Wrestling is a much misunderstood form of entertainment. While many people bemoan its complete fakeness and brand all fans as "idiots" for believing the whole thing to be real, most people who follow it don't do it because they think it's real, but because it's a lot of fun to watch. When watched as an over-the-top soap opera the true genius of WWE shines through. While many people like to be depressed every day of their lives by watching Eastenders and Coronation Street, WWE provides the same twists and turns in the story, but with a slightly deranged and humorous slant.
It's a shame then that Wrestlemania 21 fails to reproduce any of this fun. While PlayStation 2 and GameCube owners have had pretty solid WWE games, the Xbox has suffered two RAW games, and now an equally poor Wrestlemania game. The whole game is a bit of a shambles, but we'll try and pin-point a few of the major problems.
Creating a character is actually one of the better parts of the game, and essential if you want to play through the single-player campaign. You can't choose one of the existing WWE superstars, which will probably disappoint fans who wanted to play through the game with their favourite meat-head. The career mode sees your guy move through the ranks and you'll be involved in a number of soap opera like moments outside of the ring. You can obviously try your best to create an authentic wrestler, but creating freaks of nature is a lot more enjoyable.
You can use the customising tools to make your guy the exact size and shape you want and then decorate him with enough accessories to make sure he qualifies as a freak - a totally ridiculous hair style is essential for this. Once you're done with the look of your wrestler you can give him a nickname (this is what the announcer says when you enter the ring), name him, give him his own custom entrance music and even choose the video that plays on the giant screen above the entrance to the stadium. Some more generic videos would have been nice, as the game limits you to mostly existing wrestler videos, but this is a minor niggle.
The appearance isn't all you can customise. If you want to you can chose every one of your moves from the selection the game has available. So, if you want 'Magic Minton' to be able to do Batista's Batista Bomb, he can. There isn't really much here that you couldn't do in the Raw titles, but it is still a shame that the actual game isn't as good as the character creation, as your wrestler probably won't fight all that much, wishing for a transfer to the much more successful Smackdown! Vs. Raw series on the PlayStation 2.
Wrestlemania 21 looks great when the characters aren't moving. The main wrestlers are modelled excellently and each have the typical sweaty look to them. When they move, however, things aren't so great; stiff is the best way to describe them. The AI of the computer controlled opponents isn't all that great either, although they do manage to regularly attack you with a flurry of unstoppable moves, leaving you hammering on your controller in the hope that you'll be able to remove your face from the floor and actually retaliate before you're flat on your back again.
Grappling is a key component in any wrestling game, but in Wrestlemania XXI it feels pretty broken. The basics work ok, with two grapple buttons offering two grapples each, depending on if you tap or hold the button. However, ground grapples are a nightmare to implement, requiring perfect positioning of your wrestler. More often that not, your opponent will have got up before you can get into the right position. Even more annoying is the way you will constantly perform moves on your grounded opponent, but the game seems to think that they aren't on the ground, resulting in your wrestler writhing around in pain after slamming his elbow or leg into the ground. This can easily turn a match around and lock you into an unstoppable onslaught of attacks from your opponent.
One of the most promoted aspects of the game was the ability to create your own title belts and then go online and put it on the line. This is all well and good, but when there are so few people online it makes the inclusion of online play rather pointless. If you can find anyone online, there are plenty of match types to choose from, but given how poor the core gameplay is, don't expect the game to have a large community of players.
Then there's the rather sloppy, rushed feel of the game. This is highlighted by the utterly awful pixelated mess of a Wrestlemania XXI logo that moves across the screen on a number of occasions. It seems like a placeholder for something, but was never replaced. During play my Xbox also decided to almost come to a standstill, with the whole game slowing down to a totally uncontrollable state. The only way around this was to reset the console.
I've rarely played a console game as shoddily made as this, and it's a real shame for Wrestling starved Xbox fans. Even with little else to recommend for the Xbox, it is impossible to suggest that any Xbox owner should pick this up. If you really must own a wrestling game then look at some games on rival systems.