Now I know I usually review classic games, but to my own defense, Acclaim is no longer in business. And, this is a wrestling game based on classic wrestlers. Being an avid fan of wrestling since the age of 4 (20 years ago), I was completely stoked to play a game with the old favorites from my childhood. Having the chance to finally create those dream matches that could never happen and to also recreate the most memorable matches like Ricky Steamboat against Randy Savage, or Andre the Giant against Hulk Hogan from Wrestlemania 3, or even the legendary hardcore matches with Sabu and Terry Funk. The greats are all here… for the most part.
With a roster spanning from the 1970s era of Superstar Billy Graham and Dory Funk Jr. up until the late 90s era of Sting and Diamond Dallas Page, there really is something for wrestling fans of any era. Unless you are a die-hard wrestling fan who’s followed the business for many years, though, you may wish to stick with the newer Smackdown franchise or wait for the TNA game to arrive in 2007. I say this because the game isn’t really that good, but the nostalgic feel and amazing roster makes the hardcore wrestling fan look through the game’s flaws.
With plenty of gameplay modes and wrestlers to keep you occupied for some time, it may be the controls that actually throw you away from the game. For those of you who are familiar with the newer Smackdown games, you can rejoice in the control scheme for S:LOW. It is very similar, in that you have ready attacks, grapple attacks, striking attacks, etc. What wrestling game would be complete without them, right?
It’s not so much the scheme of the controls but moreso the response of them. For instance, you have three types of strikes that you can do by pressing the A button. A weak strike (just pressing A), a medium strike (pressing the analog stick left or right + A) and a hard strike (up or down + A). If you throw a hard strike and connect, it will stun your opponent and they will start to wobble a bit. During this “groggy” state so to speak, you can’t actually follow-up and connect with a grapple, a ready move or even another strike until their groggy animation is over with.
The game also seems to move slower than modern wrestling games. Granted one could consider this realism, as most classic matches were more technical and slow-paced rather than the quickness of the TNA X-Division; but sometimes it gets a little too slow.
The roster is the backbone of this game, hands down. When I first cycled through the selection screen and realized that I could pick from almost any era, from grapplers such as Tito Santana, Dynamite Kid, Big John Studd or even the late great Eddie Guerrero, I was quite happy. Then I realized that quite a few key names were missing. Where was Ric Flair? Where was Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson and Tully Blanchard? No Four Horsemen? No Cactus Jack? No Brutus the Barber Beefcake or Lex Luger? No Midnight Express?
That is where the Create-a-Legend mode comes into play. While very basic, it does an amazing job of making your created legend look just like an actual character in the game, thanks to its graphic scheme. Within 30 minutes, the Four Horsemen were in the game and facing off in the classic feuds of yesteryear. Within five more minutes, Brutus the Barber was teaming up with Greg Valentine to reform the Dream Team and taking on Strike Force. I felt like a 10-year-old kid again, and it was amazing.
An impressive addition to the franchise is the ability to pick the venue you wrestle in. Many licensed venues are available, such as the notorious Madison Square Garden, the Omni, the Cow Palace, the Maple Leaf Gardens, the Tokyo Dome, the record-breaking Pontiac Silverdome from Wrestlemania III and even Dory Funk’s Gym.
To make the matches go by with a little more of a TV feel, WCW announcers Larry Zbyszko, Bobby “the Brain” Heenan and Tony Shiavone call the shots. While it’s great to hear from the Brain again, the announcing does get a little repetitious and stale. But every now and then they throw out facts from old feuds or Heenan will crack a joke about who you are controlling to spice things up.
An interesting part of the game is the “Classic” mode, where you find yourself in the middle of some of the most classic feuds in wrestling history. They give you the back story, tell you who you control and how the outcome of the match must take place. For example, in one mission you control the Hulkster in the middle of a Camel Clutch from the Iron Sheik. You must break the Sheik’s submission hold and win by pinfall or submission. The catch? Since you are in the middle of the match, your health has been depleted quite a bit. Another classic bout pits you again as The Road Warriors in the middle of your match against the Russians Ivan and Nikita Koloff, where you are beaten badly and must make a comeback. It’s a pretty sweet option, but it’s short lived and can be completed in less than an hour.
As for match types, you have your standard 1-on-1, tag-team, 3-way-dance, etc.; but you also can do classic cage matches (Hogan and Bundy or Snuka and Muraco come to mind), hardcore, tables, ladder and first blood matches to bring some variety while you figure-four your friends with your created Ric Flair.
Sadly, there are more downfalls. The story mode is very generic and yields nothing for completing it with anyone. There are no unlockables in this game at all. Not a single arena, no additional CAL gear or move sets, no hidden wrestlers or interviews, etc. Nothing. What you see is what you get.
The beauty of the Xbox version, however, is that thanks to it’s internal memory card, you can create as many legends as you wish to fill in some of the gaps. Sadly though, no matter how nostalgic the game is… no matter how much fun you have and no matter how many times you make Macho Man defeat Hulk Hogan or make the Ultimate Warrior tap out like a jellyfish to Dory Funk Jr’s spinning toe hold, the gameplay is just pretty damn awful and denies this in being a great game.
Overall, I had a ton of fun with S:LOW creating legends and reliving classic matches. Again, if you are a die hard wrestling fan then you will no doubt force yourself to live with the controls and enjoy the game to it’s fullest extent. The CAL could have been a little better in terms of the gear you can choose from, but it still does an amazing job making your CAL look like the real thing. If you want to create Ric Flair and relive the Chi-Town Rumble with Ricky Steamboat or body slam Big John Studd as Andre the Giant, S:LOW is your game. But if you want fast-paced, over-the-top wrestling, stick with Smackdown vs RAW 2006.