Retro Respawn – Wrestlemania 21

Scanned by the Chunkster!

I feel sorry for the original Xbox, because once again I’m talking about a game for it that I really don’t like. I’m worried that I’m giving off the impression that I didn’t like the Black and Green Brick, which is certainly not the case. It’s not my favourite console of all-time or anything, but I had a lot of pleasant moments playing on it back in the day and it’s an exceedingly impressive piece of kit.

Even though my console of choice during the sixth generation was the PS2, I was still very happy when I got my original Xbox way back in 2004. It was actually a present for doing well in my GCSE exams (I’m not sure of the American/Canadian/Australian/Rest of Europe equivalent, but I took them when I was 16 at the end of high school).

I hadn’t actively asked for one, and in fact it was my sister that ended up suggesting the idea to my mum while they were out shopping one day. A few weeks before getting the console, I’d been playing Halo multiplayer at a friend’s house. A day or two later I was playing one of the Dynasty Warriors games on the PS2 with my sister and mentioned that I’d been playing the Xbox and enjoyed it. She asked if I was going to get one, and I replied that I may save up for one down the line, but as of right now I had no plans to get one. I didn’t really think about it again after that and just carried on with my PS2.

My exam results ended up being better than expected, meaning that I was able to get into a decent college as a consequence (for American readers who may be a bit confused, in Britain we attend high school from 11-16, college from 16-18, and then university from 18-21, although you can end up staying longer at university depending on what course you’re doing. I think you’re there till something like 25 if you want to be a doctor, for instance).

.

Look at the SIZE of this thing FFS!!!

My mother, generous soul that she is, decided to get me something nice as a surprise present. With the sixth generation “Console War” coming to its final years, Xboxes had gone down in price slightly. So, while out shopping and looking for a PS2 game that I might like, my sister remembered my previous words about enjoying the Xbox, and suggested my mum pick up one of the now discounted Xboxes. Thus, I returned home one day to find the console waiting for me. It was a genuinely pleasant and unforeseen surprise.

And I do really like the Xbox, even if it’s an absolute bollock to lug the thing around due to its ridiculous size. I mean, did it really need to be that big? I know it’s an incredibly powerful machine, but is it so powerful that it has to take up that much space? I dug it out of my cupboard about a year ago because I hadn’t played it in a while and wanted to start building up my game collection for it, and it was a chuffing CHALLENGE to find somewhere with enough space to put it on my already overstocked TV shelf. Eventually, I had to stick it on another shelf to the right of the TV, where it still sits, like a well-fed tabby cat who can’t be bothered to move from the sofa.

In the coming weeks I’ll be focusing on the console a bit more, in something I’ve just decided right now to call “Xbox Month”. Not an especially snazzy name, but it does what it says on the tin, I guess.

It’s a shame that we have to start Xbox Month off with the damp squib that is Wrestlemania 21.

Released in Spring 2005 by the now defunct THQ, Wrestlemania 21 was a messy attempt at rebooting the Xbox wrestling games, after the previous Raw series had failed to win people over. Whereas the GameCube had enjoyed mostly positive critical receptions for its own Wrestlemania and Day of Reckoning releases, and the PS2 had hit a massive homerun with its critically AND commercially successful Smackdown! series, Microsoft had languished in a distant third with its wrestling offerings.

Whereas Smackdown! was very accessible to the casual gamer, and Day of Reckoning was enjoyable to the experienced player with its call back to the gameplay of the N64 classic No Mercy, the Raw games failed to find a niche that worked for them. Too fiddly and awkward to appeal to the casual crowd and not gripping enough to please more experienced fans of the genre, the games were not well received and fell flat on their faces, despite having excellent graphics and the ability to let you rip real songs to your Xbox hard drive in order to give your created wrestlers any entrance music you pleased.

I played Raw 2 for a while on the console, but it was never as enjoyable to play as games on the PS2 and GameCube. I returned to it recently and detested it. Sluggish controls and a tepid pace to gameplay made the whole experience get quickly tiresome, despite the game looking positively gorgeous.

With Wrestlemania 21, named after the April 2005 WWE Event of the same name, THQ tried to bring the controls more in line with the Smackdown! series while also adding the storyline elements more commonly found in the Day of Reckoning games. Basically, they were trying to combine features from the other consoles while using the superior hardware on the Xbox to give everything a more detailed graphical coat of paint.

At least when it comes to the graphics, they succeeded. The game looks positively fantastic, even when played today. The characters are exaggerated cartoon versions of their real-life counterparts and look brilliant. WWE arenas are painstakingly recreated and look fabulous, and the cutscenes during the story mode are very well animated and look great.

Sadly, it’s all downhill from there. The controls are unresponsive, with the timing of counters in particular being completely horrendous, and the hit detection is woeful. You have four different grapple types that you can use, which are quick, strong, special, and submission. By tapping the A button, you instigate a quick grapple and can then press A again, along with a direction on the d-pad, to perform a move. By holding A down, you enter the strong grapple, by tapping B you enter the special grapple, and by holding B you enter the submission grapple. You use X for strikes and Y to run. LT blocks grapples while RT blocks strikes.

This isn’t very different from the PS2 controls, but whereas the hit detection and AI are good in those games, it most certainly isn’t in Wrestlemania 21. Bouts become a frustrating battle in trying to get a move of any kind in before your opponent inevitably strikes you, whips you into a corner, and then performs an unblockable corner grapple on you. It’s not supposed to be unblockable, but the timing is so completely out of whack that you’ll never be able to counter it. Frustratingly as well, the size of each wrestler seemingly has no effect on how quickly or slowly they move.

While wrestling as Eddie Guerrero against the Big Show, I tried to use my quickness to strike Show often in an attempt to wear him down and splat him with a top rope move. However, Show always seemed to be quicker to the draw when it came to punches, despite being a slow moving behemoth in real life, and I just kept getting punched and stuffed in the corner.

As if the gameplay isn’t bad enough, the story mode is equally rotten. Trying to take a page out of the GameCube games, you’re forced to create your own wrestler and play through career mode that way. But whereas the GameCube games had a relatively decent narrative to follow, the Xbox story quickly becomes a chore. It also doesn’t help that your created character is an absolute wanker, who from the very first cutscene is acting like an arrogant twerp. He’s so thoroughly unlikeable and conceited that I was actually starting to hope one of the WWE Superstars would destroy him so I wouldn’t have to play as him anymore!

I wouldn’t recommend Wrestlemania 21. If you want to play sixth gen wrestling games, I’d suggest playing them on the GameCube or PS2. Give the games on the Xbox a wide berth, as they are all pretty terrible and not worth your time.

So, not the most auspicious start to Xbox Month, but don’t worry, I’ve got an absolute doozey for next week!

Thanks for reading

Until next time, Come On You Blues!!!

You can view Footage of the game, courtesy of YouTuber 316whatzupz, by clicking right HERE

Looking for other great content here on the site? Well, why not take a goosey gander at the following?

You can read Daniel’s review of the new Turtles game by clicking right HERE

And you can read James’ article on deaths in games by clicking right HERE

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