Videogame guru TheScantronman AKA Sanderson Farms AKA Baskerville Holmes takes a comprehensive look back at wrestling video games, starting with the NES and SNES!
For roughly 20 years now, I've beenan avid video gamer. In that same amount of time, I've also been abig follower and fan of professional wrestling. So it's easy tosee that the marriage of these two cultural phenomena would tickle myfancy. There are those who would look down on wrestling, deeming it"fake" (a silly denouncement...isn't all fiction-basedentertainment fake as well?) or "two sweaty men rubbing on eachother" may have similar disdain for games that bear its likeness. Even if you don't like pro-wrestling as a form of mediaentertainment, there is still great fun to be had with it in videogame form. Though not as widely competitive as your traditional2D/3D fighters like Street Fighter or Tekken, wrestling games havebecome wildly fulfilling as fighting games. But, instead of beatingyou over the head with a steel chair as to why you should pay moreattention to these titles, I'm going to take a brief (because Icould go on for many, many pages about this topic) look back at wherethese games have been and how they've evolved over the years. I'llalso be making recommendations along the way. If you're awrestling/game junkie like me, you've probably already played mostof the games I'll mention. If not, you should probably at leastcheck some of them out. You'd be surprised at how much fun you'lllikely have. The Early Days
Let's start by traveling way backwhen to the Nintendo Entertainment System. The starting point formany gamers of my generation, it was here on the NES that a lot ofgenres were created and defined for the first time. Now, as adisclaimer, I'm going to be talking mainly about games that I'vepersonally owned and/or played. If I leave something out, that'sprobably why. There were two big non-licensed wrestling titlesthat I used to enjoy called Pro-Wrestling by Nintendo and Tecmo WorldWrestling by Tecmo.
The former was a fairly simplistic title, but itintroduced concepts such as a real, non-playable referee in the ringwho would respond accordingly to the action. Attempting to pin youropponent didn't auto-generate a 3-count. You had to wait for theref to come to your position and administer the count. Sounds basic,sure, but for awhile this is one of the few games to have such afeature. The game also provided us with the classic Engrish meme, "AWinner is You." Tecmo World Wrestling was a bit more robust,featuring more moves per character as well as more characters ingeneral. It had commentary of sorts with a graphic of the announcerat the bottom of the screen. It also features a unique singleplayer mode in which your chosen character "trains" between boutsin a series of minigames. It wasn't all fictional Japanesewrestlers on the NES, however. The WWE (then WWF) was becoming amultimedia juggernaut in the late 80's and early 90's. So itwould stand to reason that they would capitalize on their popularityin all entertainment outlets, video games included.
The first-ever licensed WWF game wasWWF Wrestlemania, published by Acclaim (a mainstay publisher for WWFtitles for years) and was actually developed by Rareware, who wouldgo on to produce classics like GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, and DonkeyKong Country. This was also a fairly basic title, giving you ahandful of then-popular WWF Superstars such as Hulk Hogan, The MachoMan Randy Savage, and Andre the Giant. Each wrestler had a limitedamount of moves (punches, kicks, a turnbuckle move, etc). Duringgameplay, an icon specific to a certain wrestler would float acrossthe screen. If you grabbed your icon (a pair of sunglasses forSavage, a dollar sign for Ted Dibiase), you would regain some health.
Probably the most-remembered WWF game for the NES was WrestlemaniaChallenge. This game featured an isometric view of the ring ratherthan the side-view that was common among other titles. The isometricview is familiar to veterans of the Fire Pro Wrestling series ofvideo games. This game featured more wrestlers, including Big BossMan, Ravishing Rick Rude, and everyone's favorite soothsayer, theUltimate Warrior. This title featured unique (though still limited)movesets for each character (the Ultimate Warrior could gorilla pressslam opponents, Rick Rude could perform the Rude Awakening) and thestandard tournament-style single player modes. In these modes, you
would play as a generic character called "Yourself." In additionto singles action, there was a also a tag-team mode as well as a 3 on3 Survivor Series elimination bout. In the tag modes, you could sendyour CPU-controlled opponent to attack the other tag team member onthe outside, but you had to call them back before the end of thecount otherwise you would lose via disqualification. Another simpletitle, but it introduced some interesting concepts. Another funthing about the title is that during a match, the theme music ofwhichever character had the in-ring advantage at any given time wouldplay. The last NES title I'm going to discuss is WWF Steel CageChallenge. After this, there was a game called WWF King of the Ring,but I don't believe I've ever played it. Steel Cage Challengemimicked the gameplay of Super Wrestlemania for the SNES/Genesis. It bears the distinction of being the first console wrestling titleto feature the titular steel cage match. Previously, this match hadonly existed in the arcade-only WWF WrestleFest. Otherwise, the gameplayed similarly to previous wrestling titles, with limited movesetsand tournament style single player modes. 16-Bits
The 16 bit era of consoles broughtalong better-looking continuations of the groundwork laid by itspreceding generation and wrestling games were no exception. SuperWrestlemania was the first of three titles that would have similargameplay mechanics and features (the other two being Royal Rumble andWWF RAW). The game utilized a "tug-of-war" mechanic forgrappling in which after a grapple was initiated, you had to mashbuttons frantically to fill up a meter. If you got more of yourmeter filled before your opponent, then your move got performed. Ifyou had a turbo controller, nobody wanted to play with you. The coregameplay of the SNES and Genesis version was similar, but like nearlyall multiplatform titles at the time, there were differences. Whilethe SNES version was afforded more playable characters (10 vs theGenesis'
and better graphics and sound, the Genesis version hada more interesting line-up of wrestlers as well as the inclusion ofsignature moves for each wrestler that could be performed at anypoint during the match.
