When Tournament Of Legends was first announced (at the time it was known as Gladiator A.D.) there was a general level of excitement for the game; it was violent (see: very violent), it was set in an era that not many games had dared to explore, and the developers (High Voltage Software) were the talk of the hardcore gaming audience on the Wii, thanks to the recent success of The Conduit and the announcement of The Grinder. So where exactly did it all fall apart?
To help answer that question, here’s a quick crash course in what you should expect when you slide the disk into your Wii console: Tournament Of Legends is a 3D fighting game, similar to the ones that had their heyday back in the days of the Sega Saturn, Playstation and Nintendo 64, but today seem to have fallen to the side in order to make room for the current revival of the 2D fighting genre. What (tries to) help Tournament Of Legends stand out is its setting, a melting pot of ancient Roman and Greek mythology, featuring fighters and arenas pulled from various legends of the time. This setting is actually interesting, as not many fighting games have attempted to combine these two great cultures into one. Unfortunately, no game ever succeeded on setting alone. In this industry gameplay is king and Tournament Of Legends is nowhere near that throne.
As mentioned, Tournament Of Legends is a 3D fighting game, meaning you take on your opponent in a full 360º arena, allowing you to go around them, attack from different angles and inject a bit of strategy into the combat… in theory. In reality, we are left with a clunky and boring battle system that boils down to pattern recognition and waiting for your opponent to strike so you can get a few attacks in, after which they will block, break your combo, the cycle starts over, rinse and repeat.
In an attempt to shake things up (as if the developers knew that the fighting was boring), some fights will feature forced mini-games, where you and your opponent put your blood fuelled battle to the death on hold to stand side by side and dodge random occurrences, like a skeletal army rampaging through the stage or the giant foot of a Colossus. It’s random, it’s weird and it completely breaks any flow, yes any, that the battle had going for it. But don’t think we’re done with the pointless mini-games just yet, as even the rest periods between rounds feature unresponsive and dull mini-challenges. Thankfully these can (and should) be avoided, as they just serve to drag fights out longer than they should.
The final and most grievous insult to modern gameplay standards lie in the controls that are either unresponsive or over-complicated. If you choose the Wii Remote and Nunchuck combo, make sure you warm your wrists up with a few rotations first, as this game brings a whole new definition to the term ‘waggle-fest’. Top that off with a setup that can’t even properly recognise a simple gesture and you are left with an exercise in frustration, but at least your wrists will get a decent work out. Thankfully, you are also given the option of using the Classic Controller, and while it’s a marked improvement over the motion controller the button layout used is complicated, forcing you to juggle between all four shoulder buttons, the face buttons and the two sticks to pull off special moves, taunts, and even simple attacks. To make matters worse, the game doesn’t even offer a tutorial, just a practice mode with a ‘how to’ movie, meaning you will often find yourself referring to the instruction manual to learn how to pull off certain moves.
Believe it or not, Tournament Of Legends actually has an over-arching story and explanations for why each character is actually competing. Once you select your character you are introduced to their back-story via comic book style cut-scenes that are actually well drawn and give incentive to play through the campaign to see how fate rewards your character of choice. However, outside of that not much more of the story is mentioned, and allies (and sometimes even the same character) are thrown into the ring simply to fill out the number of matches required.
The graphical elements for Tournament Of Legends are the perfect definition of a mixed-bag. The characters are well designed in both art style and detail, and their personalities really come through in their appearance as you can instantly tell which is arrogant, loyal, evil and cowardly just by looking at them. It’s the environments that make up the other part of the aforementioned bag, as they lack the texturing required to make them stand out and in the end just look like a colourful mess.
The sound and voice department is where I have some difficulty in judging this game. For the most part the voice acting is solid, and the characters all have a manner and tone in which they speak. The music, while forgettable, in the end is fine and suitable. Now that’s all well and good, but they really could have mixed it up with some different lines once in a while, as you will be hearing the same one-liners over and over… and over again, and that’s just in the same match.
A single run through of the main campaign won’t take you more than half an hour on the medium difficulty, and with only ten playable characters that adds up (pulls out calculator) to a little over five hours of playtime. Not very long considering that other fighting games on the platform, like Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Tatsunoko VS. Capcom, have near unlimited replay value and unlockables. Speaking of unlockables, two of the aforementioned ten playable characters are actually secret characters that need to be unlocked; however, the surprise is ruined when you find that their profiles and move-sets are mentioned in the manual. Other than that, simply running through the game on a play-through will unlock the rest of the items, which usually consist of additional powers and weapons.
It should also be mentioned that Tournament Of Legends features a two-player split screen mode. If, of course, you can convince a friend (who won’t be one for long) to join in a battle. This mode, while expected for this type of game, doesn’t add much depth or replay value to the experience and is mostly a throwaway. An online mode on the other hand would have been a welcomed addition, but unfortunately it was a missed opportunity. Tournament Of Legends is also very light on modes. You get the single player campaign, two-player and a practice mode. No time attack or special challenges to help round out the experience. This is a budget title (priced at $29.99) that feels like a budget title.
Throughout this review I’ve pointed out several flaws of Tournament Of Legends, but if I had to sum it up in one word it would be 'boring'. From the combat, to the presentation, to the lacklustre amount of things to actually do, this is a game that will have you yawning faster than a three-hour discussion on how to allocate public funds to help restore a public library in Saskatchewan. This is a legend better left forgotten.