Being both a child and an avid wrestling fan in the late nineties/early 2000’s, I can honestly tell you that I lived in the absolute BEST time frame for video games based on professional wrestling. I had the honor of playing the Smackdown! series from it’s very beginning, I had the pleasure of experiencing WCW/NWO: Revenge in all of it’s awkward Nintendo 64 Glory, and I was even able to see new ideas and trends develop for new series as they were developed for each console. I got to live through everything from the odd attempt at an arcade brawler known as WWF Royal Rumble on the Sega Dreamcast to the tale of “we have no idea what we are doing!” that was WWE Wrestlemania 21 on the original X-Box, and I loved every minute of it. You can have your photo realistic, Madden-esque titles of today, but my heart will always be with the progenitors of the genre. That said, today I’d like to talk a bit about one of my favorite titles of the old generation, WWE: Day of Reckoning.
To be honest I really had no plans of even getting this game, as we all remember the absolutely horrid Wrestlemania X8 and not quite good enough Wrestlemania XIX titles. Sure they ditched the “Wrestlemania” name, but does the name change signify a whole new approach, or just a cheap repackage? I say a bit of both, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in this case.
The first thing you’ll notice upon booting the game up is that THQ actually licensed REAL music for this game, which is a great break from the generic “Bass and Drums” and recycled RAW 2 music the past few WWE titles have been utilizing. The problem is that the music is ALWAYS playing. During matches, on select screens, during cut scenes, even the Jobbers and Legends use the songs as their entrance themes. So as you can imagine, a fifteen song playlist gets old fast. My pal Cactus Chris and I managed to go through the playlist multiple times in our first Undertaker VS. Kane HIAC match, which lasted for about two hours, I should add. The songs, albeit pretty cheesy, fit the game well. Maybe I just say this because I have what some call a shitty taste in music, but I don’t mind them at all.
The sound effects are very basic, but okay. The punches, kicks, and weapon attacks all sound solid, plus they got rid of the goofy “grapple noise” that sounds like rubber being mangled. I DO kind of wish they kept the “DING” that happened when you scored a low blow since the good ole WCW/NWO N64 days. The crowd actually reacts to the match. They boo, they cheer, they hiss, there’s even an edited “Ho-Ley-Shit!” chant and a “YOU SUCK!” one. Sometimes the crowd can get very dead though, but I like to think that they put this in on purpose, considering how the WWE was doing on television at the time.
The graphics really stand out compared to previous Gamecube WWE titles, the game looks amazing. Moves have real impact and wrestlers sell different body parts and actually react, unlike previously where a spike piledriver and a bodyslam both ended in the opponent writhing on the ground grabbing his back, then jumping to his feet and being fine. The crowd still suffers from the cardboard cutout disease, however, and some wrestlers look like they waxed and buffed their bodies before coming out. I swear Kurt Angle looks like a giant lubricated penis in his entrance. The motion capture and attention to detail is amazing in this game, though, and that more than makes up for it. Some mannerisms are wrong however, such as Eddie Guerrero walking instead of driving his trademark lowrider to the ring, and why the hell does HHH still do the DX crotch chop? The ones they got right are great though. Kurt Angle does his “WHOO!” and takes his straps down for his special, Rock and Jericho don’t “auto center” when they go for the People’s Elbow or Lionsault specials anymore, and you can actually see The Undertaker’s eyes roll back in his entrance. Kane even has that straining look on his face when he’s lifting his arms for the pyro.
Fuck, taking off the mask was the absolute best thing Kane has ever done for his career. I personally used to hate the dude, and now his evil bastard/indestructible monster gimmick has really found a place in my heart. Kane owning pregnant Lita was hilarious. Too bad they went back to the mask recently, and found a way to make it look even stupider.
I’m sorry to say it, but the roster is absolutely horrible. Of course we have some of the big names, like “Mr. Personality” Chris Benoit, Hitler H, the rest of Evolution, Eddie Guerrero, Undertaker, Kurt Angle, and Kane, but it’s suprising who’s missing. No Hurricane, Heidenreich, Mark Henry, Renee Dupree, the list goes on and on. How can you leave out the WWE champion, JBL? How in the fuck are Generic Wrestlers A and B (Basham 1 and 2) gonna make it in over the Dudleyz? How about Generic Wrestlers D and E (Cade and Jindrak, Generic Wrestler C is Orlando Jordan) making it in over La Resistance? I also hear the reason Eugene and Lita didn’t make the cut is because someone didn’t like the idea of beating up a pregnant woman or a retarded person. If this is true, I must ask that person what the point of watching professional wrestling is, if not to see pregnant women fight the mentally handicapped. Some of the wrestlers still come out to fake rip off music, if THQ is going to go all out and license real bands for in game music, why not also get the real entrance themes while they’re at it? I also wonder why they would take up precious roster space for the gimmicky legends instead of just giving us the parts to MAKE THEM as CAWs. If I wanted to play Bret Hart VS. Roddy Piper I’d go get Legends: Showdown. Actually… no, I wouldn’t.
