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Developers: Sega and Yuke's
Released: August 1 2000 (US) and September 22 2000 (UK)
Certificate: 15+ (Nowadays 16)
Consoles: Dreamcast (also Arcade)
When wrestling fans reminisce about the golden age of wrestling videogames, the year 2000 is a vintage one to look back upon. We had the first two SmackDown! games as well as the incredible No Mercy. Sure, we also had WCW Backstage Assault which was, quite frankly, woeful, and two ECW games, but it's the WWF titles which first come to mind.
One WWF game which is easy to forget, however, is Royal Rumble. An arcade game which was later released on Sega Dreamcast, Royal Rumble is almost always overshadowed by the more famous WWF games on PS1 and N64. Mind you, there's a good reason why: Royal Rumble is nowhere near as good as any of its three counterparts from that year, but that isn't to say that it's a completely bad game.
Royal Rumble feels like a demo more than a full-on game. For starters, there are only two match options: a singles match and a Royal Rumble match (obviously). The traditional singles option provides you with a manager/partner, whether you want one or not, and who interferes upon your command (via a whistle which is more closely associated with a shepherd than a WWF wrestler). You can't leave the ring during matches, and at random points, the lights go out and you can find yourself within a steel cage (with which you can't interact) or one of a number of backstage areas (which fortunately allows for you to interact with weapons and props). It all sounds so random, but considering that this was primarily an arcade game, the rapid-fire pace to proceedings and the catering towards players with short attention spans does make sense.
Still, that's no excuse not to even have basic matches like tag team, nor does it explain why for a game based on the Royal Rumble - the classic 30-man annual tradition - there are only 19 characters, plus two hidden names (Vince and Shane McMahon), which inevitably means some notable omissions (including Billy Gunn, Christian and The Radicalz amongst others). There are WWF videogame debuts for Tazz and Kurt Angle, and Rikishi pops up too, but in order for a Rumble match to achieve the goal of 30 participants, characters have to re-enter the bout. No, there isn't an option to create a character, or anything else, so you'll have to accept that the likes of Edge or Matt Hardy will return even after you've eliminated them. You can have Rumbles of 60 or 90 entrants, but this obviously increases wrestler repetition. At least characters have alternate attires to make things a little bit different.
The gameplay and graphics were very similar to the SmackDown! games from around that time, but the 128-bit power of the Dreamcast means that things are taken a step further and so these visuals are the best yet (well, at least until the first WWF game on PS2 the following year). Speaking of graphics, this is the only WWF/WWE game to date which allows for nine on-screen characters, by far the most redeeming aspect of this title. The camera cuts are more akin to later SmackDown! titles like Just Bring It, making this game a little ahead of the curve in that regard, and moves are fairly easy to execute, even if the difficulty levels are unnecessarily challenging. The menu also had a countdown clock to pick your wrestlers which seemed to be arcade-focused; this could occasionally be frustrating, but the fact that it used a Rumble-style timer for this was pretty cool, I guess.
On the downside, there is only one arena (a strange hybrid of Royal Rumble 1999 and Raw), there are no real entrances besides a quick snap of a wrestler's arrival in a manner similar to a subliminal television advertisement, and the in-game audio is poor; with no commentary or ring announcements, the game strangely foregoes the decision to include music during matches nor does it include much in the way of crowd reactions. Also, when wrestlers enter the Rumble (and sometimes two or three enter at once), we aren't given the authentic countdown, the buzzer or their respective theme songs. The only time that we hear entrance themes is during post-match celebrations, and even they are short. (Between this, the wrestlers walking in front of their videos in the SD games and the abrupt ending to intros in No Mercy, what was THQ's problem with wrestler entrances in 2000?) Perhaps the oddest aspect of this game concerns the marketing: the game has an opening video with highlights from Rumble 2000 surrounded by a red hue, and the Rumble match option uses the 2000 version of the event logo, yet the box art, the title screen and the logos used within the arena all relate to the 1999 edition.
I mentioned earlier that Royal Rumble feels more like a demo than the finished product, and that remains the best way I can describe this game. As an arcade experience or as a quick way to fill 5-10 minutes, or for a nostalgic trip down memory lane, this works and will likely entertain. But for anyone seeking a proper wrestling title, a chance to relive authentic WWF action, or something which at least feels like it has full and proper attention paid to its development, Royal Rumble does not succeed, and in terms of how it compares to its competitors on the other consoles, it'd be like comparing a small, money-losing independent with the then-red hot WWF.
To be honest, the Sega Dreamcast and even Sega as a whole often felt doomed, and Royal Rumble is a perfect example of why the platform did not succeed. At a time when the WWF product was cool and hip, and a game bearing its initials was guaranteed to sell by the truckload, RR feels like a simple cash-in rather than a chance to really target fans of the product with a logical, innovative and exciting game. Even if Royal Rumble had received another six months of development, it wouldn't have mattered because the Dreamcast ceased production in 2001. Which means that because this was the only original WWF game produced for the console (a port of Attitude was released but it featured no changes, bar the strange decision to remove the Owen Hart tribute), Royal Rumble was the best option for Dreamcast owners because it was the only option for them.
Summing this up, if you played this in an arcade then you'd get a kick out of it. It's far from terrible from a gameplay or a graphical standpoint - I'd sooner play and look at this than the later Raw games on Xbox - and having nine characters on screen gives this some credibility even to this day. But that's as far as it goes when it comes to really putting Royal Rumble over. If you do have a Dreamcast, I'd suggest tracking this down and giving it a few plays for the sake of nostalgia or for curiosity purposes, but other than that, you're better off putting your money towards something else. Besides, if you really wanted to relive the Attitude Era that much, you could always just subscribe to the WWE Network! Or play either No Mercy or one of the early SmackDown! games. Or you could decide that you do want to play Royal Rumble, which is fine; just don't expect a lot from it.
Overall Rating: 5/10 - Average