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Wrestling Games: Through The Eyes Of A 90s Teenager

My first PPV was Summerslam 1991 , I got to watch it on VHS, and I was HOOKED. It seemed so real to me. The Mountie getting banged up in the slammer! Hulk and Warrior taking on the evil Iraqi sympathisers! Macho Man getting married! It was all so real to me at such a young age. I loved it. The characters were larger than life to me, it was like a real-life cartoon. Wrestling would become a huge part of me over the years, and i’d witness some real ups and downs, manage to miss the Attitude era because I stopped watching right before it happened, and then find a liking for it again thanks to the late 90s AKI games.

The idea that I could ever control a wrestler’s destiny was beyond me at the age of 8, but over the next 2 decades I was presented with many different games, providing varying different ways of doing this. I don’t want to go through every wrestling game out there. I haven’t played every one. What I DO want to do is take you through the games that I myself have enjoyed over the years, predominantly during my teenage years, and relive the highs and lows of my own personal experiences.

I shall also make a few notes on the games during certain periods that I didn’t play, and why I didn’t. Some didn’t look right, I didn’t follow the promotion they were based on, various reasons really. Join me on this bump-filled Lex Express through my formative years, and find out why I can’t stand the latest 2K wrestling games!

WWF Wrestlemania – Commodore Amiga 600 (1991)

My first taste of being a virtual wrestler and boy was I excited. And boy was I disappointed. Man was this game just awful. A simple ‘career mode’ so to speak which see you fight your way through 5 of the evillest bad guys the WWF had to offer at the time.

The ring was MASSIVE. Like, twice as large as it should have been in relation to the wrestlers! They looked tiny and if they used this ring in today’s WWE shows, you’d be screwed if you had a submission hold put on you in the centre of the canvas. It’d take you half an hour to scramble for the ropes.

It sounds terrible too. If you like to hear wrestlers constantly utter ‘ooh’ as they strike each-other, feel free to get those headphones on and crank the volume to 11. The in-game action is silent other than the afore-mentioned grunts, and the audience who only pipe up when a move is carried out.

It’s not all doom and gloom mind you. The wrestlers themselves looked fantastic, with all the right details thrown in for you to recognise who was who. Everything looks great in-game, except for that bloody ring size.

The game was very well received back when it was released in 1991. I hated it, and it left a sour taste in my mouth. I hated the idea that I would never play a wrestling game I could love. Then I played Wrestlefest.

WWF Wrestlefest – Arcade (1991)

Now this was everything that Wrestlemania wasn’t. It was an arcade game so automatically it looked better, sounded better, and felt a better experience all-round. It also featured a mode not seen before with its Royal Rumble feature. Featuring 6 wrestlers in the ring, it felt like total chaos and with the ability to have 4 players at any one time, it was a great experience for friends to enjoy together. It introduced new wrestlers when previous ones had been eliminated, it truly felt innovative at the time.

Graphically, the game featured amazing visuals, and these wouldn’t be touched until the 16-bit Royal Rumble / Raw games came along. Some would even argue they looked better than these later titles. It was a little limited in it’s controls, but seeing as it was an arcade game, this can slide. It was meant to be fast-paced so as the kids could keep pumping their coins into it when they struggled to beat the Legion of Doom (and they would).

Voice-over work left a lot be desired mind you. The Legion of Doom sounded like they’d been sucking helium after being kicked in the junk. But this was a minor hiccup in a game that the majority would argue was one of the first really wrestle games. While I didn’t play it a lot as a child (arcades were becoming hard to come by in the early 90s), the few times I did stood out to me massively.

Saturday Night Slam Masters – Arcade, Mega Drive, SNES, FM Towns (1993)

I played this one when my dad rented it for me. He saw a wrestling game, and thought I’d like it. I loved it. It felt a little like Wrestlefest but there was something definitely different going on here. It was effectively a beat-em-up a la Streetfighter, but in a ring. And you could only perform wrestling moves. And Final Fight’s Mike Haggar was a playable character!!!

The game looked gorgeous, with very vibrant and unique characters. Audio featured the usual tinny effects you could expect in the early 90s, but it made the game come across just like an arcade beat-em-up, and people who may usually scoff at wrestling in general could very well be tempted to try this bad boy out.

The console port wasn’t so fast-paced as the arcade version, so it never felt too manic and there was a good variety in the characters, the move styles on offer and if there can be one main complaint about the game, it’s simply that there are only two modes to be found; 1 vs 1, and you guessed it, 2 vs 2. Play it on the SNES and you could have 4 players in the battle which was a nice touch.

If you’ve never played this before, let alone heard of it, you have to give it a try. It’s an absolute blast and is one of the most-under-rated wrestlers of all time.

