‘Robust gameplay with strong and weak grapples’ – back of the box
No, I’m not quite sure what that exactly means either. Despite a rather unusual sounding blurb, this game has quite a bit going for it, as THQ decided to go back to the proper way of doing Wrestling titles – the way it was done on the Nintendo 64 with Wrestlemania 2000 and No Mercy.
Did it turn out to be a success? Let’s find out.
To start, with the lack of a blurb up top, you’ll notice that this game doesn’t support Progressive Scan at all. Maybe I’m just biased because of my Xbox, which natively supports that graphical option with 99% of the titles on the console, but to see a game that doesn’t support this in this day and age, and which doesn’t have whiz-bang graphics that simply force the developer to not use this option, only points to what may be a developer who didn’t try hard enough.
Thankfully however, the graphics are extremely well done in my opinion, although they would have looked even better with Progressive Scan. The wrestlers are stunningly detailed, their clothing, hair, and even facial sneers, are displayed perfectly on your TV. If you’re a wrestling fan in the slightest, you’ll be able to pick out your favorite wrestler among a crowd by just looking at them from a distance, and even more so once you see their true-to-life entrances.
The arenas that you do combat in are done just as well, with the famous RAW and Smackdown arenas looking exactly like their real-life counterparts. It’s unfortunate the crowd nearby is nothing but poor looking 2D sprites, jerking back and forth with about 3 frames of animation each, but other than during the wrestler’s entrances, you tend to not notice this.
The crew behind the animations however needs to be commended for their work once more. Not only do the wrestlers look like the real thing, but they move like it as well. Every wrestler’s ‘special move’ is modeled perfectly, and their known quirks and introduction styles to the crowd are translated perfectly to your TV.
On top of that, the moves themselves look like they should be – extremely painful. From the DDT to the Chokeslam, the Stone Cold Stunner to the Rock Bottom, not only do these moves make you cringe upon impact, but they make you smile from the carnage that you’re creating.
As expected, every wrestler’s entrance music and video is replicated into this game. It also sounds exactly like the real thing, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise. What I did find strange was that some of the music hasn’t changed since I last played a wrestling title, which was back on the N64. However, after watching a showing of Smackdown, I found that it was current and with the times.
The other music you hear (and tend to not to pay any attention to) is the generic background theme that you hear during the title screen and during battle. It’s completely forgettable, but not so irritating that you want to turn off the music.
In the sound effects department however, it’s a mixed bag. No wrestlers (that I know of anyway) provided their grunts and groans for when they get injured, so you’re left with a generic wrestler type voice doing all the pain and injury sounds. On the flip side however, the guy who did the sound of a wrestler getting slammed to the canvas must have had a microphone during one of the real-life matches, as it sounds exactly like the real thing.
Unfortunately, unlike the classic titles of No Mercy and Wrestlemania 2000, Wrestlemania XIX is hampered by a complicated control scheme, one that’s forced because of the lack of buttons on the Gamecube controller. In fact, it’s so complicated, it’s not all in the manual. To quote from the instructions: “We definitely encourage you to take full advantage of Al Snow’s Tutorial mode. He’ll show you literary dozens of advanced moves that we can’t fit into this manual.”
That’s not a good thing.
Thankfully once you get used to it, it quickly becomes second nature. Just make sure you go through the tutorial mode as instructed.
Ah, the life of a wrestler. You get to run around, beat up construction workers and security guards, dodge passing cars, and swing from chain to chain in an attempt to get your paycheck.
In short, that portrays the ‘story’ mode rather nicely. It’s just you, a bunch of construction workers (who know wrestling moves for some reason, especially from the Rock), and the occasional wrestler, in your objective to regain your championship title, and to hit Vince McMahon where it hurts the most – his pocketbook.
Okay, so that mode is a tad strange. You’ll have to visit it a few times though, as you need the cash that you earn there to unlock the wrestling moves, entrances, and clothing options that are locked away when you initially start up the game. You’ll want to go here, as you’ll need all those goodies to customize your wrestler in the far better Create A Wrestler (known as CAW from here on out) mode. More on that later.
Unfortunately this mode is very difficult in spots, forcing you to almost rely on luck just to get past. Some stages will have you go against multiple opponents, while others will require you to leap from chain to chain, where mistiming your jump will end in your untimely ‘death’. The earlier stages are fun though, basically throwing you against a bunch of mindless construction workers, tossing them off ledges or beating them to a pulp for cash.
In addition to story mode, you have all the standard wrestling matches that have made the TV show a hit throughout all these years. 1 on 1, Tag Team matches, King of the Ring, Cage matches, and of course, the all popular Royal Rumble, are all here for your fighting enjoyment. Just about all of them can be played with more than one human player as well, giving the perfect chance for you to take on all your friends in the match of the century.
While all the above is quite a bit of fun, what if you think that you can create a wrestler far better than the ones included? Thanks to this game’s extremely detailed and robust CAW mode, you’ll be able to create just about anybody you can think of. Even retired wrestlers like Mick Foley are capable of bring created, as his famous move, the Mandible Claw, are there among the list of moves.
Starting with a simple list of strengths via a limited set of ability points (which can be increased by visiting the story mode), CAW mode quickly expands into a gigantic spread of different types of moves and options, ranging from how you’ll react when countering a strike, to how your wrestler jumps in and out of the ring.
From there it’ll expand into what you look like. There are dozens upon dozens of selections, ranging from what facial features you have (head, head shape, eyes, nose, and mouth are all selectable), to your clothing (shirt, pants, jacket, footwear, wrist-braces, kneepads, hats, and items you bring into the ring), to the exact details (you can offset and stretch/shrink every single body part). There is absolutely no chance of ever seeing the same exact two created wrestlers in this game, plain and simple.
Advancing further, there is an entire section dealing with your wrestler’s entrance into the arena. Ever wanted to take the Rock entrance, spruce it up with Kain’s fireworks effect, and have him come in on the Undertaker’s motorcycle? You can. Want to change the camera angle constantly, giving your wrestler multiple pan and zoom effects? You can. Want to light up the ring with lights and more fire effects than you can shake a stick at? You can. In short, if it happens on the TV shows, you can reproduce it here.
So what use is the CAW mode if the gameplay itself isn’t that good? Thankfully there a well designed engine running the game itself, offering an interesting mix between speed and strategy.
As in the N64 titles before it, every wrestler has two different grapple moves – a weak and a strong one. Which one you choose is based on the length you hold down the grab button. Each one produces its own set of five different moves (based on which direction you press), but it adjusts the power and damage that you do. The stronger grabs however not only take longer to execute, but they’re easier to counter as well.
Countering in a wrestling game? That’s right. Just like in the TV show, you’ll be countering the various moves that get thrown your way, as you’re not exactly light enough on your feet to dodge out of the way. Powered by the L and R buttons, pressing them at the right time will not only block just about any move in question, but it’ll leave your opponent vulnerable to your own attacks for a few seconds.
All in all there is a deep combat engine for lack of a better term. While some people can get by with just button-mashing, against a decent opponent, this simply won’t work.With 45 wrestlers at your command, and the ability to create just about anybody who’s ever appeared on the mat itself, you won’t get bored with this game anytime soon. While the story mode won’t get much playtime once you unlock all the goodies that are hidden inside there, it’s a fun, yet difficult single player romp. However, multiplayer is where the game shines, as one would expect.