Developer: High Voltage Software / Publisher: Sega / ESRB: Teen (Blood, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence) / Played on: Wii / Price: $19.99
Let’s run down a quick list of features offered by Tournament of Legends.
- It’s a goofy, bombastic fighting game.
- The cast is made of ancient mythical figures like Gladiators, Valkyries, and Witch Doctors
- It would’ve been a lot better if it was really, really gory.
That’s right; High Voltage Software has somehow produced the spiritual sequel to the 1996 Midway fighter War Gods in the year of our Lord two-thousand and ten. This carries all the implications you’re thinking – the fighting engine is mash-friendly, the characters aren’t very unique in play style, and the only modes you get are Arcade (renamed Story), Versus, and Practice. I’m just as bewildered as you are.
In terms of fighting systems, Legends is more a Smash Brothers than a Street Fighter in that it’s more focused on the rock-paper-scissors interaction of offense and defense than the complexity of input or motor skill required for long combos. The game’s ten characters share a standard left / right / overhead attack set that can be dodged or blocked if read correctly. Applying a standard move set to every character cuts both ways – on one hand you’ll be able to play most of the roster without incident once you learn the controls, but on the other hand this makes most of the characters feel similar.
The only depth (and there isn’t much of it) comes from its armor system. You have four pieces of armor at the beginning of every fight – head, left arm, right arm, and body. Enough damage to a specific part of your character will cause that armor to pop off, dealing extra damage when struck there. With two human opponents, this creates an interesting guessing game – you can try to predict and dodge attacks to your vulnerable areas, but your opponent might think one step ahead of you and attack with a different motion to knock you out of your dodge. It’s one of those “I know you know I know you know” sort of encounters. This system never made a difference against the AI however, as we’d both end up with no armor by the end of the first round.
There are other mechanics that you’d expect and some you might not. Each fighter has three specials that consume part of their special gauge and an activated enchantment (selected before the round) that can have effects ranging from merely increasing your damage to stealing your opponent’s life or slowing down his attacks. Less traditionally, you have an opportunity to repair your armor and regenerate health between every round with controller waving or stick rotating mini-games. Add it all together, and you have a very mash-friendly and simple fighter that you’d expect to see in an arcade circa 1995. The game’s modes even reflect this, offering a simple multi-stage slugfest against the rudimentary AI and a functional versus mode. You unlock new weapons and enchantments for characters by running them through story mode, but these are novelties and don’t extend the gameplay in an appreciable way.
Thanks to the Wii-mancers at High Voltage Software, Tournament of Legends is technically solid and never dips in frame rate. Some of the characters even manage to look good, particularly the human-based fighters. The wackier side of the roster looks decent but geometrically basic. The mechanized gladiator robot? That thing looks built from digital LEGO blocks. The fights themselves contain some neat visual tricks, such as a slow-motion pan around the fighters whenever someone lands a big hit, or a massive weapon clash and recoil when two fighters try the same attack.
The stages are adequately rendered but not visually impressive, succeeding at enhancing the cheesy vibe of the game over technical accomplishment. This is weird, but the most visually impressive part of the game is the question mark that shows up in the player window when highlighting “random” in character select. The shader on it looks so awesome that I just watched it bobbing back and forth for a few minutes. I don’t get it either.
Each story segment is bookended with a series of voiced-over 2D images explaining a character’s origins and resolutions. The art here is very midday Cartoon Network, with artistically simple characters and thick border lines. While these cutscenes aren’t visually repulsive, their simplicity implies they are a rushed afterthought in development, and their stylish divergence from the main game is disorienting.
Like any good Wii game, Legends allows you to use the Wii Remote / Nunchuck or a Classic Controller. Oddly enough the motion controls are actually better. With motion, you attack with your left hand by moving the Nunchuck side to side, and you slash with your right hand by moving the Wii Remote vertically or horizontally. The move you want won’t come out 100% of the time, but the accuracy is higher than in most Wii game, and the misinterpretations of your motions don’t interrupt your enjoyment. For the rest of the move set, you do a power attack by holding B while attacking, and special attacks are unleashed by holding the stick in a direction and hitting the A button. The layout feels incredibly natural and violent gesticulations make a lot of sense in a fighting game.
The Classic Controls, however, are much more cumbersome due to all the moves crammed on to the controller’s limited buttons. In this format the main three attacks are mapped to face buttons, and you have to hold the left shoulder button to perform power attacks. This combination feels awkward and arbitrary – much less natural than holding the B trigger on the Wii remote.
Every aspect of Tournament of Legends’ sound is pure cheese. From the throaty and intentionally overwrought female announcer to the smarmy and self-lauding quips thrown around by the gladiator Marcus, all the voice acting in the game channels a bombastic spirit. Celebratory vocal quips thrown around by your character will either make you squirm or laugh depending on your ability to enjoy intentional B-grade delivery. The rest of the game’s sound isn’t as distinguished. Generic sword clashes and predictable music round out the audio but don’t set any new standards.
Tournament of Legends feels like a game that wasn’t allowed to be what it wanted to be. This makes a lot of sense given the game’s development history (first intended to be an ultra-violent gladiatorial combat game called The Grinder). The game wanted to be cheesy, tongue-in-cheek, and obscenely violent, but sadly only manages two out of the three. As such, Tournament of Legends doesn’t offer the typical gamer much, but thanks to a $30 price tag, would be an excellent evening of dumb fun for a family with a dust-gathering Wii.