Before it went under last year, Acclaim managed to squeeze out one final franchise to titilate, yet ultimately disappoint gamers. Legends of Wrestling was a great idea, to take all of the classic superstars of wrestling and pit them against one another, allowing players to create 'dream-matches' with their favourite superstars against one another to decide who really was the greatest. Sadly, the game failed to live up to it's billing, offering questionable 'legends' and a decently thought out yet ultimately poorly executed engine, matched with bizarre graphics that made the wrestlers all look like action figures. Bad 1980s action figures. Sadly, the sequel did little to address the gameplay or graphical faults the first game had, yet added more legends, including UK greats like Big Daddy and Kendo Nagasaki, as well as a variety of new match-types. It, once again, provided more frustration than entertainment, although the series did manage to maintain 'potential' to be great. Come the release of Showdown: Legends of Wrestling, I hoped that all of the series problems would finally be addressed. One look at the sleeve revealed that one of my biggest gripes with the first two games, the fact that they didn't feature wrestlers from 'my time', was sorted out. Ultimate Warrior, Sting, 'Macho Man' Randy Savage, Jake 'The Snake' Roberts, all favourites of mine as a kid, were now featuring in the game, as well as the characters from long before my time, such as Harley Race, Killer Kawolski and One Man Gang. Showdown installed hope in my heart that maybe they had finally got it right, that Acclaim was going to exorcise the ghost of bad wrestling games such as the first two Legends and WWF Attitude. Shame that hope turned out to be false.
I will start off by saying that the roster is, admittedly, at least a league above the other two games. All the major names of the 1980s and 90s, when I grew up watching wrestling, are present. Hulk Hogan, the Road Warriors/Legion of Doom, 'Ravishing' Rick Rude, 'The Model' Rick Martel, Bret 'Hit Man' Hart...while I could name a few faces I would have liked to have seen, in general, all the heavy hitters of my youth are present. While I'd have taken Diesel/Kevin Nash, Razor Ramone/Scott Hall or any of the members of Demoliton before some of the folks present, overall it's a solid roster.
Granted there are some disappointing issues regarding the rosters. Where are the UK Legends that were in the last game? what the hell is Eddie Guerrero doing here? possibly the biggest flump actually stems out of one of the game's potentially best features. You see, as with THQ/AKI's wrestlers for the N64, each wrestler has 4 costumes to choose from. Meaning that you can play as Sting with his short-blonde hair from the early 90s, his 'The Crow' look or the same outfit in his red Wolfpack colour scheme. Want to play as Randy Savage as the flamboyant WWF superstar or the NWO member? The problem this brings up is with Scott Steiner, whom can appear in his 'Big Poppa Pump' incarnation, but also his early 1990s 'Steiner Brothers' look, when he had long-hair. Despite claims to the opposite, you cannot edit the wrestlers costumes as in those THQ games, you can simply clone them and alter them. This isn't the only lie the sleeve tells, seeing as Jerry 'The King' Lawler doesn't actually commentate in the game at all.
That does actually bring up a point though, Lawler, as well as Hogan and Guerrero, were all under contract with the WWE when this game was released. How did Acclaim manage to get the license to use them in the game, yet not plump for other legends still contracted such as Shawn Michaels, 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin or the Undertaker?
In the game's favour, it has improved graphically. The wrestlers no longer look like bad 1980s action figures, they now look like mediocre 1990s ones. With that said, the arenas and the rings all look very good, but I was slightly annoyed by the fact that blood no longer stains the ring when it is spilled. As horrible as that sounds, when you have a realistic aspect to your game, why remove it? However, I am pleased to say that Acclaim saw some sense and restored the Tag-Team entrances that were inexplicabley taken out of the second game, although the entrances of the game are rather lacklustre to be honest.
The sound brings in a decent new aspect, yet still fails to address one of the second game's biggest flaws. Commentary has been added, and it comes from WCW commentators Tony Schiavone, Bobby 'The Brain' Heenan and 'Living Legend' Larry Zibysko. While this, as with most videogame commentaries, gets old, it isn't without it's highlights, and when they actual talk about wrestler specific details, such as Tony commenting on Heenan's 'weasel suit' when the Warrior is fighting, it's pretty cool, although most of the match is relegated to generic "did you see that?" style comments.
