From Pixel to Post is back with some old school wrestling game talk, including the game that everyone's been waiting for: No Mercy!
Welcome back to our look at the video game world ofprofessional wrestling from years past. Last time, we touched on the humble beginnings of the genre and made ourway through the 16 bit era. Now, it'stime to get serious. I've got a lot ofground to cover so I'm going to get right to it. Remember, if I don't touch on a game it'sbecause I never really played it. Onward!A New Dimension ofPain
Hands down, the generation following the 16 bit era was theRenaissance of the wrestling game. TheNintendo 64 and Sony Playstation were huge game-changers in terms of what was possible and what couldbe accomplished in these games. Ratherthan drag through in a more chronological fashion like the previous column, I'mgoing to group the games into different sections based on their developers andgameplay. I'll start with theAcclaim-published WWF/ECW titles and move on from there, what do youthink? IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT YOU THINK!!!
Ahem. First up on ourjourney into the virtual squared circle is WWF War Zone for the N64 andPlaystation. Released in 1998, this gamewas extremely anticipated by yours truly. It was to be the first true "next gen" WWF title (we had been cutting ourteeth on WCW vs nWo World Tour prior to this). I remember getting aggravated as the game kept getting delayed butfinally, it would be mine. The firstthing you'd notice about the game is the graphics. While today, they don't look like much but atthe time they were definitely a cut above anything else. The wrestlers had fairly realistic charactermodels and the presentation was more like that of its televisedcounterpart. The gameplay modes werestill standard fare and the single player mode was yet again a simpletournament fighter-style mode. Occasionally, a wrestler you had beaten before would challenge you to a"grudge match" just to mix it up a bit. The gameplay was a mixed bag. Instead of the intricate grapple system of WCW vs nWo, it used grapplesas a springboard to initiate other moves via Mortal Kombat-style buttoncombinations. It was fairly tedious asyou had to memorize the moves for each character otherwise you'd have to pausethe game every 10 seconds to view the move list. The gameplay and character selection was thesame between the N64 and Playstation versions, yet there were still noticeabledifferences. The Playstation version hadreal, CD-quality theme music for each wrestler (this particularly made mejealous of PSX owners) in addition to some full motion video cut scenes inaddition to more sound bytes from the wrestlers themselves. The N64 version had better, higher resolutiongraphics and overall faster gameplay. Afunny thing about this game is that it was released as the real-life WWF's"Attitude Era" was starting to pick up a lot steam. Therefore, there's a lot of profanity in thegame. Given that Stone Cold Steve Austinmore or less introduced frequent swearing to mainstream wrestling TV, hischaracter in particular had a lot of choice taunts. This was especially amusing to me and myjuvenile friends who would just sit and taunt so we could hear what Austin hadto say.
Though we really enjoyed it at the time, looking back, thegame hasn't held up well. The clunkygameplay and awkward character models are laughable and there's not a lot gameplaymode-wise to invite a lot of replay value. HOWEVER, this game is notable for introducing something that wouldbecome a staple for wrestling games and ultimately major criteria for myoverall enjoyment of any subsequent wrestling title: the Create-A-Wrestler mode. It was this mode that made my friends and Ifoam at the mouth for this game. It hadlong been our dream to create our own wrestlers or wrestlers from other organizationsto do battle in dream matches with the WWF elite. Fantasy battles like Shawn Michaels vs Stingor Bret Hart vs Hulk Hogan could finally be realized. This may not sound like a big deal today,especially if you aren't a big fan of wrestling games, but back in 1998 whenthere were very separate, major competing pro wrestling organizations, this washuge. Though very basic by today'sstandards, and even by standards set by proceeding games in the samegeneration, we were able to have a lot of fun with this mode. In the case of the N64, the game saved datato Controller Paks which were inserted to the system's controllers. If your friends had the game, they couldbring their controller paks over and import their custom wrestlers as well,giving you a huge amount of characters to choose from. Though it had its problems, we were stillable to have fun with War Zone. Acclaimwould produce a sequel, WWF Attitude, which tried to fix a lot of the issues ofits predecessor. Along with bettergraphics and sound and a larger selection of wrestlers, an assortment of"common moves" were given to all wrestlers that were achieved by the samebutton combination so that cut down the amount of move commands you had tomemorize. The Create-A-Wrestler mode wasgreatly expanded to afford more customization options (I made an incredible RobVan Dam in this game, probably one of my finest CAW efforts ever). The career mode was probably the biggestinnovation of this game. Instead of thestandard tournament for the title, it actually put you in the life of awrestler. You worked through one or morecalendar years, competing in house shows before you finally earned a chance tomove to Monday Night RAW and eventually the various WWF pay-per-views. To my knowledge, this was the first truecareer mode of its kind and was at the time the most robust single player modeto be featured in a wrestling game up until that point.
