Saturday, 4 February 2017

WWF WrestleMania 2000

Image Source: Amazon
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Publisher: THQ
Developer: AKI Corporation, Asmik Ace Entertainment (Natsume for GBC)
Genre: Wrestling
Series: N/A
Released: October 31 1999 (US) and October 12 1999 (UK)
Certificate: 15+ (Nowadays 16)
Consoles: N64 and GBC

It's hard to imagine in the modern wrestling world where one WWE videogame is released each year, and has been published by 2K Sports since 2013 (and THQ for a long time before that), but in the autumn of 1999, two major WWF games were released by two different publishers. Acclaim released the much-anticipated WWF Attitude in August/September of 1999 but, by then, the WWF had already agreed a deal for THQ to become its new videogame developer. Wasting no time, WrestleMania 2000 would be their first game, and it would hit stores in time for the final Christmas season of the millennium (which makes it sound really grand, doesn't it?).

This would mark the end of an era and the beginning of a new one; the Acclaim period had seen the WWF grow and improve its videogame output, but even the latter titles like War Zone and Attitude, whilst fun at the time, were far from flawless games and were mostly acceptable due to the WWF branding (see the subsequent ECW Hardcore Revolution, which was essentially an ECW version of Attitude, which didn't get great reviews). THQ, on the other hand, had built up a great deal of goodwill with its WCW games World Tour and, in particular, Revenge, which was released in late 1998 and, from a gameplay standpoint, blew any of Acclaim's titles away. So, one can understand why the WWF would enter into a working relationship with THQ, and why fans were hyped when news came out that THQ would be developing a WWF game, WrestleMania 2000 as a Nintendo 64 exclusive, for the first time.

In the end, WM 2000 ended up being the strongest wrestling game to date at that point. The gameplay was almost exactly the same as that of Revenge, but a certain number of WWF elements, and features seen in previous WWF titles, were mixed in, along with some new innovations not seen in a WWF game before, all of which gave fans a pretty strong package, and a fine way to sign off the millennium.

The wrestling gameplay was simple but very effective: in contrast to Acclaim titles where they tried to use its wrestling control scheme in the context of a real fight by having the more important moves requiring more complicated and tougher controls (which is understandable, or at least it was at the time), in WM 2000 (and Revenge before that), moves almost entirely revolved around the "A" button. A quick press from a tie-up executed basic moves, and holding the button down for a few seconds while the opponent was stunned allowed you to execute more powerful moves. The HUDs were colour-based, with green representing 100% health and 50% momentum at the start of every match, and building up to the red level which would gradually increase in speed until the word SPECIAL covered the HUD, creating a short window of time when you could execute a finishing move by using the toggle stick (a smart gamer would hit the finisher twice or even three times during this period, depending how long it took to hit the move, for example, a Stone Cold Stunner was much quicker than a People's Elbow). In contrast, for the weakened opponent, their HUD would change colour to light blue and then dark blue, which eventually led to DANGER covering their HUD. If you were in the DANGER zone, chances are that you were about to lose, whereas SPECIAL suggested that you were one big move away from victory. It was all so simple, yet it worked perfectly, and although the system had already been used in Revenge, it had not been seen by hardcore WWF fans, meaning that Federation followers were wowed by the gameplay in WM 2000, making it very hard to return to the Acclaim control scheme.

Elsewhere, this was the first WWF game to feature a full Season-style mode, known as Road To WrestleMania. You played through a year of WWF action with the occasional storylines, with victories on TV leading to PPV title matches, and with a character's status determining their fate for the most part (so Steve Austin, The Rock and co were in the main events, the likes of Mideon and Viscera were further down the card etc). As with the control scheme, its success lied in its simplicity, especially compared to the Career mode in Attitude which was hit-and-miss on occasion (remember the unexpected and incredibly tough 3-on-1 Handicap matches in Attitude's Career mode?). Of course, it would be topped in future games, but the mode (which featured occasional cut-scenes and storylines, such as the Test-Stephanie McMahon partnership and Jim Ross calling WrestleMania with Jerry Lawler) was a lot of fun at the time, and was the best single-player mode on a wrestling game to date at that point.

The match types were a bit sparse: besides the usual singles and tag bouts, there was only Triple Threat, Hardcore and Steel Cage options, alongside Royal Rumble and King Of The Ring. Since this was in the days before the likes of Hell In A Cell and Ladder bouts were seen in WWF/WWE games, though, this can be forgiven slightly, and the gameplay made up for the lack of stipulation bouts on offer. This was the first WWF game to offer authentic arenas (War Zone and Attitude's versions of the WWF Raw venue looked similar to the real thing, but they didn't boast the small touches and banners that the same arena did in this game): Raw, Heat, Royal Rumble 1999, WrestleMania (a strange hybrid of the WM XV and WM 2000 sets), King Of The Ring 1998, SummerSlam 1998 and Survivor Series 1998 were all here, complete with pre-match background shots like those used on television (this was the first game to provide that feature). Inside the arenas, the fans had signs specific to the wrestlers for the first time (including multi-part "R-O-C-K" letters for you-know-who).

The roster featured all the big WWF names of the day, including Chris Jericho who had only debuted in the company a couple of months earlier (his character model from WCW/nWo Revenge was presumably reused here), so the final roster total of 57 was the highest ever in a WWF game at that time. Full entrances were here, from the motions to the music to the never-before-seen-in-a-game entrance videos (even if they did consist of a few highly pixelated screenshots; and the theme songs weren't of the highest quality either, although Revenge didn't have any actual entrance music). Although the character models looked almost cartoonish, it didn't make a difference presentation-wise, because everybody looked authentic, more so than in any wrestling game ever. And whilst Revenge lacked a true Create A Wrestler option (you could adapt wrestler attires which helped), the feature was prominent in WM 2000, if a little basic, so you could create the likes of Kurt Angle and The Dudley Boyz in no time, as well as being able to customise every aspect of an existing wrestler's attire, aside from their move sets.. A Create A PPV option (which allowed for a whopping 15 matches) and a mini Create A Championship option (you used one of the existing titles and gave it a new name) were the icing on the cake. Oh, and who remembers the cool five-minute opening video to the game which recreated scenes from actual television within the game, such as the Ministry "sacrificing" Stephanie only for Stone Cold to make the save?

(One last thing: there were five wrestlers on the cover of the game, but Steve Austin was not one of them; and he would only appear on the covers of a few more games in the future, despite still being massively popular in spite of his neck injury. Strange, eh?)

For all the hype that Attitude received and for the praise that Revenge rightly earned, WrestleMania 2000, with less hype and an almost-ignored level of promotion and feedback, blew both games out of the water: it outclassed Attitude greatly in the ring, it built upon the weaker areas in Revenge, and added its own unique touches and a star-studded roster from the apex of the Attitude Era to close out the millennium in grand fashion. WrestleMania 2000 was the best wrestling game ever at that time, but its own areas for improvement would be matched and then some by its highly-regarded successor No Mercy. Nevertheless, for what it's worth, WM 2000 was awesome, and a perfect snapshot of wrestling's greatest ever era.

Overall Rating: 9/10 - Outstanding

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