Thankfully everything you need to create the missing wrestlers is included in the CAW mode. Mostly an updated version of the one from WMXIX, it’s very simple and easy to make whatever strange thing comes to mind. I love the ability to make my own designs to stick on clothing and how I can save specific parts in a “locker” to customize alternate outfits. You can also take a picture of your CAW’s face for the character select screen, which sure beats the hell out of the wireframe or blue outline pics of previous games. I only wish you could edit the appearance as well as the moves of the guys already in the game (no pun intended) instead of wasting your limited CAW slots to fill out the roster.
The arcade styled, “No Mercy Meets Smackdown!” game play of Wrestlemania XIX returns, with a few modifications. The new momentum shift is a welcome addition, as it really adds a sense of unpredictability to the match. I can see myself losing countless matches to someone momentum shifting and getting a quick cheap win on me when season mode really gets going. Another welcome addition is the updated AI. Except for No Mercy on N64 and PS2’s Smackdown!: Here Comes The Pain, I usually play wrestling games on the very hard difficulty and still breeze by the CPU, but not this game! My only gripe is that it lacks a “sweet spot.” Sometimes it can be either too hard or too easy for beginners, depending on the difficulty setting. Also, I’ve noticed that the computer controlled wrestlers tend to do weird things sometimes, such as run into walls or constantly pick up and put down weapons. Maybe THQ is just making fun of WWE management and the direction they take with the writing, but I know I’m reading too far into things.
There are enough match types to keep even the hardcore wrestling fan pleased, with everything from Ladder, Hell in a Cell, Royal Rumble, and hardcore, to simple Handicap matches and Tornado Tag. We even get HCTP’s ultra gimmicky Bra and Panties match, and now you can exit the ring and even use weapons! The divas never bleed though, which is lame. Royal Rumble lets you pick who enters, how many people enter, and what order they do it in. The number of wrestlers in the ring at once is set in stone at four, no matter what, but I’m not complaining. Nine guys in the ring at once is just confusing and frustrating, especially when the camera has to zoom all the way out to get them all onscreen in matches like HIAC. You can still set ladders and tables against the turnbuckles in their respected matches, but for some reason the specialized grapples for that situation have been removed, which makes absolutely NO sense. All these great features, but still NO BACKSTAGE AREAS! what the hell? The Smackdown! series has a fully interactive backstage to explore, but Gamecube and X-Box gamers are still confined to the ring area. Whassupwitdat?
Sadly, we no longer get Stacy Keibler and Al Snow taking us through Shopzone and Training modes. I kind of liked the whole Tough Enough feeling. I can definitely do without Stacy’s annoying chipmunk squeaks telling me that I just bought CAW PARTS A. Still, I miss Al Snow calling me a moron and telling me how to do a proper 619.
Season mode is totally revamped from prior games, Thank god. Revenge mode sucked. You can only throw so many construction workers to their deaths before things got monotonous. In the new Season mode you take a CAW all the way from jobberville to the top of the WWE, and although I didn’t make it off of Sunday Night Heat yet, I bet dollars to doughnuts that you get to fuck Stephanie McMahon for a main event spot on RAW. They went so far as to make up a bunch of fake wrestlers for you to play against in your days at WWE development camp and the dark matches. I wonder if your wrestler can be sent to the eternal abyss known as OVW if you do badly? Maybe THAT’S how you unlock Mark Henry!
Until it’s sequel was released a year later, WWE: Day of Reckoning was easily the best wrestling game on the Gamecube, and definitely contender for best wrestling game of it’s era. It definitely gets my seal of approval, despite running into a few EASILY avoidable mistakes and problems. With the current trend of wrestling games becoming a yearly update moreso than a complete and individual gaming experience, it’s nice to go back once in a while and remember where it all came from. Considering the fact that you can probably buy a Gamecube AND this game for under twenty bucks nowadays, what’s stopping you?