to lock horns in a natural manner or even lock eyes particularly convincingly.
Then there's the age-old issue of waiting for animations to conclude before accepting more input. Ye gads, why in the hell is this still a problem in 2003? All right, it has its applications (in footy titles, for instance), but it's an obstacle here. Meanwhile, shove more than two wrestlers in a ring and you suffer the hateful slowdown you probably expected at some point (which seems unreasonable given that, besides the characters, nothing in LoW2 looks either high resolution or particularly detailed), and the camera tends to fly off into the distance, making it very difficult to judge distances and respond quickly.
So what is there to recommend about LoW2? The graphics? No. The sound? The first peeling throbs of tedious nu-metal piping through the speakers should be enough of an answer. The gameplay? Not really. The problem is that wrestling "back then" was about emotional drama (Brett Hart trying to win his first belt from Mr. Perfect, for example), and not so much spectacular athletics, which leaves LoW2 clutching at straws right from the get-go. The multi-player? It's one big stalemate. In fact, the only thing we really enjoyed about LoW2 was the DVD extra-style interviews, and they're certainly not worth 40 quid.
Given a belting
To be honest, Legends of Wrestling II will never live on anyone's recommended list, but pitched between December and February it might have found some comfort in the arms of lonely gamers. As it is, we're just itching to get it off our desk so I can tuck into a plethora of February and March-bound games of a much higher calibre. And therein lies the game's problem: it's pretty average, nothing special - and it's nothing special in a genre which already has a very handsome, throbbing king, aptly named SmackDown, and it's nothing special due out in the same month as some really highly anticipated titles across all formats.
Unless you have some peculiar obsession with "the good old days" of wrestling before it grew into a peculiar over-exaggerated American soap opera, or idolise the likes of Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks, then don't let curiosity get the better of you. Legends of Wrestling II is onto a loser from the outset and doesn't even make the best of what it has. SmackDown retains the belt.