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From Pixel to Post: A Retrospective on Wrestling Video Games (part 1 of 2)

Videogame guru TheScantronman AKA Sanderson Farms AKA Baskerville Holmes takes a comprehensive look back at wrestling video games, starting with the NES and SNES!

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{nomultithumb}For roughly 20 years now, I've been an avid video gamer. In that same amount of time, I've also been a big follower and fan of professional wrestling. So it's easy to see that the marriage of these two cultural phenomena would tickle my fancy. There are those who would look down on wrestling, deeming it "fake" (a silly denouncement...isn't all fiction-based entertainment fake as well?) or "two sweaty men rubbing on each other" may have similar disdain for games that bear its likeness. Even if you don't like pro-wrestling as a form of media entertainment, there is still great fun to be had with it in video game form. Though not as widely competitive as your traditional 2D/3D fighters like Street Fighter or Tekken, wrestling games have become wildly fulfilling as fighting games. But, instead of beating you over the head with a steel chair as to why you should pay more attention to these titles, I'm going to take a brief (because I could go on for many, many pages about this topic) look back at where these games have been and how they've evolved over the years. I'll also be making recommendations along the way. If you're a wrestling/game junkie like me, you've probably already played most of the games I'll mention. If not, you should probably at least check some of them out. You'd be surprised at how much fun you'll likely have.

 

Pro Wrestling for the NESThe Early Days

 

Let's start by traveling way back when to the Nintendo Entertainment System. The starting point for many gamers of my generation, it was here on the NES that a lot of genres were created and defined for the first time. Now, as a disclaimer, I'm going to be talking mainly about games that I've personally owned and/or played. If I leave something out, that's probably why. There were two big non-licensed wrestling titles that I used to enjoy called Pro-Wrestling by Nintendo and Tecmo World Wrestling by Tecmo. Techmo World Wrestling for the NESThe former was a fairly simplistic title, but it introduced concepts such as a real, non-playable referee in the ring who would respond accordingly to the action. Attempting to pin your opponent didn't auto-generate a 3-count. You had to wait for the ref 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 a feature. The game also provided us with the classic Engrish meme, "A Winner is You." Tecmo World Wrestling was a bit more robust, featuring more moves per character as well as more characters in general. It had commentary of sorts with a graphic of the announcer at the bottom of the screen. It also features a unique single player mode in which your chosen character "trains" between bouts in a series of minigames. It wasn't all fictional Japanese wrestlers on the NES, however. The WWE (then WWF) was becoming a multimedia juggernaut in the late 80's and early 90's. So it would stand to reason that they would capitalize on their popularity in all entertainment outlets, video games included.

 

 

 

WWF Wrestlemania for the NESThe first-ever licensed WWF game was WWF Wrestlemania, published by Acclaim (a mainstay publisher for WWF titles for years) and was actually developed by Rareware, who would go on to produce classics like GoldenEye, Perfect Dark, and Donkey Kong Country. This was also a fairly basic title, giving you a handful of then-popular WWF Superstars such as Hulk Hogan, The Macho Man Randy Savage, and Andre the Giant. Each wrestler had a limited amount of moves (punches, kicks, a turnbuckle move, etc). During gameplay, an icon specific to a certain wrestler would float across the screen. If you grabbed your icon (a pair of sunglasses for Savage, a dollar sign for Ted Dibiase), you would regain some health. wmchallengebox.jpgProbably the most-remembered WWF game for the NES was Wrestlemania Challenge. This game featured an isometric view of the ring rather than the side-view that was common among other titles. The isometric view is familiar to veterans of the Fire Pro Wrestling series of video games. This game featured more wrestlers, including Big Boss Man, Ravishing Rick Rude, and everyone's favorite soothsayer, the Ultimate Warrior. This title featured unique (though still limited) movesets for each character (the Ultimate Warrior could gorilla press slam opponents, Rick Rude could perform the Rude Awakening) and the standard tournament-style single player modes. In these modes, you Steel Cage Challenge for the NESwould play as a generic character called "Yourself." In addition to singles action, there was a also a tag-team mode as well as a 3 on 3 Survivor Series elimination bout. In the tag modes, you could send your CPU-controlled opponent to attack the other tag team member on the outside, but you had to call them back before the end of the count otherwise you would lose via disqualification. Another simple title, but it introduced some interesting concepts. Another fun thing about the title is that during a match, the theme music of whichever character had the in-ring advantage at any given time would play. The last NES title I'm going to discuss is WWF Steel Cage Challenge. After this, there was a game called WWF King of the Ring, but I don't believe I've ever played it. Steel Cage Challenge mimicked the gameplay of Super Wrestlemania for the SNES/Genesis. It bears the distinction of being the first console wrestling title to feature the titular steel cage match. Previously, this match had only existed in the arcade-only WWF WrestleFest. Otherwise, the game played similarly to previous wrestling titles, with limited movesets and tournament style single player modes.

