Wrestlemania 21 is the perfect example of everything that is wrong with the gaming industry.
Multimedia: Wrestlemania 21
Platforms: if you lose a match, you must replay it until you win. This is okay in a level-based platformer, but not when the game is based on a sport (predetermined or not).
Number of players: 1-4 s
ESRB rating: Teen
Developer: Studio Gigante
US release date: 2007-07
When it comes to the good ol' days of video games, most gamers tend to suffer sporadic memory loss. They get all misty eyed and nostalgic at the very mention of their beloved Super Nintendo and Genesis, often referring to that era as the golden age of gaming. Even more recent consoles like the Nintendo 64 and ill-fated Dreamcast get the same treatment. Fans lament a time when games were original, when the market wasn't flooded with one clone after another, a time when games were exciting and new, when they were unreliant on large production budgets. According to these fans, lazily made games like Wrestlemania 21 didn't exist, only bona fide classics like Super Mario World, Zelda: A Link to the Past, Street Fighter 2, and Sonic the Hedgehog graced our systems.
This is, of course, a lot of nonsense, because I seem to remember playing thousands of sub-par Street Fighter 2 ripoffs as a youngster. I also remember that every 2-D platformer post-Sonic had some random animal wearing sunglasses as its protagonist. Yes, if you remove the blinders and look clearly at both the games of today and yesterday, cynically made cash cows like Wrestlemania 21 have always plagued and haunted the gaming market.
But Wrestlemania 21 is no different from the slew of sports titles which present themselves every year, with superficial changes and a slightly updated rosters. EA's own FIFA and Madden titles have been pulling the same stunt as far back as the Sega Genesis, but sports fans seem to continue to dip their hands into their pockets every year and spend hard earned cash on the same game they purchased the previous year.
Don't get me wrong, I'm the WWE's biggest fan. I have watched wrestling for years, and for some weird reason (besides my absurdly low mental age) I continue to watch spellbound today. I have also previously been a fan of many WWF/WWE games; from the earliest NES titles to the classic No Mercy on the N64, these games lead me to believe that wrestling games can be interesting, original, and, most importantly, fun. Hands down, No Mercy was the best 3-D fighter on the N64. With its innovative control system and extensive career mode, it was head and shoulders above the generic, button bashing mechanics of other fighters.
The problem with Wrestlemania 21, however, is that it actually takes a step backwards from No Mercy. Franchise games like FIFA and Madden can be forgiven for evolving only slightly over their numerous incarnations, but Wrestlemania 21, besides the obvious graphical leap, takes most of No Mercy's control system and somehow manages to make it clumsier than before. The wrestlers look good enough, as you would expect. The character models are well designed and fleshed out, but it all falls apart as soon as they interact. Due to some horrendously executed collision detection, ring ropes magically bend when they're not supposed to, poor AI causes wrestlers to constantly walk into walls, bodies miraculously seem to pass through cages, and at one point my wrestler actually sank randomly into the ring. Glitches are common in games, but when they occur so frequently it exposes the product as rushed and sub par.
Even more disappointing is the career mode. As wrestling games have been updated through various incarnations, most have to be given credit for attempting to create a satisfying, nonlinear career mode. The recent SmackDown! vs Raw PS2 title is a good example of how this should be done. Its single-payer experience is multifaceted, with different outcomes whether you win or lose, cleverly echoing the television show. This creates a feeling that no career mode is alike, thus encouraging gamers to replay and explore different avenues with the same or different grapplers. Wrestlemania's career mode on the other hand is linear and shallow: if you lose a match, you must replay it until you win. This is okay in a level-based platformer, but not when the game is based on a sport (predetermined or not).
Even Wrestlemania 21's Xbox Live compatibility (which should have been the game's saving grace) is underdeveloped. It seems to have been designed as a selling point and as the major update for this version of the game, but lag and latency issues render it almost unplayable. The idea of playing with your own personally created wrestler and challenging others online should have been a decent reason to purchase Wrestlemania 21. However, as poorly executed as it is, the online game provides yet another reason to place it in the bargain bin.
Wrestlemania 21 is the perfect example of everything that is wrong with the gaming industry. It rests its laurels on the success of earlier, better games, and attempts to sell itself by hiding behind an already established brand. Some might say that this game represents all that is bad about gaming today, but I would say that it represents all that is bad about gaming period. This title is like any heartless cash-in throughout video game history: soulless, shallow, and a waste of your hard earned money.