WWF Royal Rumble / RAW – Mega Drive / SNES / Game Gear / 32X / Game Boy (1993, 1994)

As a child, I LOVED THESE games. I’ve bundled them together as they’re near identical games, with a simple roster update and a couple of changes in game modes. It felt very similar to Wrestlefest in how it played, though it was a lot less fast thankfully. The games also looked almost as good as Wrestlefest, though in different ways. They were more realistic, featured a moving crowd, and the commentary team were even featured ring-side. There were some nice details here.

The games featured the best audio I’d ever heard in a wrestler before, with constant audience background noise and the best wrestling themes we’d ever heard in-game. They had actual authentic tracks playing which lent so much to furthering the feeling of actually performing in a RAW TV show. All the genuine special moves were here and recognisable and we even got the chance to knock the referee out, leading to opportunities to strangle and eye rake your opponent!

It was a dream come true for me and my mates, and we used to royally piss our parents off when we played it at each others houses. As we were so good at the games we could never beat each other, which lead to ridiculously over-long matches and parents who were just itching for some peace and quiet away from our happy screaming selves. They should have been thankful we were in instead of doing our usual games of ‘Knock and Run’.

Mid to late 1990s Games

This was a sour period for me, as I had actually drifted away from watching wrestling. It had just died off for me, and I just missed the beginning of the NWO / Attitude era so wasn’t excited about anything it was offering at the time. There were just no good games to play either. There was the god-awful ‘Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game’, which took our favourite grapplers and stuck them in some bizarro Mortal Kombat style game. The moves were ridiculously OTT, the game was way too fast and worst of all; the wrestlers were digitised, based on their real-life counterparts. It was a shocker.

WWF Warzone and Attitude followed toward the late 90s and my friends absolutely loved these. I freakin’ hated them. I thought they looked crap. The wrestlers looked like they’d poo themselves, and moved awkwardly. I urge you to go Youtube Stone Cold Steve Austin entering the ring to pose for the crowd, he genuinely looks smashed out of his mind. The presentation was good though and you could see the effort that Acclaim had put into the games to make them look as authentic to the real thing as possible. They were also two of the most advanced wrestling titles to this point, introducing Create-a-Wrestler modes, more match types than you could shake a stick at, and of course they were released during what is inarguably the most popular period in WWF/E history.

Bizarrely, it was a game which was released the year before Warzone which caught my attention, and it wasn’t even a WWF release…

WCW / NWO: World Tour – N64 (1997)

I have no idea what compelled me to play this game at the ripe young age of 14. I hated WCW with a passion, and I hadn’t played any wrestling game at length for a good few years at this point. I genuinely don’t know what caught my attention about it, but I somehow found myself buying it with my pocket money, and never looking back. AKI knew how to make a wrestling game.

It was just so in-depth with its awesome grappling system. You felt in total control of everything your wrestler was doing, and you never got bored playing it. There was a multitude of moves available, and even just how long you pressed a button for would affect what kind of move your character would pull off.

You had a wide range of wrestlers, including not only from WCW and NWO, but also a wide range of Japanese characters too. Glacier looked so freakin’ cool and if it wasn’t him I was playing with, it would be the almighty ass-kicking Joe Bruiser who could floor a guy with 2 or 3 punches. Why a boxer was ever featured in this game is another question, but you couldn’t resist the guy’s stopping power.

Sadly, the game looked very iffy, with wrestlers not always looking the best representation of their real-life counter-parts. The models looked very disconnected as well, almost Rayman-like with their floating limbs. Audio was also at its worst with terrible tunes and lacklustre sound effects. Thankfully, the game played like a dream so these hiccups could be forgiven.

This was it. This was THE wrestling game. You couldn’t top it. No way…

WCW / NWO: Revenge – N64 (1998)

And so AKI topped World Tour with this phenomenal sequel. Starting with an incredible Intro with a tune which sounds just like Van Halen’s ‘Hot For Teacher’, the difference in quality between this and its prequel is immediately felt.

Everything is so much better. A more familiar roster including new faces like Mr. Perfect, Chris Jericho, and Bret Hart, they also looked a hell of a lot better with way more detail. Audio was improved, and there was a hell of a lot more to do. A wider array of moves was on offer and the ability to change the attire of the wrestlers was a very welcome feature.

The game played even better than World Tour did as it flowed better and was a little faster. More modes were on offer, managers were now a feature at ring-side, and there were just loads of little neat touches too. Wrestlers would now climb over the top rope, you could slide in and out of the ring, and physical belts were also on offer for the first time.

If World Tour was Chris Jericho’s 1999 WWF debut, Revenge was the beginning of the rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin in 1997.

