WWF Royal Rumble is an underachiever, plain and simple. If there were ever a game that I thought would be a guarantee lock for ratings gold, it would have been this one. But like Dale, I was totally shocked at how the developers excluded so many standard home features and still thought they would have a serious market contender. It's even more of a travesty when you consider they could have simply ported over WWF Smackdown! to the Dreamcast with only cosmetic updates, and the game would have gotten more mileage and a higher rating then what we have here.
Still, once you get past the lack of modes (how could there be no traditional tag-team, steel cage and season matches!?!), the inadequate roster of wrestlers (where's Chris Benoit and Chyna!?!) and the no-frills presentation (forget extensive ring introductions and Titantron movies), what's left is fairly decent. Where Dale and I differ in our reviews is that he wasn't as appreciative of the gameplay as I was. The only thing that kept me from panning Royal Rumble outright was the gameplay.
For starters, the double-team action in the Exhibition mode was done really well. It's a system that effectively recreates the typical outside interference that pro-wrestling is famous for, and it requires a good degree of strategy in use. The only negative side of the double-team system was their use is so effective that the computer over abuses its use in the higher difficulty levels and you are forced to do the same in order to compensate. Those higher-level match-ups end up feeling like contests of trying to exclusively execute double-team moves rather then actually wrestling. I hope that Yukes will include the same system in all their future wrestling titles, but hopefully, they will downplay their prominence as well.
The thing that ultimately led me to give Royal Rumble a marginal thumbs-up was the mode by the same name. The real-life Royal Rumble was always my favorite venue because it combined the crowd pleasing over-the-top action of Battle Royales and with a much-needed element of surprise by having a new wrestler enter the ring every three minutes. With the extra processing power of the Dreamcast, the developers were able to put in an unprecedented nine wrestlers in the ring at once with absolutely zero slowdown and the final results are quite a sight to behold. The thing about the Royal Rumble mode is that if you want to win the competition, it's a no-brainer because the computer will allow you to endlessly "continue" even after being eliminated until you come out on top. Just completing the Royal Rumble with numerous continues was not the main draw for me. The thing that has kept me going back for more was that I quickly discovered that trying to win the event without continuing was the real attraction. In trying to do so, that's where the game begins to show great depths of strategy and mechanics in the gameplay. Surviving the onslaught of 29 other wrestlers trying to throw you over the top ropes is quite the challenge (as I write this review, I have yet to succeed, but I got to the final four). Anyone who tries to excel in the Royal Rumble mode will be rewarded with a highly addictive, thrilling and worthwhile gaming experience.
As good as I felt about the Royal Rumble mode, I still did have one major peeve. While the game has amazing capacity in being able to hold nine wrestlers in the ring at once, the mode still does not adhere to the official rules of the unique venue. The event starts with four wrestlers in the ring instead of two, and players are not assigned a random entrance spot, which means they have to be one of the starting four. I am admittedly a purist (I think most hardcore fans would consider themselves the same), but I don't think it would have been too much trouble for the developers to have included the choice of either the official or arcade-style rules. But then again, who am I kidding? They didn't even bother to put in the most basic form of singles and tag-team matches, let alone what I'm requesting.
That last sentiment pretty much sums up my final thoughts on Royal Rumble. Whether the developers were rushed or just plain lazy, the missing features and options are inexcusable given their prior record. Yukes and Sega should have known better, and we the fans suffer for it. Royal Rumble could have been more than just a technical milestone and could have easily been the finest wrestling game ever made. It's just a damn shame that it turned out to be another also-ran that fell short of greatness.
There's also one last thing I wanted to mention. For those keeping track of our fighting game battles, don't believe the spin. I laid the smackdown on Dale's candy ass in Royal Rumble more times than I can count! Where's your Mitsuguri now, huh Dale?