The Last Great Wrestling Game

I am going to say this now: I love professional wrestling. I have loved professional wrestling since I was a kid. I cannot remember the exact date and time I first saw it, but I remember the moment: flipping TV channels, and I just so happen to come across one of those old Saturday morning wrestling shows. You remember those? I’m not talking like Saturday Morning Slam, which is watered down thanks to today’s WWE. And I mean watered down. Wrestlers are not allowed to perform moves around the neck anymore because WWE doesn’t want its younger viewers seeing anything that “violent.”
I was lucky. I started watching just before the Attitude era started. I was in the midst of the Monday Night Wars. I missed the Golden Age of Wrestling but I lived and watched the true greatest era in wrestling (note I have a bias, duh). The content was TV-14 on both WCW and WWF and that meant blood, chair shots to the head, hell, damn, ass, and son of a bitch being said on TV weekly, and some of the most epic brawls and endings to TV tapings that made audiences come back for more and more and continue to grow and grow in numbers and ratings.
Are you getting warm fuzzy feelings remembering all this? Does this make you want to cry thinking about what WWE has become today? I feel for you there.
What else made this era truly special….the video games, jackass! WCW and WWF fought for TV viewers and gamers, with games coming out for Sony Playstation, Super Nintendo, Nintendo Game Boy, Sega Game Gear, and of course the best games were for the Nintendo 64. My first system was my SNES and I remember playing WWF Raw a lot. It was nearly impossible (as I mentioned before in my blogs I was a pretty bad gaming kid…meaning I sucked). The CPU was too tough and already knew how to do the power moves, whereas I struggled to learn the button combinations and timing. But I loved it. Diesel, Bam Bam Bigelow, Bret Hart all came to life in 16 bit, the crowd was always into the match and there was a ref who could get his ass kicked repeatedly. It was great, limited, but great.
Wrestling games really started to shine on the N64. Though my first N64 game was WWF: War Zone, it was lackluster at best. Even as a kid I noticed how impossible the moves were to pull off. The animations were groggy, or too over the top. Every pin was the same and the submission game was just a 10 count. This was Acclaim’s attempt, and they did try their best. WWF Attitude was their next effort and it had plenty of features to keep wrestling fans playing it. There was a real career mode to play through and titles to win. The create a PPV mode was ingenious. And there were real entrances to see the wrestlers come out to…unless it was a hardcore or cage match…which made no sense. WWF struggled throughout the Monday Night Wars, but when they eventually dumped Acclaim and started winning the War, they made a partnership that has continued to this day. But before that, we need to talk about WCW. The only company to truly go toe-to-toe with WWF and actually have a lead. And the award winning video games that were created; the game play and format that resulted in the last wrestling game.
Developer Asmik Ace Entertainment and AKI Corporation, along with publisher THQ made WCW vs nWo: World Tour in 1997 at the height of the Monday Night War. The tone and format of the game were completely different from the Acclaim wrestling games. Wrestlers could only be moved by d-pad, whereas the control stick was used to taunt. Wrestlers had to wait to use their finishing maneuvers after filling up a meter and performing the special taunt. The types and moves you used depended on how hard you pressed the A or B button. Finally the run button was also the pin button…which was a bad idea cause many times I tried to get the win in match and my wrestler would then start running and eventually stopping into my downed opponent; it was the equivalent of an internet troll. Everything else about the game was near flawless. Acclaim used the actual voices of wrestlers, but everything else about World Tour was aesthetically pleasing and the game play for a wrestling game was second to none. The graphics were great, and though Acclaim games had more realistic facial features on their CPU, the fluidity of the THQ made it a no contest. World Tour was followed by Revenge, a direct sequel. It took everything about World Tour and made it better. Wrestlers now had entrances, though the use of only 2 entrance themes; first guy would enter into some guitar riffs, then his opponents would enter to a more bass-heavy theme. The pin button was no longer the run button, and the roster expanded to include just about every WCW, nWo Hollywood, and nWo Wolfpac wrestler (note: I loved the Wolfpac when I was a kid.) WCW had it all, the ratings, the money, and the video games. Then it all faded away. WCW began to lose the Monday Night War. They had other games on the Playstation developed by Inland Productions but they were utter crap compared to the N64 games. As WCW struggled and WWF began to right the ship, WWF made a coup after inking a deal with THQ, Asmik Ace, and AKI.
WWF WrestleMania 2000 is my favorite wrestling game of all time. It is the pinnacle of wrestling games for me. It was the first game to have fully fleshed entrances for wrestlers and even included the infamous TitanTron video that follows wrestlers. The award winning game play from World Tour and Revenge remained, but with the WWF roster. What was new was completely customizable wrestler attire, which was fun to mix and match on wrestlers and taught me the meaning of attire. The story mode was also phenomenal as for the first time you played as a wrestler and journeyed from Sunday Night Heat to Monday Night Raw and to the pay per views, winning as many titles as possible, to win the Royal Rumble and then onto to WrestleMania 2000 where you wrestle the Undertaker for the WWF strap (even if your champ you still have to win the Royal Rumble. And yes. It was hard.) WM 2000 pretty much was WWF’s final stomp on WCW’s throat. WCW joined up with EA, but even the mega publisher (and maybe soon to be earth destroyer) couldn’t save WCW video game fortunes. They came out with Mayhem and Backstage Assault, with both resembling the Acclaim games, though wrestlers could now fight in backstage areas and parking lots. WCW would fold in 2001 and WWF bought them. Around that time, WWF No Mercy was released by Asmik Ace, AKI, and THQ. And it was the last great wrestling game.
I prefer WM 2000. No Mercy does not have full entrances and I never understood why. Players picked one title belt to go after and that was story mode, so there was more to play, but not one long journey. The story mode did have a choice system in place where depending on if you won or loss a match, your next match in the progression could change. Also there was the Smackdown Mall….nuff said. No Mercy has been seen as the pinnacle of wrestling games. And it was the last great one. The last with the AKI Asmik Ace grapple system.
Soon after WWF became WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment. Today some fans call it the E because it tries as hard as E network to be annoying (except for The Soup because Joel McHale is awesome.) Before that WWF Smackdown! was released for the PS One. Published by THQ…and developed by Yuke’s. To this day, Yuke’s develops WWE games, but 2k sports have taken over as publisher. But with the arrival Yuke’s was the removal of the beloved grapple and strike system. Asmik Ace and AKI (now Syn Sophia Inc.) exist to this day, but their partnership with WWF/E ended with No Mercy.
The Yuke’s games are like the WWE of today: flashy, loud, customizable. But the substance is just not there…and worst yet it feels there is no heart. The commentary is boring, period. There are plenty of intriguing story lines in the games, but all I want is for the game writers to join WWE Creative (the over lords of WWE TV. Yes, wrestling is scripted. I have known that this whole time. If you comment its fake, you deserve a Jake the Snake DDT.) WWE is the number one wrestling company in the world, so it has the number one wrestling video games in the world…but what’s the point if no one else can try?
I still watch WWE today. I love CM Punk, who at the time of this post appears to be gone from WWE altogether. Daniel Bryan is the best wrestler in the world and if he is not in the main event at WrestleMania XXX in New Orleans, that will be the worst judgement in the history of the world since the Big Bang. I still watch. I still buy the merch. But not the games. If I want to play a wrestling video game, I’ll boot up WM 2000 or No Mercy on my N64. 64 bit graphics have still never looked so pretty.
I hoped you enjoyed this long post. Please sound off in the comments with likes/ dislikes, wrestling memories you’d like to share, or wrestling games from your past I did not mention.