WrestleMania – a yearly event on the sports entertainment calendar often dubbed “The Grandest Stage of Them All”. Since its inception in 1985, WrestleMania has evolved and gotten bigger each year, with millions tuning in from all over the globe to witness the best wrestling talent in WWE put on a show. While I’d love to reminisce about every single one, there’s a particular event and a coinciding video game that’s celebrating its 15th anniversary. So let’s take a look back at WWE WrestleMania 21 on the OG Xbox and see if it lived up to the expectation bestowed upon it by the sheer name alone.
My fondness for the WrestleMania 21 PPV (pay-per-view) staged in Los Angeles has remained over the years, mainly because the Hollywood theme made for a tremendous build-up. WWE came up with some very humorous promotional trailers parodying classic films like Basic Instinct, Dirty Harry, Pulp Fiction, and When Harry Met Sally, which I’d highly recommend checking out. The event itself saw John Cena and Batista making a huge mark in the industry, while veterans Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle were putting on a master class. It also introduced the world to the Money in the Bank ladder match, which is still one of the most exciting match types to this day.
When WWE WrestleMania 21 – the game – arrived on April 20th, 2005 as an Xbox exclusive, you could say it was something of a disappointment in comparison to its namesake. This wasn’t the first wrestling instalment from publishers THQ, however it was only the second game the development team at Studio Gigante had worked on and that’s a lot of pressure to put on a studio. Unfortunately, the developers subsequently folded in the aftermath, but WWE WrestleMania 21 can’t have been that bad… could it?
First things first, I feel I must give credit where it’s due and the fairly lengthy Career mode isn’t to be scoffed at. You get to take your own created character from the lowly stage of being a relative unknown performing on Velocity, all the way up to competing for the WWE Championship title belt. Not only will you fight in single 1vs1 bouts, but also tag matches, ladder matches, and more. It’s an enjoyable, albeit linear, journey that’s bolstered by cutscenes using the in-game models and featuring a fully voiced cast to really add authenticity to proceedings. The quality of the voice work is impressive, no doubt.
To be fair, there’s not a lot of criticism to be thrown at the visual aspect either as the 40+ WWE Superstars included on the roster have pretty accurate looking character models, especially for that particular time in history. This helps the entrances look as good as any others seen in video games up to that point. Of course, there are a couple of exceptions and for every spot on representation such as Triple H or Eddie Guerrero, the likes of Kurt Angle and Charlie Haas are a bit odd.
WWE WrestleMania 21’s biggest crime however is delivering gameplay that’s monotonous, comes across as laborious, and is sprinkled with glitches that become a nuisance. The amount of manoeuvres in your arsenal is quite limiting and when trying to pull them off, the process is rather sluggish. The questionable A.I. doesn’t aid the situation at all, with strange in-ring decisions and a real lack of awareness if given the chance to prevent you from winning or losing – like in a tag team match, the partner is often useless in that sense.
Another disappointing element is found in the create-a-wrestler section, simply because there aren’t anywhere near enough options compared to, for instance, those present in the SmackDown! series of games. While it may not seem like a big deal, the fact that the Career offering sees you stuck with the same CAW character throughout is even more depressing, especially in the long haul if you can’t mould it how you wish it to be.
All in all, WWE WrestleMania 21 isn’t going to be remembered fondly by many and, unsurprisingly it didn’t spawn any direct follow-up efforts. In fact, there hasn’t even been an Xbox exclusive since, with the likes of SmackDown vs. Raw and WWE 2K titles releasing on multiple platforms – which similarly aren’t always well received either. Take the most recent wrestling game, WWE 2K20, as an example which currently possesses a Metacritic score of 45. And with rumours of WWE 2K21 now being cancelled, the future is looking rather bleak for wrestling fans.
WWE WrestleMania 21 on the OG Xbox is mediocre at best and that’s the bottom line, ‘cause I said so. In all seriousness though, what did you make of it back in the day? Feel free to share your thoughts, good or bad, via the comments section below!