| If a wrestling game carries the WWE license, I expect a few things from it. I expect the wrestlers to look like their real life counterparts and to have the correct music and entrances. I expect to see the same arenas and match types I see on TV. And I expect to be given the chance to take my favorite wrestler through the ranks and win a title. WrestleMania XIX doesnt fulfill any of these expectations and is a rather poor excuse for a WWE game.
Before I get too far into this review, I might as well go ahead and say that I am not a big fan of the much beloved No Mercy on N64. WrestleMania XIX has a lot in common with No Mercy, and that is part of why I dont like it very much. I like the grappling system and I like location-specific damage, but I hate the slow pace of the game and I despise the Spirit Meter. The last time I checked, WWE wrestling was fake. But the Spirit Meter injects quite a bit of realism into these fake matches and I dont like it. In WMXIX (and No Mercy), if you get beat up a lot your Spirit Meter decreases and it is harder for you to do things like reverse moves and even recover from your own attacks. In the real world of the WWE, they can take a beating for five minutes and then jump right up and make a comeback. It isnt realistic, but it is entertaining, and that is the kind of thing I want to see in a WWE wrestling game.
The gameplay in WMXIX is a mix of about 75% No Mercy and 25% Smackdown and the resulting engine is actually pretty good. You execute strong or weak grapples and strikes based on how hard you press the A or B buttons, and pressing different directions on the control stick perform different moves. This makes it so there are a large number of moves you can execute in all sorts of different situations. Unlike No Mercy, which required you to engage in a grapple first, many of the moves in WMXIX can be executed by simply walking up to your opponent and quickly performing the move. This speeds the game up quite a bit and combines a ton of moves with the faster pace of Smackdowns gameplay. Your ability to make an attack or reverse your opponents moves is governed by the Spirit Meter, though, so if you get beat up too much it is much harder to win the match.
Finishing moves are performed by executing moves to fill up your special meter until one of three energy slots is filled and then pressing the A and B buttons together. This will enter you into a powered up mode for about thirty seconds that allows you to counter moves much easier, kick out of pins very easily, and perform your finishing move. Because you are powered up for thirty seconds or so, it is possible to do several finishing moves within that time and then go in for a guaranteed pinfall victory. While powered up, you have to get in the right position for a given finisher and then press A+B again. You can turn people over as well as pull them around the ring with the X button, so it is easy to set your opponent in the right position to perform, say, The Peoples Elbow.
All of the match types you would expect have made their way into WMXIX. Ladder, table, TLC, cage, and Hell in a Cell are all present and accounted for. Standard matches and tag matches are also available as well as the Royal Rumble. You can only have four characters in a match, though; so six man tag matches and elimination matches are strictly out of the question. The Elimination Chamber match is absent as well, but that seems to be a Smackdown exclusive this year. There arent any Lumberjack matches and you cant have a manager, either. You can have a Hardcore match, but you cant go anywhere backstage so these matches arent anywhere near as entertaining as they are on TV. Overall, the big match types are available, but some of the more entertaining types are absent and that really hurts WMXIX. There are only five TV/PPV arenas available along with a handful of levels from Revenge mode, but you cant go backstage, so youll be seeing the same backgrounds a lot.
The gameplay is solid and the match types are there, but what really brings WMXIX down is the lack of a traditional season mode. When I play a WWE wrestling game, I want to be able to take my favorite character through the ranks, win a title, and then defend the title against anyone and everyone. I want to watch feuds and friendships develop. I want to defy all odds and get to the top. WrestleMania XIX simply does not let you do that. The only part of the game that has to do with the titles is a lame mode called King of the Ring where you pick a title you want to go for and play through a 16-person tournament. If you win, you get a screen that says You have won the WWE Championship and that is it. You never have to defend it and if you want to see it again you have to play through King of the Ring again. That sucks and blows, my friends.
What is worse, though, is that there is an even more worthless mode that was intended to be the replacement for a traditional season mode. In Revenge mode, you have been fired by Vince McMahon and then re-hired by Stephanie McMahon because she wants you to help her ruin WrestleMania. Rather than taking place in the ring, the missions in Revenge mode happen at the construction site for the WrestleMania arena or a shopping mall where WWE merchandise is sold. And instead of facing WWE superstars, you have to beat up nameless construction workers and policemen who all seem to be pro-wrestlers in their spare time. This wouldnt be so bad if you werent constantly being pummeled by several opponents at once. Missions that require you to climb a pole or a cage are a real chore because no matter how much you kick the crap out of your opponents they always manage to jump up and knock you down just before you reach the top. Playing through Revenge mode is the only way to unlock new CAW parts and other items, but it is so frustratingly difficult (and the CAW isnt that good anyway) that it doesnt really seem worth the trouble.
The Create-A-Wrestler mode has improved a lot from WMX8, but it still isnt even in the same league as the CAW in the Smackdown series. There simply are not nearly enough parts available and you are severely limited in just what types of characters you can create. The move list in WMXIX is enormous, so it is easy to make your created wrestler perform the way you want even if it doesnt look right. The best part of the CAW mode is that you can edit the entrance for your character down to the smallest detail. You choose what pyro and lighting you want as well as which camera angles you want to use. There are dozens of options available when editing entrances and it is possible to do some pretty impressive things. If only the options for your created wrestlers appearance were this deep, then the CAW would be perfect.
The graphics in WMXIX are decent, but they fail to accurately capture the look and feel of the WWE. The clothing is right and the tattoos and other markings are correct, but the faces are generally too blurry and only sort of look like the people they are supposed to be. The bodies of the characters are big and rounded and cartoony looking and simply are not very appealing. The animation is stiff and every character performs every move exactly the same way. You wont see character specific animations and unique styles here. The crowds and arenas look very nice, but when the wrestlers dont look and act like their real life counterparts; the game just isnt as fun as it should be.
The game sounds good but, like the graphics, the sound doesnt contain enough WWE-ness for my liking. The grunts and groans of wrestling and the smack of a steel chair sound good, but the music leaves much to be desired. The theme songs for Raw and Smackdown or WrestleMania itself are nowhere to be found and the entrance music for many of the superstars is generic sound-alike music rather than the real deal. There isnt any commentary, but Al Snow and Stacy Kiebler did some voiceovers for the training and ShopZone (where you buy unlockable items) modes and they sound pretty good.
If you only have a GameCube and want a wrestling game, WrestleMania XIX isnt a bad game to pick up. If you have other consoles available to you then there are much better wrestling games out there than WMXIX. The main problem is that it doesnt pack nearly enough WWE goodness. The wrestling engine is strong, but it is missing a lot of what makes a WWE game fun. It is light on arenas and match types. It has a lame Revenge mode rather than a story mode. The wrestlers dont look, act, or sound like they should. And WWE titles are only available in a tiny insignificant mode that isnt that fun to play anyway. If this game was just a generic wrestling game and didnt carry the WWE license I would probably like it more, but like I said in my opening paragraph, I expect certain things from a game like this and WrestleMania XIX didnt deliver. Give WMXIX a rental if you are interested in it and see how you like it, but there are better wrestling games out there.