WWF Wrestlemania 2000 – N64 / Game Boy Colour (1999)

Whilst playing World Tour and Revenge, my friends and I would always pre-suppose the idea of AKI making WWF games. We never imagined it could ever happen, but then in 1999, our dreams came true when AKI released WWF: Wrestlemania 2000. Suddenly we were able to play with the wrestlers who we were most enamoured with! The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Undertaker, all looking just like they should and with the right move-sets.

Although the game felt at times like a re-skin of Revenge, it was still welcomed with open arms. And boy did it have some awesome new features. Cage Matches and First Blood matches were introduced, as well as a limited story mode. You could create your own PPVs and even make your own belts. The biggest feature however, was the Create-A-Wrestler mode.

This was a HUGE attraction for fans who wanted non-WWF wrestlers in the game. If you wanted Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, hell, even Marty Jannetty (someone would!), the options were there to allow you to do so. Choose your moves, the attire, height, weight, stance, entrance music, almost everything you could think of. The amount of customisation was ridiculous.

I remember making my own wrestler, ‘Ogre’, and getting involved with an online wrestling e-fed. I’d be writing all of my own promos, as well as helping to simulate matches for the fed. These were great times in my gaming life and I truly felt a part of something thanks to WM2000. I also remember listening to Sarah McLachlan’s ‘Surfacing’ album a sh*t-load at this time. Imagine HHH coming out to ‘Angel’.

So Wrestlemania 2000, an excellent wrestling game no doubt, but come on, we all know what’s coming next…

WWF No Mercy – N64 (2000)

Mick Foley falling off the Cell. The Montreal Screw-Job. Kurt Angle in a miniature cowboy hat. Combine all of these epic moments together and you MAY just come close to how good WWF No Mercy is. AKI simply nailed it with this release and while it has its flaws, it’s as damn near close to a perfect wrestling game as you’re ever gonna get.

Create-a-wrestler was expanded upon with more moves and better clothing options, and you could even create female wrestlers. A ‘Smackdown Mall’ accompanied this, which effectively featured locked items you could only unlock / buy with money you earned in the game through the story and survival modes. More match types were introduced including ladder matches, iron-man matches and even a mode where you could participate as the referee! If you wanted to screw Chris Jericho out of a victory by slow counting, you could be the bastard in the relationship!

We could smash wrestlers through tables, with stars and legends such as Andre the Giant and Shawn Michaels. You could also fight backstage, making hardcore matches truly live up to their name. Belts could be defended in exhibition mode, and we got to see a wider variety of props and weapons to use whilst laying-eth the Smack-eth Down-eth.

Story Mode was an awesome added feature, though it came with its own issues. It felt like it was unfinished. The writing is always ‘off’, and the storylines that branch out before you can seem really odd. As Big Show was removed from the game right before its release, he was also removed from his starring role in a large part of the story mode’s plot. Which superstar could replace this behemoth??

…Stevie bloody Richards.

Now I like the guy, but when he’s rammed down your throat as the no.1 contender in the WWF Heavyweight Belt plot, it stands out like a huge sore thumb. He was never a main eventer, and surely WWF and AKI could have come up with a better alternative? Otherwise, the mode was fun to play, and the story would often change dependant on match outcomes. You’d also win the afore-mentioned money for the Smackdown Mall here.

The game is just absolute heaven for any wrestling fan and nearly 20 years later, I am still playing it on occasion. Still updating my roster with the latest superstars. STILL KICKING RICHARDS ASS BECAUSE HE’S NO BIG SHOW. It’s one of the greatest sports games of all-time, easily up there with NHL 94’ and Sensible World of Soccer 96/97. As a wrestling game, nothing has come close to touching its quality, not even the highly regarded WWF Smackdown! 2: Know Your Role. Which leads me to…

Late 90s / Early 00s Games

I HATE the Smackdown series with a passion. Why, oh why, did my school mates like this crap? Wrestlers seemed to be rolling around in the ring all the time to dodge moves, and bigger wrestlers like Rikishi would be doing athletic moves way beyond his ability. If you tried to slam a heavy guy in No Mercy, your wrestler might not manage it because of the weight difference. Not so in the Smackdown games.

There were so many things wrong with this series. Animation sucked, as did the AI performance. Yet, with the lack of competition out there, it continued to be the biggest selling wrestling game on a yearly basis. The highest rated wrestling game on Metacritic is currently Smackdown 2: Know Your Role, currently sat at 90. WWF No Mercy currently occupies 2nd spot with an 89 rating. Insanity I tells ya.

The series would continue past Smackdown to Smackdown vs Raw which I avoided like the plague, and then onto the 2K series which is what we have to put up with today. I recently played WWE ’16 as I got it for free through Xbox Games with Gold. I deleted it very quickly when some bizarre control stick feature came up when I was trying to administer a submission hold. It was just way too convoluted.

