Thursday, October 7, 2010

It's All About The Game!

Video Games: The History of Wrestling Video Games (well sort of) Part 1

it's that time of year again as the days get colder and the nights get darker, a good reason to stay warm and indoors arrives in the way of the yearly WWE Smackdown vs. Raw video game update. Now seeing as i'm a huge fan of both wrestling and video games this is a pretty exciting time for me and with this years game receiving such huge amounts of hype before its release it got me in the mood to think back on my memories of wrestling video games from days gone by.
While this article isn't meant to be a full indepth look back at the complete history of wrestling video games, i'm gonna say a little something about all those that i have had the pleasure (or misfortune in some cases, ahem, Legends Of Wrestling' ahem) of playing and can remember of course.

What better place to begin the lil trip down memory lane then at the start! So lets hop into the Delorean and travel back to my earliest wrestling game memories, original Nintendo Entertainment System here we come!...

I loved my first Nintendo console, that little grey box of joy which allowed me to control all my favorite pixel-lated characters around brightly colored platforms, oh what fun we had. Super Mario Bros., Nintendo World Cup, Duck Hunt, Snake Rattle & Roll, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Mega Man, Punch Out i loved them all. Back then i also loved wrestling. I was hugely into the WWF and had a whole collection of the Hasbro action figures, so when i found out you could get a WWF game for the NES of course i was all about that! 

Only problem was for some reason i thought the game sucked, now back then i played anything and usually loved it so i think my dislike for the game had less to do about the gameplay and more to do with the fact that my childhod favorite the Ultimate Warrior wasn't in it.
You can see the commercial for NES Wrestlemania above although the spoof below may be a more accurate portrayal of the game. 

Not long after, i found 'WrestleMania Challenge' which fixed the Ultimate Warrior problem by not only including him in the game but having him of the game cover and title screen! 

However this game also sucked and if you were Andre you would lose every match if you climbed or got thrown out of the ring, the big klutz couldn't get back in. One true highlight of this game was the music. Really great music, absolutely brilliant, especially Ravishing Rick Rude's theme, take a listen below.

my dislike for the WWF games was strange, as repetitive and limited as the games were i'm sure i owned worse games. Maybe it was cause around the same time i also had a game called Tecmo World Wrestling...

and it reminded me of one of my favorite other fighting games ever, Punch Out, i loved that beauty. 

the similar presentation to one of my all time favorite games, Punch Out, may have been a factor in why i liked Tecmo World Wrestling so much

Tecmo World Wrestling was the first wrestling game to include commentary and training. Between fights you could play some button bashing mini games like push ups with a sumo on your back! Brilliant! 
The game also featured a nice selection of moves, something missing from the very basic punch-kick WWF games. Some of my favorites were the Scorpion Death Lock move, which i was a big fan of thanks to Sting, and the Giant Swing. "Round & Round & Round he goes where he'll stop nobody knows!" Commentary so good it'd make good old J.R. proud.

Around the same time as i had my NES i also had a Nintendo Game Boy.  One of my friends had a WWF game 'Superstars'. 

I remember it having great graphics, nice big chunky characters and it looked better than the NES games i had. The downside to it was it only included about 5 characters, but still not bad for a little Game Boy game.

I thought i got one up on my pal when i got Superstars 2, but it sucked. I should have known by the terrible box art. The even worse title screen should have been an even bigger giveaway to the lameness.

The game is pretty much consisted of punch and kick attacks. No special moves at all. The added feature of steel cage matches weren't anything to write home about either.
It's one saving grace was that it did have the Mountie in it. That may be the reason i played that game, as lame as it was, for hours on end. 
A digitized Mountie theme could save just about any game in my opinion. I freaking loved that tune!

A souped up version of Superstars 2 was avialable for the NES & Sega Master System home consoles, WWF Steel Cage Challenge. But it was just as repetitive and had the problems, such as a severe lack of moves, as its handheld counterpart. 
I was sad to find out that the game featured different characters on each console. Sega Master System owners could choose to play as Ric Flair & Shawn Michaels along with Papa Shango & Tatanka while Nintendo owners like myself had Roddy Piper, Jake Roberts, (a pre Sycho) Sid Justice and the Mountie instead. 
As much as i would have liked to have had Flair & HBK in my version losing the Mountie's theme would have been too great a loss. 

Though i didn't spend too much time in arcades as a young 'un, i did occasionally pass through. My main memory aside from apparently "winners don;t use drugs" was that the WWF games looked amazing! 

the main thing about WWF WrestleFest were the awesome graphics it had. Big and bright characters who looked a hell of alot cooler than the little pixelly blobs i was used to at home. 
It also had great sound effects and voice overs, Mean Gene was in the damn thing. Come on how awesome is that! 
You could also play as real tag teams on the arcade machines, which at the time was cool. Aww simpler times.

With the arrival of the Super Nintendo it was also time for the arrival of the next generation of home console wrestling games. 
Super Wrestlemania was first up and it was available for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Genesis.

As much as a fan i still was of wrestling, the new game was disappointing to me.
Super WrestleMania boasted much improved graphics over its 8 bit relatives but the gameplay was still very simplistic.
The console exclusive content also stuck around for this game and while i thought i got the better deal being a Nintendo owner with the improved graphics and a bigger selection of characters. Sega may have won the battle though with the fact that their version contained special moves. 