The music is once again the game's most infuriating factor. If I'm being honest, I've never listened to the game's own music, as it offers the option to play your tunes during matches. Cool. Only, despite the fact it was available in the first game, the Create-a-wrestler mode still has the ability to use your music for it AWOL. Also of irritation is the wrestlers' entrance tunes. While these have been designed to sound like the music the superstars came out to, in most cases they aren't. The Ultimate Warrior's rocking tune isn't as fast and Hulk Hogan's lacks the words.
Speaking of the create a wrestler mode, it sucks. Well, it isn't that bad, but the lack of colour options combine with the music fact to really annoy me. Once upon a time, I played Acclaim's wrestling games just for the Create-a-wrestler mode. Now it's a tacked on extra.
Actually, speaking of that, another aspect in which the game fails. It has no extras. The second game had unlockable wrestlers, arenas and interviews with legends...this game offers absolutely nothing, meaning absolutely no replay value.
What further hampers the game's attempt to compete with the other wrestling games out there is it's Gameplay modes. While all the expected match types, Hardcore, Tag-Team, Table, Ladder, Battle Royale and Cage are present, where are some of the more spectacular match types we've seen over the years? I know the WWE probably owns the rights to the names, but surely Hell-in-the-cell or TLC matches could have been recreated without a lawsuit?
What is worse is the single-player options. Classic Match mode is essentially the same as the 'Scenario' mode that is a staple of other sports games, where you take famous matches, and take over at a key-moment to see if you can win. Only, it's uneven here. Some of the matches see you try to recreate history, while others see you try to change it. One match in particular, Andy Kaufman Vs. The King, is an absolute drag to play, as it takes forever to whittle down Lawler's energy with the weedy Kaufman, as well as the other problems all matches have, which I'll get back to later.
What is most disappointing of all is the main single player mode. Gone is Career mode, to be replaced by Showdown mode. In this you fight 5 matches against 70s Superstars, 5 against 80s icons and 5 against 90s legends before fighting Hulk Hogan, with some random and generic story elements inserted inbetween. This will take you a few hours tops to complete, and in all honesty it is a complete waste of time. While some of the matches seemed to recall classic bouts specific to the wrestler I played as, I'm sure this was more down to coincidence than good work on Acclaim's part, and this mode appears half-finished.
Come to think of it, that speaks for the game in general. You see, I could forgive every other flaw, if the game played well, but the simple fact is...it doesn't. At all. The game contains so many glitches, its more a case of trying to find the game below them to review. Diabolical hit detection, wrestlers who teleport, float and can be pinned while standing up, random game-crashes...Showdown has every glitch you can think of in spades! Honestly, was this game even tested? What makes this sadder is that when it does work, while still being far from great, the game plays quite a bit better than it's prequels, and while the button response is still rather questionable and the removal of the 'pointer' reversal/modifier system annoyed me a little, the game moves faster and more realistically than either of the prior two titles in series - its just a shame most gamers won't play it for more than 2 matches due to the disgustingly high amount of glitches(in all honesty, I've never fought a match without encountering at least one). While the 4-Player support should, by all rights, add some life to the game, it's even easier for 4 players to get annoyed by a horrifically buggy game than it is 1, so the anger level rises even quicker.
You know, I was really, really disappointed by Showdown: Legends of Wrestling. Acclaim finally had a series with promise, and they were actually taking some steps in the right direction, when they obviously decided they wanted the game on the shelves ASAP, not actually thinking to fix half of the bugs the game has. While wrestling fans may take a degree of enjoyment out of the game, hell, even with the glitches it's still better than WWF Attitude, but at the same time, the game boasts more frustrations and faults than it does anything to recommend it upon, and I as such I really cannot recommend it to anyone. Funnily enough, THQ has picked up the idea from Acclaim, and the last few Smackdown! games have actually allowed players to unlock classic WWF Superstars to match wits with their current faves. While these games only offer a limited selection of legends, at least they are backed by a decent videogame that was tested.