Life wasn’t all bad at this time though. The Fire Pro Wrestling series had been making waves in an almost cult underground fashion, and the true cool kids were playing this game. The series really began to take off in the early 90s but sadly the yearly releases were only hitting Japan. So you were only playing this through importing or through roughly translated roms over the internet. It wasn’t until 2001 that North America and Europe finally got its hands on a Fire Pro title.

In my eyes, and I reckon the majority would agree, the best Fire Pro was the PS2 classic Fire Pro Wrestling Returns. With a ridiculous roster of over 300 wrestlers, and the most in-depth Create-a-Wrestler mode you’re ever likely to see, the possibilities were endless with this one. Barbed wire matches, MMA octagon matches, lumberjack, Survivor Series matches, and countless others.

It’s a difficult game to get into and takes a fair amount of effort to truly get the most out of it, but stick with it and you’ll be blessed with a fantastic experience.

Finally… one of the lesser known wrestling games out there, but also one of the all-time greats. I give you…

Extreme Warfare Revenge – PC (2002)

If you love your football games, you know what Championship and Football Manager games are. Released in 2002 Extreme Warfare Revenge is essentially the wrestling version of these. You’re the guy running the promotion, responsible for 99% of the decisions, and it’s down to you to make the promotion succeed or go bust. You can start from the top with the WWE if you like, having access to the most money and the best roster of wrestlers. OR, you could start from the bottom of the ladder, and begin with your own backyard wrestling promotion, with wrestlers who will work for free.

Match types are plentiful, with ladder matches, bra and panties, Royal Rumbles, submission, no DQ, first blood, and many more. What makes this one stand out is that you truly are responsible for your wrestlers futures. YOU decide who’s getting pushed and who’s going to jobber status. YOU decide who’s getting the belts. YOU decide the commentary team, the PPV names, who your next acquisition is, if your going to send a wrestler to rehab to battle his ‘demons’. It’s all down to you and you can easily get lost in this forever.

Wrestlers retire, making way for young generic wrestlers to come up through the ranks. Relationships are built between stars, whether it’s through love or through hate. Fire one wrestler and his friends and relatives can cause backstage havoc as a result. You can see who’s bring in the most money through merchandise sales and browse the in-game internet to scope out the latest news and rumours.

Ultimately, success will depend on your TV and PPV ratings. Pit wrestlers with great chemistry against eachother and they’ll give you the absolute best matches on the card. They’ll get over naturally, and you’ll find yourself forced to push them into new angles as it’s what the fans desire. The same works in reverse however; choose the wrong opponents and they can give you a stinker, which can see even the top stars slowly have the fans turn against them.

I’ll never get bored of this game and as it’s free, anyone can download it. You can download roster updates too so if you want to play with the current day WWE roster, you can do. Want to play with an early 90s roster? Go for it. What to make your OWN entire promotion from scratch at the level of WWE so you can go straight into battle against them? Go for it. You’d be an absolute idiot to not give this game a chance if you’re any kind of a wrestling game fan.

Sadly, the developer decided to go down the money route, and began to release the Total Extreme Wrestling series which, without being able to use any real-life properties due to no licence, just stunk the place up. Sure the options were all there and a huge amount of freedom was afforded to you as the promoter, but it’s never been the same since Extreme Warfare Revenge.

In Conclusion…

So, that concludes my wrestling game history. I haven’t fallen for any wrestling game since EWR, so we’re talking 15 years that nothing has taken my fancy. It’s a shame that we’ve lost the best developers, and are hamstrung with the same crap on a yearly basis being released by Yukes and THQ. Where is the Revenge and No Mercy engine today? I guess AKI have it locked up somewhere, possibly never to be used again. Fans are always wishing for a new game using the engine but, I guess we’ll have to make do with the modding community who’ve done some absolutely fantastic things with the engine and truly made it their own.

I hope you enjoyed my little walk down memory lane, looking at the games that I loved whilst growing up, and talking about the games I hated! Yeah, I know I didn’t discuss ECW, TNA, the Gamecube WWE games, but as I said at the start of the article, I simply didn’t play everything. I’ve heard good things about the Yukes Gamecube games, but then you hear the same things about the Smackdown and 2K games so… I don’t know. I know I wouldn’t have liked those ECW games on the Dreamcast and such, looked too much like Attitude for my liking.

There’s a game out there for everyone. I’ve heard some say the AKI games were over-rated, whilst I love them and despise anything post 2000. Some hold Wrestlefest as the best and anything since was simply downhill. Love em’ or hate them, we all share one thing in common; we love wrestling, and everything it embodies.

Oh, we share two things in common actually, we all freakin’ hate babyface Roman Reigns and John Cena. TURN THE BEGGARS VINCE!!!

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