Graveyard: WWE WrestleMania XIX

Watch your step, for you’ve just entered the Graveyard. Inside, we’ll be digging up games that have long been without a pulse. You’ll see both good and bad souls unearthed every month as we search through the more… forgotten…parts of history.

With AEW Fight Forever on the market, it made me nostalgic for Yuke’s other big-time non-WWE 2K-related games on the GameCube, and one of the best of the bunch even twenty years later is WrestleMania XIX on the GC. It followed up on a launch-year WM X8 that was a limited game, but aimed to be bold with its design in a lot of ways that haven’t been followed-up since then, making it an even more impressive release in hindsight.

While most WWE games at the time went with fully-voiced cinematics, XIX didn’t and instead went with a more simplistic story that was able to go in more absurd directions without being constrained by having people say lines and make it even more absurd. The goal is to save Stephanie McMahon and that winding tale involves throwing construction workers off of scaffolds, breaking stuff in a mall and smashing up cars in a parking lot while also navigating obstacle courses with rope-swing mechanics.

It’s completely absurd in the best way because the “Revenge Mode” allows the story to go in weird directions while expanding the gameplay mechanics in ways that fit pro wrestling well. Beating the mode unlocks the stages for a variety of purposes, enabling things like parking lot brawls, scaffold matches and triple decker cage matches in singles, three-way or four-way encounters. These are all modes that enable the game to be replayable to this day alongside a lot of attention to detail in ways that aren’t focused on much now.

One great thing about the parking lot brawl setup here is you can do any move onto a car either on top of the vehicle or in a lot of cases, from the ground to the car — so if you want to have Brock Lesnar face Hulk Hogan and hit a belly to belly or throwing German suplex into a vehicle, you can. That same principle applies to things like throwing people from the ground level to either an upper stage area or through an announcer table. Yuke’s was influenced by the Aki engine in a lot of ways because the principle of having the whole area be a logical fighting area is retained and expanded upon.

You can throw rivals into something like a stage wall face-first with a light irish whip, while a hard irish whip smashes the back of their head and back into the surface with a sickening thud. Similarly, slamming someone onto a steel surface always sounds vile and the nature of the material they’re slammed on changes the effect. A slam into a stage sounds disgusting with a loud oomph getting across just how hard that surface is while a slam onto something like the ceiling of a Hell in a Cell sounds more hollow and is terrifying in a different way.

You can slam someone into the cell three times to crash through it and unlike even games today, do diving moves from the top of the cell into the ring or onto the announce table. Players can use any diving attack to go through the cell and that holds true for regular tables as well, even if those look wonky because the tables just fly around after they’re broken. Weapons have light and heavy strikes along with a creation slot-adjustable grapple for things like a pair of chairshots, a DDT on the chair or a chair throat-crusher alongside moves being able to be done on weapons as well.

A lot of work went into the details of the game, and having fully-adjustable movesets allows characters to be more updated than prior games on the market while enabling the player to tailor them for a particular era. The usage of light and heavy grapples alongside a heavy grapple-based strike system enables things like a hybrid version of Brock Lesnar where you can not only toss folks around at-will, but also load his grapple-based strikes up to give him offense that would also be in line with his UFC striking strategy of heavy blows to the head and violent suplexes to keep folks down for the count.

One area that WM XIX excels at is in submissions and ground grapples because like Aki games, the longer a match goes on, the more strikes will land and the longer a hold will be kept on — but there are a lot of strikes available here and tons of submissions. The usage of an escape system for submissions that’s automatic is interesting because you flip or rotate the person giving you the move off of you and into a vertical position — which can allow you to either set them up to take something like a Goldberg spear from a third person or an Angle/Flair chop block or Hogan big boot. There are so many different ways to play this game and the addition of the revenge stage adds layers that no game since can equal.

Having a makeshift scaffold match is such a blast because no game even today has that except for Pro Wrestling X on PC and here, it’s a large fighting surface to work with. With a regular scaffold match in pro wrestling, the surface area was always small even in things like TNA’s Elevation X variant that had more surface area to work with. Here, it’s a large slab of metal to walk and run alongside and beyond rope attacks, you can do anything and then just toss foes off the side. The same principle applies to the triple-decker cage that also uses the rope-swing mechanic to gain height throughout the structures.

There’s a large cage on the bottom and every cage level except for the top of the square-based pyramid has breakable areas you can either toss someone through or attack them through with enough force on a running attack. That level of flexibility makes each match using the structure feel different and that holds up for the mall environment too where you have things like fountains and glass panes to work with. It’s crazy to think of just how much variety is available in the game given its age and it goes to show how crafting an experience to give players as many options as possible instead of a more limited walled-garden approach can pay off.

The roster is one of the best in gaming history just by virtue of the 2003 timeframe, where you had a lot of legends and now modern-day legends in the mix at the same time. So you can have Batista vs. Goldberg, Hogan vs. Randy Orton, and even have alternate attires to work with for every person in the game and they’re largely all realistic-looking beyond Orton having some OVW gear instead of his WWE stuff. The entrances are all fantastic and things like pyro make use of the expanded focus on sound design with loud, booming effects used alongside realistic entrance animations. Sound mixing for the themes is great too as “Voodoo Child” for Hogan is used alongside things like having his feather boa, shirt rip and fans cheer for him all sounding correct to the ear. It’s a great looking and sounding game and its gameplay has held up remarkably over twenty years. It’s a must-play for wrestling fans and one of the best wrestling experiences for fans of hardcore matches due to its weapon variety and mode versatility.

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