Tazz can actually win a match in the new Dreamcast game WWF Royal Rumble from THQ.

When THQ announced they’d be doing one of their exemplary WWF wrestling games for the Sega Dreamcast, I had very high hopes. So far all we’d seen in the U.S. were ports of Playstation engines with no new bells and whistles. But based on the strength of Smackdown! and Wrestlemania 2000, I was ready to believe we’d finally see a game that would take advantage of the power that the next generation of video games could dish out.

The recently-released WWF Royal Rumble does that, in spades. Up to nine high-definition wrestlers (including a referee) move smoothly in the ring with nary a flicker. The models are the best I’ve seen yet. The wrestlers have…get ready…FINGERS!

But…that’s about it.

Don’t get me wrong, the game is smooth and fun to play. But based on the number of modes, matches and wrestlers that fans have gotten used to lately, the game is sadly lacking.

20 wrestlers. Period. NO WOMEN! Unless there’s a few hidden ones, but still, it’s a real drop from the 40 and 50 man stables from other games. And it gets damn silly when you’re playing a Royal Rumble (one of only TWO modes available in the game) and the same guys come out time and again. Wrestlers come out with VERY short entrances, just a second or two and a flash of pyro. There’s a a bit more of their theme and posing if you win the match, but considering what they could do, I was disappointed.

Aside from Royal Rumble mode, there’s the “Arcade” mode. That name is well chosen; the whole game’s more like the old arcade wrestling games than the wrestling sims of today, so it takes a little getting used to. The control system is different from other games-there’s a punch and kick button, and one trigger button allows you to do your “Smart Bomb” — extra powerful moves, or if you’ve stored up enough power, your finisher. There’s no tag-team choice to speak of, but taking a page from games like Street Fighter and Rival Schools, you can pick a second wrestler to call on for special power or team moves.

You can play in other areas of the arena, but you don’t actually go from place to place. Randomly during the match, the lights start to flicker, the wrestlers look up befuddled, and you’re magically transported to somewhere else like the backstage area, parking lot, or (?) meat packing plant. There’s weapons galore in these areas, and even hazards like cars you can be hit by, or in the case of the meat locker, sides of beef that slide past.

There’s the ability to have other wrestlers interfere in your matches, but like everything else in the game, it happens in its own weird way. Like the Mynah Bird in the old Warner Brothers cartoons, other wrestlers just come running out from the back, tear into everybody in the ring (including each other) and just leave again, with no real rhyme or reason. It’s almost as if the designers used every opportunity to get a bunch of guys in the ring, just to show off the fact they could.

There’s a ref in the ring, which is way cool, but he may as well NOT be there, because you can’t interact with him at all. He slips and slides his way about the canvas, and you can’t lay a finger on him. I remember the days of SuperWrestlemania for the old SNES, where you could bump the ref, he’d go down like a sack of batteries, and while he was out (for about 42 years, in true Dave Hebner fashion) you could cheat and do all sorts of flagrantly illegal moves like…eye gouges. Okay, not exactly a flaming steel chair, but still, if you’ve gone to the trouble of adding a ref to the ring, I wanna wail on him.

In short, there’s a lot of coolness in this game, and the beginnings of more, but it’s all separate pockets of cool, with big empty spaces in between. A good start, and juuuust enough to warrant picking the game up, but I expect a LOT more in version two.

Vinnie Bartilucci is writing this review on the anniversary of his birth on Prince Edward Island, after which he was whisked to New York by a band of well-meaning Americans and forced him to learn their ways, ultimately leading to his current position of computer programmer. He has married one of the indigenous peoples of this country, and sired a child in the hopes of uniting the two countries.