Attitude was the last major WWF title to be produced byAcclaim on the home consoles before THQ obtained the license. They weren't quite done yet, however. Acclaim would go on to produce two ECWtitles, Hardcore Revolution and Anarchy Rulz. Unfortunately, there wasn't much new brought to the table for either ofthese titles. They were basically thesame game as WWF Attitude but everything was replaced with the wrestlers andthematic of upstart wrestling promotion Extreme Championship Wrestling. They did have barb wire rope matches and thecharacters could "bleed" more than in previous Acclaim titles, but that'spretty much the end of the story as far as Acclaim-produced wrestling titlesgo.The Undisputed Champ
Here we are. This iswhat everyone wants to read about. TheTHQ/AKI wrestling games. Published byTHQ and developed by AKI/Asmik Ace, these wrestling games radically redefinedthe genre. Whereas most other wrestlingtitles had more of an "arcade-like" fast-paced feel, these games were moremethodical and simulation-based. I'lltalk a bit about the gameplay first (as it's fairly similar among all thetitles) and then talk about the innovations in each game and how they evolvedover the years.
These games are basedaround a grapple system. While there arevarious, basic strikes your wrestler can perform on an opponent, the bulk ofthe gameplay comes from the implementation of strong and weak grapples. Simply tapping the grapple button will causeyour wrestler to initiate a grapple or "tie-up" with their opponent. From the base grapple position, you performmoves by simply pressing a direction on the D-pad in conjunction with pressingeither the strike or grapple button. This is a weak grapple, which simply means you can perform quick,relatively weak moves to your opponent such as a snap-mare takeover or a simplescoop body slam. However, if you HOLDthe grapple button down you would initiate a strong grapple. Pressing a direction and the grapple orstrike buttons now will allow you to perform more powerful, devastating movessuch as powerbombs, brainbusters, or various types of suplexes. In addition to all this, your wrestler canperform aerial maneuvers off the top rope, leap outside the ring while running,and obtain foreign objects to use as weapons, or team up with other wrestlersto inflict tandem moves on your opponents. Basically, if you can see them do it on TV, there's a good chance youcan do it in these games. You may thinkthis gameplay sounds fairly simple, and you'd be right. That's what makes the AKI-developed wrestlinggames so fun. They are extremely simpleto pick up and play yet there are a lot of techniques and moves to master. Someone who spends a lot of time with thesetitles can become nearly unstoppable once they master the combat.
So let's take a closer look at the various games that usedthis fantastic wrestling engine. Therewere 5 big WCW/WWF games developed by AKI and published by THQ. The first is WCW vs The World for thePlaystation. This game isn't as wellknown but it formed the basis that would be expanded on into the later games. A WCW-licensed port of the Japanese gameVirtual Pro Wrestling, WCW vs The World had a handful of big-name WCW wrestlersand a lot of fictional wrestlers (who were typically based on other, real-lifewrestlers and mixed martial arts competitors). The game modes were basic tournament-style play, but it would be thefirst title to introduce the tight gameplay that would become the hallmark ofthe AKI-developed titles. The game thatmost people remember as being the genesis of the THQ/AKI wrestling dominationis WCW vs nWo World Tour for the N64. Anexpanded concept of WCW vs The World, the game featured different "factions" ofwrestlers to choose from.
