What is perhaps most unfortunate about Wrestlemania XXI's gameplay is that it really did have the potential to be something worthwhile. The grappling engine itself, while generally simplistic, could have worked pretty well, but it would have needed a lot more fine-tuning to add some actual depth to the whole experience. As it turned out, it's just way, way too easy to just punch and grapple an opponent to death without any competition whatsoever. There is also a fine roster of match types, ranging from the typical bouts to cage matches, hell in the cell, last man standing, and so on (although many of these gimmicks can only be played in a one-on-one match). But you'll never really want to bother playing any of them, because one AI problem or another will cause the match to be over quickly, or it will drag on endlessly (like the last-man standing match, in which your opponent will refuse to stay down unless you focus all your attacks on his head). Playing against another player alleviates the AI problems, but with so many exploitable holes in the engine, multiplayer isn't any fun, either. There's a framework here for a fun wrestling engine, but that's all it is: a shallow husk with nothing built around it.
The online play in Wrestlemania XXI is easily the most attractive feature in the game. Too bad you can't play it. Somehow, some way, the retail game that you can buy in stores right now will not connect to Xbox Live at all. It doesn't even try; it just spits out a fat connection error the second you try to sign in. How the game could have shipped with such a significant oversight is unthinkable, though for what it's worth, with gameplay like this, online play wouldn't have helped much. And in case you were wondering, the possibility of an online patch doesn't seem like it's going to be an option, what with the whole inability to even connect to Xbox Live thing.
The game's designers also made some strange decisions with Wrestlemania XXI, particularly with its career mode. Firstly, you can't play as a current WWE superstar (a feature that can be found in this year's Smackdown Vs Raw) -- your only option is to play through career with your own created wrestler. Secondly, if you're not connected to Xbox Live at the time you create your character, you won't be able to play that character at all on-line. Finally, unlike many other wrestling games of recent years, there's no branching storyline in Wrestlemania XXI -- there's only one way through the career mode, and unfortunately your character through this storyline is given the personality of an arrogant, unlikeable jerk. Wrestling fans will also find the developer's choice of WWE wrestlers for Wrestlemania XXI strange. Why did low tier names like Val Venis or Garrison Cade make the cut, for example, while top tier names like Carlito or Paul London miss out?