 

16-Bits

 

Super Nintendo Entertainment SystemWWF Super Wrestlemania on the SNESThe 16 bit era of consoles brought along better-looking continuations of the groundwork laid by its preceding generation and wrestling games were no exception. Super Wrestlemania was the first of three titles that would have similar gameplay mechanics and features (the other two being Royal Rumble and WWF RAW). The game utilized a "tug-of-war" mechanic for grappling in which after a grapple was initiated, you had to mash buttons frantically to fill up a meter. If you got more of your meter filled before your opponent, then your move got performed. If you had a turbo controller, nobody wanted to play with you. The core gameplay of the SNES and Genesis version was similar, but like nearly all multiplatform titles at the time, there were differences. While the SNES version was afforded more playable characters (10 vs the Genesis' 8) and better graphics and sound, the Genesis version had a more interesting line-up of wrestlers as well as the inclusion of signature moves for each wrestler that could be performed at any point during the match. WWF Royal Rumble on the SNESThe next game, Royal Rumble, improved or expanded on many of the concepts of Super Wrestlemania. This game was probably my personal favorite of the SNES wrestling titles. I easily played it more than any previous wrestling game up until that point. An interesting feature of this game was that you could be disqualified for illegal tactics such as choking or eye gouging or even using a steel chair to demolish your opponent. However, the referee could be knocked out (usually by getting ran over when a wrestler springs off the ropes). When he's down, anything goes. There was also a Brawl mode which eschewed the ref entirely and was a no-holds barred slugfest. Of course, the primary draw of the game was the Royal Rumble match type. Much like the actual match, the Rumble starts with two wrestlers in the ring. After an allotted amount of time, another wrestler will join the fray. Up to 6 wrestlers could be in the ring at once. To win, you must outlast all of your opponents by not getting eliminated, which is done by being thrown over the top rope. The Genesis version was largely similar but had a slightly different lineup of wrestlers. There was also a game for the Sega CD called Rage in the Cage, which featured 20 selectable characters, the Royal Rumble and Brawl modes, as well as a steel cage match. WWF Wrestlemania Arcade on the SNESThe final game to have this style of gameplay was WWF RAW, another game which I admittedly have not played. The gameplay is nearly identical, but with some requisite new features and match types in addition to a different line-up of wrestlers. Unfortunately, the only other WWF game for the SNES that I played was WWF Wrestlemania Arcade. It used digitized graphics a la Mortal Kombat. It was very arcade-like in that moves were performed with fighting game-style button combinations. The whole game was very over-the-top. The console versions lacked the characters of Yokozuna and Bam Bam Bigelow that the arcade version had (perhaps those characters were too large for the ports) and it had some of the most annoying audible commentary to exist in a wrestling game. It's a pretty laughably bad title, but maybe worth checking out at some point just to experience it.

 

Saturday Night Slammasters on the SNESThe last title I'll be discussing in this installment is another 16 bit game called Saturday Night Slam Masters. This isn't a WWF or WCW title, but another game featuring fictional wrestlers. It was developed and published by Capcom, who are well known for their 2D fighting games such as Street Fighter. Though fictional, some of the wrestlers seem to be based on real-life wrestlers (Alexander the Grater seems to be an homage to the wrestler Vader). However, the Capcom character Mike Hagar from Final Fight fame was a selectable character in the title. This game was also an arcade title that was later ported to the SNES and Genesis. It also featured fighting-game style button combinations, but mainly for the signature moves of the characters. It's not very grounded in reality, with some of the moves being extremely elaborate and physically impossible to perform even under the wild standards of actual pro-wrestling. It was a solid game, however. The Genesis version contained a Death Match mode featuring electrified barb wire ropes whereas the SNES could make use of a multitap for 4 player tag action. One of the more interesting/puzzling elements of the game is that if you look among the crowd, you will see a fan who constantly flips you the bird while you play. It's weird, but amusing.

 

So, that's it for now. I realize I've left out some titles (WCW Super Brawl for instance) but again, I can only talk about what I've experienced. My original plan was to 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 my ramblings on the next generation of wrestling titles (which I will have a LOT to say about). I hope I've at least entertained you/piqued your interest enough to get you to check out the second part of this look back on wrestling games of yore. Some of the games I'll be talking about are among the most fun video games I've ever played, in any genre. I'll be back soon with part 2, so I hope you'll tag me back in and finish the match with me, because business is about to pick up.

 

Screenshots:

 

Pro Wrestling for the NESPro Wrestling for the NES

 

Techmo World Wrestling for the NES Techmo World Wrestling for the NES

 

 

Wrestlemania for the NESWrestlemania for the NES

 

Wrestlemania Challenge for the NESWrestlemania Challenge for the NES

 

Steel Cage Challenge for the NESSteel Cage Challenge for the NES

 

WWF Super Wrestlemania for the SNESWWF Super Wrestlemania for the SNES

 

WWF Royal Rumble- for the SNESWWF Royal Rumble- for the SNES

 

WWF Wrestlemania Arcade for the SNESWWF Wrestlemania Arcade for the SNES

 

Saturday Night Slammasters for the SNESSaturday Night Slammasters for the SNES

 

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