Apart from theWCW and nWo factions, there were a few fictional wrestling promotions that onceagain featured fictional wrestlers that were based on real-lifecounterparts. To unlock secret charactersor win "titles," you would fight through the wrestlers of one of the variouspromotions and become their champion. This was again done in a tournament-style fashion. The thing that really made these games shine,aside from the gameplay, is the ability to play it with your friends. The N64, having 4 built-in controller ports,was really the first truly social home game console. Whether playing a tag match or free-for-all,there was nothing quite like playing this game with three of your friends. You could pass hours, and hours wepassed. We played the ever-loving crapout of this game.
Eventually, much to our delight, a sequel would be unveiledin WCW/nWo Revenge. Revenge continuedthe same gameplay from the previous iteration albeit with some tweaks to boththe gameplay itself as well as the overall presentation. The wrestler character models were moredetailed than before and their signature moves were more accurately depicted. In World Tour, before the match started, thewrestlers would already be in the ring and they would pose when they were"announced." In Revenge, you wouldactually see the wrestler coming to the ring from the entrance way, which wasaccurately modeled after the real life stages used by WCW.
In addition to their Monday Nitro set, setsof some of their more popular pay-per-views like Halloween Havoc, Starrcade,and Souled Out were also included. Oneof the unpopular additions to the game was a combo system. Only a few wrestlers utilized it, but inessence it entailed performing a grapple and pressing the strike button. After doing this, the wrestler would grabtheir opponent in a type of clinch and perform MMA-style close strikes. While interesting in concept, thiseffectively eliminated HALF of a wrestler's potential moveset. Fortunately, this would be the only game tohave such a feature. Another fairlydisappointing aspect is the lack of any real wrestler theme music in the game(they simply just come out to either the WCW Monday Nitro theme or a generic,ominous theme) and the lack of a create-a-wrestler mode. You could change the colors of the outfits ofwrestlers and mix and match their wardrobe with other selectable characters,often to some pretty hilarious results, but it wasn't quite enough. It didn't matter in the end however, as thegameplay was still so good that it overshadowed these negatives. The game featured a very large selection ofpopular WCW wrestlers, which was a big plus; there were only two fictionalfactions this time around. WCW/nWo Revengeis without a doubt the best WCW game ever created. My friends and I logged countless hours intothis title and it was the source of great entertainment for all of us. This would be the last AKI-developed WCW gameto be released. THQ did publish two moreWCW titles, WCW Monday Nitro and WCW Thunder. Some people enjoy Nitro, but I didn't. The gameplay was stiff and unintuitive, but the graphics andpresentation was impressive. The sequel,WCW Thunder, just plain sucked.The Attitude Era
Soon, THQ agree to produce licensed titles for the WWF. Their first was to be WWF Wrestlemania 2000and was developed by AKI. Featuring thesame engine as Revenge, WM2000 was also highly anticipated by my friends and Ias we had long dreamed about a WWF game with the superior AKI wrestlingengine. To add more fuel to the fire,this game would have a fully-functional create-a-wrestler mode and a truecareer mode featuring actual wrestling storylines. This game really upped the ante for what wasexpected of the genre, even moreso than the WCW games did before it. Featuring a large selection of WWF Superstarsand no fictional wrestlers or factions, this game moved further to improve uponthe advancements made by Revenge. Onceagain, the graphics were improved, providing further detail to the wrestlermodels themselves as well as the ring and arena. Like Revenge, it featured the set of theirmain TV show, RAW, as well as various popular pay-per-view sets. You had a handful of available "slots" inwhich to create your own custom wrestlers. This create-a-wrestler mode was leagues beyond what was offered in theprevious Acclaim WWF offerings. Youcould completely customize the look of your wrestler as well as assignindividual moves and taunts. Creating awrestler can take a long time, as you assign the wrestler's moves for ANY givensituation. It can be fairly daunting atfirst as there are lot, and I mean a A LOT, of choices. AKI included a lot of the moves and taunts ofWCW wrestlers from Revenge so you could easily have those cross-promotionaldream-matches I was talking about earlier. If I have any complaints about this game, it's that the custom wrestlerscan tend to be too powerful (because, really, who is going to go through theeffort to make a custom character and not make him awesome) in relation to thepre-existing lineup of wrestlers. If youplay with friends, and you have a custom wrestler and they don't, then theyjust aren't going to be able to stay competitive. Creating wrestlers was always my favoritepart of the game, however, so I always had an ample selection to choosefrom.
