Much like opera, I like professional wrestling in an abstract and nostalgic way more than up close and in person. I used to go to opera a lot actually. I used to watch wrestling every week too. Now I mostly play video games it seems. And while I like an occasional aria, I love the fact that opera's out there and appreciate its rich cultural heritage. I don't think I would actually like watching wrestling any more Ultimate Fighting has stolen it's place in my heart and wrestling games have gotten more and more complex. It's great in theory that men take steroids and shave their chests and slam each other around for a few hours a week, but I can't be bothered to take it in. All of which explains why WWE Legends of Wrestlemania is the perfect wrestling game for me.
Legends is all about the nostalgia. It allows you to re-live key, dramatic match-ups from the first decade and a half of Wresltmanias, spanning the golden age of 80's and 90's wrestling. Hulk Hogan, Andre The Giant, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ric Flair, and scores of others even Dusty Rhodes, the American Dream! - all make appearances in the game. Each match is preceded by an expertly crafted video montage of footage from events leading up to the historic battle, giving context and hyping up excitement for the ensuing mayhem. Once the action starts, game play is simple: All you have to worry about are the four basic face buttons and the analog stick to move around. Quick-time events guide you to press the right button at the right time to pull off those killer combos. You can jump from the turnbuckles and smack people with chairs pulled magically from under the ring. There are steel cages. There are crooked managers who distract you just as you're about to pin their man. It's simple, pure, somewhat repetitive wrestling fun that tosses away the complexity of modern wrestling games.
I especially love all the background footage because I have no memories of any of these events. I didn't watch wrestling during this period, and knew Andre the Giant from The Princess Bride and Hulk Hogan from Rocky 3 more than I knew their exploits in the square circle. But the montages are so well put together, so expertly done, that I feel a strong, fun sense of nostalgia anyway. For any real wrestling fan, I don't see how you could avoid buying this game. Not that it's a great game. As I mentioned, the action gets a little repetitive, but not horribly so. Once you've played through those historic matches, the real fun comes when you get to create your own Legend and fight two decades of muscle-bound megastars (although can anyone be better than my own Sebastian The Bad Trip St. Payne in his tie-dye top hat and red tiger striped tights?). There's a fair amount of fun to be had with the game, although almost all of it depends on your personal ability to draw pleasure from some aspect of wrestling: true fan, ironic hipster, secret devotee there's something here for all of you. If you just think wrestling's stupid, well, this WWE Legends of Wrestlemania won't change you mind.
Reviewer Rick Dakan is a writer and critic and the author of the Geek Mafia series of novels.