The more things change, the more they stay the same. That saying pretty much sums up this game and my review. A couple of years ago, THQ tapped Japanese developer, Aki, to make the first 3D wrestling game on the market. It was called WCW vs. NWO: World Tour and the result was a graphically unimpressive but fun-to-play entry. However, its timing was bad because wrestling was on its way out as TV's entertainment medium of choice for gamers (aside from video games), so it was overlooked. Their next title, however, was something else entirely. Aptly named NWO/WCW: Revenge (Revenge), this title had the graphics, the moves, and the gameplay that bowled over gamers, who were certainly more eager now that wrestling was back on the rise. Fans and critics alike proclaimed it the best wrestling game ever made and despite releases from EA and Acclaim, Revenge still holds its own to this day. Which brings me to THQ and Aki's Wrestlemania 2000. Aki is back and the Revenge engine is back, but this time the WCW license has been replaced with the WWF license.
Having nailed the wrestling thing so well with Revenge, I can't argue too much with Aki's decision to not make too many changes. After all, they didn't go overboard trying to create a "wrestling simulation" or supplant the gameplay with high-resolution graphics the way Acclaim did with WWF Attitude. What they did do was take the Revenge engine, which was an improved version of the World Tour engine, and tweak it further to help Wrestlemania stand up against today's competition. This is definitely a good thing because without hesitation, I would say this is the best engine on the market. While the wrestlers lack "skins" technology to hide their polygonal rough edges, Aki has managed to create realistic character models complete with an assortment of facial textures that hold up very well. I commend Aki for not messing with the control scheme and general play mechanics that endeared Revenge and World Tour with so many wrestling fans. And with the game's quick pace (also welcome), such ease of use is all the better. Running was a breeze, climbing to the top rope and doing my wrestler's wide array of moves could be pulled off with simple button combinations; it was great to not have to play a game with an open strategy guide next to me.
THQ gave Aki 32MB of breathing room and THQ took that and made what is simply the truest wrestling experience to date. From wrestler entrances and individual mannerisms to an incredible assortment of moves for each wrestler, Aki has managed to take the genre to whole new levels of 'realism.' For example, when I was using The Rock to lay the smackdown on some candy a**, his moves came out (for the most part) when I wanted them too, the moves looked authentic, and the action progresses at a realistic pace. And it was all topped off with the best create-a-player mode I've come across in ages. It's a simple interface and the realistic options (thank you but I don't want to be able to change my characters nose hair colors) was refreshing. It took out the delay period from creating a player to actually getting him/her into a match and was a major improvement over more cryptic create-a-player modes that I've encountered in the past. With all that room, the Aki guys really got creative with it because if you check out the create-a-player mode, you'll see that there are loads of taunts and moves pulled from the Revenge game.
I also further praise the many modes in the game. There are the many events like WWF Raw, Sunday Night Heat, Summer Slam, and of course Wrestlemania. But it goes further in that I could actually create a pay-per-view mode (I first came across it in WCW Mayhem but was thoroughly unimpressed then). Here, with the ease of use policy, this was a breeze and I didn't feel encumbered at all. Once I tried all the modes, I found the thing that took the cake was the Career mode. I could create a wrestler or choose one of the many WWF stars available and actually take him through his career. It felt less like a tournament thing and more like playing a season in a basketball game like NBA2K (they even have a cool replay mode like the ones you get in Bball games after a spectacular dunk). All the things that happen in wrestling, like changing storylines, loyalties being made and broken, and wrestler interfaces take place and you are always on the lookout for any new true-to-life detail Aki may have sneaked in.
However, Wrestlemania is not without its problems, The player intros are pretty good but they always seemed to be over before they really kicked into gear. And to make matters worse, the accompanying sound often left the intros and ambience noises sounding muffled. Also, the graphics engine is really starting to show its age. Graphics aren't a big thing to me and usually don't hamper a game unless they are truly atrocious but here I feel the need to warn those who have never played Revenge or World Tour. There is a lack of variety in most of the character models' bodies and the characters still retain the blocky look of those used in the original engine. Speaking of models, Aki still hasn't handled that little problem of disappearing limbs. I'm of course referring to wrestlers' limbs interlocking and disappearing "into" each other as if the other guy wasn't actually standing there and this happens during any kind of grappling. Take heed that these are really minor things and are the only blemishes to the game but they do prevent Wrestlemania from getting a perfect score.
When it's all said and done, this is simply the best there ever was as far as wrestling games go. From the realistic look to the moves and the action, it's everything a wrestling game should have been since we moved into the 3D age. Ease-of-use usually equals unparalleled fun and Wrestlemania is a fine example of this. I loved Revenge and still hold it in high regard and when I was into WCW wrestling, Revenge was a God-send. But now that WCW is in the toilet, it's great to get down with the WWF. It's even better to not have to sit through the reinvention of the wheel while I'm at it. Wrestlemania is everything that Revenge was but with all the key improvements. The more things change, the more they stay the same.