The next game, Royal Rumble, improved orexpanded on many of the concepts of Super Wrestlemania. This gamewas probably my personal favorite of the SNES wrestling titles. Ieasily played it more than any previous wrestling game up until thatpoint. An interesting feature of this game was that you could bedisqualified for illegal tactics such as choking or eye gouging oreven using a steel chair to demolish your opponent. However, thereferee could be knocked out (usually by getting ran over when awrestler springs off the ropes). When he's down, anything goes. There was also a Brawl mode which eschewed the ref entirely and was ano-holds barred slugfest. Of course, the primary draw of the gamewas the Royal Rumble match type. Much like the actual match, theRumble starts with two wrestlers in the ring. After an allottedamount of time, another wrestler will join the fray. Up to 6wrestlers could be in the ring at once. To win, you must outlast allof your opponents by not getting eliminated, which is done by beingthrown over the top rope. The Genesis version was largely similarbut had a slightly different lineup of wrestlers. There was also agame for the Sega CD called Rage in the Cage, which featured 20selectable characters, the Royal Rumble and Brawl modes, as well as asteel cage match.
The final game to have this style of gameplay wasWWF RAW, another game which I admittedly have not played. Thegameplay is nearly identical, but with some requisite new featuresand match types in addition to a different line-up of wrestlers. Unfortunately, the only other WWF game for the SNES that I played wasWWF Wrestlemania Arcade. It used digitized graphics a la MortalKombat. It was very arcade-like in that moves were performed withfighting game-style button combinations. The whole game was veryover-the-top. The console versions lacked the characters of Yokozunaand Bam Bam Bigelow that the arcade version had (perhaps thosecharacters were too large for the ports) and it had some of the mostannoying audible commentary to exist in a wrestling game. It's apretty laughably bad title, but maybe worth checking out at somepoint just to experience it.
The last title I'll be discussing inthis installment is another 16 bit game called Saturday Night SlamMasters. This isn't a WWF or WCW title, but another game featuringfictional wrestlers. It was developed and published by Capcom, whoare well known for their 2D fighting games such as Street Fighter. Though fictional, some of the wrestlers seem to be based on real-lifewrestlers (Alexander the Grater seems to be an homage to the wrestlerVader). However, the Capcom character Mike Hagar from Final Fightfame was a selectable character in the title. This game was also anarcade title that was later ported to the SNES and Genesis. It alsofeatured fighting-game style button combinations, but mainly for thesignature moves of the characters. It's not very grounded inreality, with some of the moves being extremely elaborate andphysically impossible to perform even under the wild standards ofactual pro-wrestling. It was a solid game, however. The Genesisversion contained a Death Match mode featuring electrified barb wireropes whereas the SNES could make use of a multitap for 4 player tagaction. One of the more interesting/puzzling elements of the game isthat if you look among the crowd, you will see a fan who constantlyflips you the bird while you play. It's weird, but amusing. So, that's it for now. I realizeI've left out some titles (WCW Super Brawl for instance) but again,I can only talk about what I've experienced. My original plan wasto only do one article but after seeing how much I'd done here,there's no way I could expect you to sit through this plus myramblings on the next generation of wrestling titles (which I willhave a LOT to say about). I hope I've at least entertainedyou/piqued your interest enough to get you to check out the secondpart of this look back on wrestling games of yore. Some of the gamesI'll be talking about are among the most fun video games I'veever played, in any genre. I'll be back soon with part 2, so Ihope you'll tag me back in and finish the match with me, becausebusiness is about to pick up. Screenshots: