- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Superhero and cartoon characters are integral parts of the electronic-entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at Legends of WrestleMania (from THQ, for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, rated T for teen, $59.99).

The best moments of the premier professional wrestling event for the past quarter-century come to life as up to six players control 40 of the greatest performers from the 1980s and 1990s.

What’s the story: Developed by World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. owner Vince McMahon back in 1985, this “Showcase of the Immortals” has become a yearly tradition to define the drama and competition that distinguish professional wrestling.

Play the role: Do the names Hulk Hogan, the Rock, Iron Sheik, Undertaker, Andre the Giant or Bam Bam Bigelow make you all atwitter? Then imagine handling these lugs in some of the matches that made them legends.

Specifically, a player can appreciate key parts of their careers drawn from the first 15 WrestleManias.

In Tour mode, players relive (pick a moment to duplicate), rewrite (take on the role of the loser and try to win) and redefine (tweak the conditions of the match for example, battle in a steel cage) the events. A Legend Killer mode offers the creation of a new contender to whip dozens of opponents into submission.

Get to the action: Attacks, grapples, reversals, signature finishing moves and pins all are performed through the primary button set and analog stick, making the game very accessible for the less savvy gamer and perfect for younger teen and parent to hit the virtual mat.

Types of exhibition matches for solo and multiplayer action include Steel Cage, Ladder, Hell in a Cell, Tag Team and even the Royal Rumble - 30 wrestlers battle in a button mash. Each features plenty of in- and out-of-the-ring shenanigans. Online action also is available.

Better yet, the create-a-wrestler designer is a joyous time-wasting event in which a player builds his star with details down to back hair, fanged teeth and face paint. He also creates his wrestler’s entrance, down to when fireworks go off and what signs his fans hold.

Memorable moments: I loved the archival video clips of the actual matches and events culled from the classic televised broadcasts. Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant are tops for me as well as that moment of being able to take control of Hogan as he body slams Andre in the third WrestleMania.

Violent encounters: The blood will flow as opponents get more and more aggressive with the punches, body slams and head butts. The violence levels are much less than in the current broadcasts, but the lack of sportsmanship remains, with taunting encouraged (increasing one’s power and health) and weapons occasionally are hidden under the ring.

The bad: Legend Killer mode requires beating a battery of 10 wrestlers in a row to unlock its next tier, with no way to save progress. Yep, better sit down with a barrel of Diet Coke and couple bags of Doritos. It’s going to be a long night.

Additionally, commentary from Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler is brutally repetitive.

Read all about it: Now-defunct Valiant Comics in 1991 released a five-issue magazine-sized comic-book series called World Wrestling Federation Battlemania, featuring wrestlers such as Big Bossman, Undertaker, Ultimate Warrior and Jake “The Snake” Roberts (roughly $6 in near-mint shape, if you can find these rarities). More recently (in the late 1990s) the just-as-defunct Chaos Comics offered sequential-art odes to the Undertaker, the Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin (roughly $6 per issue in near-mint condition).

Pixel-popping scale: 6.5 out of 10. The wrestlers’ designs show how the athletes wished they looked during their prime - lots of oily, disproportionate, beefcake bodies in the Stretch Armstrong category. Kudos to the arenas and effects, but the audience often is very pixilated - not that I care about the nitwits in the crowd.

Extras and unlockables: Best of the bunch is loading the entire roster of THQ’s Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 into the game for use in the matches. Who wouldn’t want to see the clean-cut John Cena challenge the wild rock man, Ultimate Warrior?

What’s it worth: Legends of WrestleMania succeeds by tugging on the nostalgia of players devoted to the eclectic superpersonalities that have made professional wrestling so entertaining. Unfortunately, its accessibility as a history lesson for the average fan will not appeal to the hard-core wrestling gamer, who will find the subpar game mechanics and any realism lost among its limited charm.

* Visit Zadzooks at the blog section of The Washington Times’ Community pages (www.washingtontimes.com/communities/zadzooks).

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