The ultimate realization of the AKI-developed games was WWFNo Mercy for the Nintendo 64. I'm justgoing to tell you right now: this is thebest wrestling game ever made. Period. The perfect synthesis ofgameplay and presentation, No Mercy has become the measuring stick by which allother pro wrestling games are judged. Newer wrestling games may have flashier graphics, more involved createmodes, and a wider variety of match options, but none of them have theabsolutely perfect gameplay of No Mercy. Everything that was good about WM2000 was cranked to 11 for thisgame. Vastly improved character models,a more in-depth create mode, new match types (such as the life-destroyingladder match), backstage areas to brawl in, and a branching storyline-basedcareer mode all contributed to making this game incredibly tight from top tobottom. If you think a match of StreetFighter is intense, you haven't lived until you've played a 4-way ladder matchwith 3 of your friends. Sheer insanitycan ensue.
If I have to recommend onewrestling game for non-fans to play, it's No Mercy. Its predecessors are enjoyable, for sure, butNo Mercy is truly the total package. Thegraphics might not hold up by today's standards, but it really doesn'tmatter. Once you learn the gameplay andits nuances, you'll be hooked. Not onlyis this the best wrestling game to ever be created, I'd go as far as to sayit's one of the best fighting games I've ever played in general. There's enough depth and strategy in thisgame to impress even the most devout Virtua Fighter fan. Sadly, No Mercy was the last licensed wrestlinggame to be produced by AKI. They wereoriginally supposed to create a sequel to the mediocre WCW Mayhem by ElectronicArts and release it on the Playstation 2, but the purchase of WCW by WWE butthe kibosh on those plans. AKI has goneon to do other wrestling games, though. They've done a couple of games based onthe animated series Ultimate Muscle in addition to the rap-centric Def JamVendetta and its sequel, Fight for New York. Both of those series are more over the top and out-there when comparedto the WCW/WWF games, but they still contain at their core the same great AKI wrestlingengine that made the N64 titles great.And That's the BottomLine...
Now, there are a lot more wrestling games out there. As the AKI games gained prominence with theN64, THQ utilized a development studio called Yukes to create a series on the SonyPlaystation called WWF Smackdown. Youmay have heard of it. I'm not going todiscuss those titles here because there are a ton of them. Perhaps I'll devote another column to thehistory of the Smackdown games prior to the release of the upcoming Smackdownvs RAW 2010, which I plan on buying and ultimately reviewing. I might also take a brief look at some ofthe other "modern" wrestling games like the THQ titles released for the Xboxand Gamecube in addition to the Fire Pro series. I hope you enjoyed this look at the wrestlinggames of days gone by. As I said before,I've always been a huge fan of wrestling games (if it isn't apparent already)and I just wanted to open up my nostalgia to other fans out there in additionto maybe helping the uninitiated understand what all the fuss is about. I really enjoyed typing this out and thankyou for taking the time to read along. And again, if you haven't played No Mercy, I've got two words forya: Play It!. (please).(Thanks to GameFAQs for the screenshots.)