Reviewer: Philip Smith
Overall: 4 = Poor
“Who’s thy god-king, eh?” taunted the victorious golem Jupiter. At that moment, and for quite a while afterwards, I couldn’t decide whether Tournament of Legends was really bad or really awesome. Unfortunately for fighter fans, it turned out to be more of the former and less of the latter.
On paper, Tournament of Legends seems solid. You have an arena-based fighter featuring a roster filled with “legends” from various cultures, though largely from the Greco-Roman pantheon, who battle it out for supremacy. Each legend has a back story (with some interesting endings), weapon, four special attacks, enchantment, and panoply. Weapons are broken up into three classes, depending on strength and speed, and each has a special attack. Enchantments (spells) offer buffs for your fighter and offensive spells to use against enemies, be it strengthening your attack or reversing theirs. Ranged weapons can also be used to harass enemies, but they drain the energy bar necessary to use one of the characters’ four powers, so there’s a nice trade-off to consider during combat. Even better, you can acquire a foes enchantment, and often their weapon, for use in subsequent bouts.
Stages are filled with references to mythology as well as hazards that break up combat. A half-sunken ship moored in the belly of a kraken serves as both an arena and a toy for a massive crab, while a frost dragon sleeps near an underground battlefield. Seeing a Roman gladiator duel a Hellenic steampunk automaton, while dodging the charge of a squad of angry souls in Hades, should be the very definition of satisfying. The idea of fighting in a netherworld bizarre while dodging the feet of strolling titans or in a dreary forest patrolled by menacing centaurs, whose silhouettes can be spotted between trees, just sounds great. And that’s really Tournament of Legends in a nutshell: it sounds great. In practice, it’s less of a charmingly campy, addictive fighter and more a modern-day War Gods.
Tournament of Legends’ problems are many. The most immediate is that the game has a very uneven look. A handful of characters and environments are nicely designed with a decent amount of detail and animation while others are messy, with blurry textures and jaggies all over the place. In many respects, the game is just ugly. Similarly, the intro and endings feature art whose quality alternates between something from a so-so comic book to what looks like hurriedly colored design sketches – almost surprisingly bad. The sound is … well, the sound is strange. Much of the game is strange. For whatever reason, Marcus, the Roman gladiator, comes across like Puddy from an ancient Seinfeld as he kisses his biceps while reminding his opponent of how fortunate they are to fight him. And the announcer, trying as hard as she might, sounds like the less talented cousin of SoulCalibur‘s baritone wonder.
That is just what is immediately noticeable, of course. The real problems arise whenever you start to play it. The first thing you realize is that, unlike other 3D fighters, Tournament of Legends wants to be played as if it’s a sort of wrestling match, with a camera that is always low and mid distance. In addition, each fighter has an attack radius indicated by a colored outline which glows whenever an opponent is within reach. While that might seem to help, it really doesn’t; the camera is almost always at an angle that makes it extremely difficult to ‘read’ what your opponent is doing, with strikes coming up far short or too far to the side. But even if you land a strike, there is no guarantee that you’ll actually land the strike, thanks to the terrible hit detection. It’s not uncommon to see strikes go through an opponent, without a hint of feedback. To make matters worse, the control’s response time varies wildly, from as expected to terrible. In this case, “terrible” means not at all. There were times when I sat there, hammering away on the classic controller’s attack button, only to see my fighter do absolutely nothing. The two basics a fighter needs is consistent hit detection and control response, and Tournament of Legends has neither – nevermind the brain-dead AI (I didn’t lose one match with my first character) and limited move set.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the heavy implementation of quick time events. Throughout the tournament, environmental hazards, duels, recoveries, and repairs will require you to slam and wave about your nunchuck and remote, or twirl the classic controller’s analog sticks, with reckless abandon. Dodging tentacles, rampaging centaurs, and crab claws will require short breaks from combat, while duels determine who will push back and get a hit from a weapon ‘lock’. Recoveries occur whenever a fighter is down, with the losing player having to refill their health bar and the other to power themselves up; now, I say that, but I checked each meter every time I successfully powered up and nothing changed, so there you go. Repairs are actually optional, thankfully, and occur whenever the timer runs down and an Act ends. Repairing armor and refilling health have separate and simultaneous events. Repairs sound easy, but I found I could never quite get the rhythm down, so I opted to skip them and settle for however much health and repair the computer doled out. Much like every other quick time event, these aren’t bad at first, and you can see how the initial idea seemed pretty good, but they quickly become tiresome and end up adding little to the proceedings.
If there’s one thing Tournament of Legends does have going for it, it’s how surreal it is. The juxtaposition of a Puddy gladiator, a valkyrie fighting a Minotaur named BraveHoff, and the steampunk automaton Volcanus calling down propeller-powered missiles while his creator putters about in a wheel chair saying things like “That’ll learn ye, hippy! Now stay off me lawn!” is just odd. From Marcus tossing a piece of meat on an opponent to sic a lion on them to BraveHoff summoning a large tree to knock opponents back, it’s like you stepped into the pages of a 10-year-old’s doodles and notes on what would make the best fighter ever – “Fighter needs robots, dragons, gladiators, Egyptian cat-head thing and giant crabs.” While that might make for a few novel moments, it’s a far cry from being a purchase.
Weird or not, Tournament of Legends simply doesn’t have what it takes to warrant your time or money. It isn’t that the production values or low or the setup a little too similar to the lowbrow War Gods, it’s that the game often just doesn’t work as it should. Poor collision detection, unresponsive controls, and a limited combo and move list negate any interesting ideas, novel concepts, or interesting endings it may have.
(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)