I seemed to have a bit of a break from wrestling games after that disappointment. I rented WWF Royal Rumble a few times, but completely ignored the NES' last WWF game King Of The Ring.

By now i had almost given up on wrestling video games as I never felt as though they could compete with other fighting games of the time like Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat or even Killer Instinct.

Cause of this i gave the WWF Raw games on SNES & Genesis a miss and also skipped WWF Rage In A Cage mainly because i didn't own the system it was released on. Why in the blue hell would i want to own a Sega CD???
I now feel i may have missed out by not getting WWF Raw for Sega's 32x system as i've just found out 'Kwang' was a hidden bonus character! Oh well...

jump to about 4:30 of the video to see the mysterious Kwang and hear his awesome music.

Even with the debut of the next gen systems, WWF games didn't get any better. To make it worse along with all the classic 2d fighters from the 16 bit days, new 3d fighters like Tekken & Soul Caliber came along and offered way better gameplay than the wrestling games i played.

Acclaim released a Mortal Kombat inspired WWF game for most systems but the mash-up didn't work out to well and the game just seemed stupid.

The next WWF game on Playstaion, WWF In Your House, wasn't much of an improvement, it had some nice touches but was still absolutely crazy and not in a fun way. 

i think the coolest thing about this 'In Your House' game was the fact you could fight inthe Hart Family Dungeon. Check out the Owen Hart punching bag.

So i had kinda lost hope in wrestling games ever being good until i randomly found a cheap copy of the no frills Power Move Pro Wrestling and saw the direction that wrestling games should be going in....

A little while after this i got myself WCW vs. The World on Playstation.

This would be the first WCW game i ever played with the only other time i had the opportunity to buy one was when i saw the NES game WCW Wresling on sale while on vacation in Florida but decided to spend my money on action figures or something else instead.
the one that got away, i saw it for sale, although the version i saw had Sting on the cover cause the Road Warriors had joined the WWE & become the Legion of Doom

weird thing i found out about the WCW NES not only select your wrestler but also your moves before every fight, interesting, the first create a wrestler mode, sort of...

The WCW follow up game on Playstation ,WCW Nitro, had some cool videos and a ton of unlockable characters, it also thankfully got rid of the bright pink ring which was in vs. The World but the gameplay sucked and i wasn't a fan.

 Whilst Nitro was released after vs.The World it was a brand new game with a new engine instead of a follow up.It was the Nintendo 64 that got the sequel proper to WCW vs The World and was pretty darn good...

WCW vs nWo World Tour, now this was more like it. It had the top WCW & NWO stars and also featured Abdullah the Butcher plus a bunch of Japanese wrestlers like Atsushi Onita, Hayabushi, Taka Michinoku(although their names were changed for copyright reasons). Most importantly the gameplay was great. Finally a wrestling game that was fun to play and nice to control. One of the other things i really liked about the game was the fact that you could do wrestlers taunts. Just a touch of the N64 joystick made your character perform a taunt to wards his opponent and while it might not seem like a big deal nowadays, but i loved it. I also liked that you had the option of turning on 'blood' so you could bust the wrestlers wide open aswell. 

WWF must have been feeling the pressure around then. Not only was WCW winning the ratings war on Monday nights but they had also started to make moves with their video games. After all the years of games that played horribly, and then a couple of years of absolutely nothing. Much like with their tv shows, the WWF seemed to get it together and start to make a fight of it. In 1998 just as the Attitude era was taking off the WWF finally released a game that i could get exciited about.
WWF War Zone on the Nintendo 64 (and Playstation) was awesome. 

I loved it. Being as it was the first game of WWF's 'Attitude' era it was also the first game featuring Stone Cold Steve Austin. (the Rock was in it too but still called Rocky Maivia)
It played alot like a regular fighting game with button combinations needed to perform moves instead of a button pressing grappling system but it actually had the feel of wrestling unlike the earlier games possibly helped by the commentary and wrestler sound bites the game had.
Most importantly for a WWF game it had a bunch of signature moves for each wrestler and all the real finishing moves! Stunner, stunner, stunner! You could even call down other wrestlers to interefere in your matches through different button presses.
Another important feature of the game, and one that was very popular with me was its 'create-a-player' mode. It was the first create mode i can remember and although quite limited when compared to todays, back then i had a bunch of shoddy looking Hulk Hogan, Goldberg and other WCW knock offs running around getting the smack laid down on them by WWF's finest...and Ahmed Johnson.
Another reason i loved WarZone was the fact it was the first wrestling game i owned that featured my favorite wrestler, HBK Shawn Michaels. After getting screwed out of playing as him by console exclusive content in the past and straight up ignoring all the lame games they released featuring him, finally i could dish out some sweet chin music of my own. Happy days!

Both WCW vs. nWo World Tour & WWF War Zone soon got follow ups. 
War Zone's follow up was WWF Attitude...

Attitude was more of the same with the biggest improvements being a much larger roster, a better create a wrestler mode and wrestler entrances (with real theme songs) 
I also really liked the fact that D-Lo Brown, one of my favorites and possibly most underrated wrestlers of all time, was included (with chest protector and all). It still played well but just felt a little lacking...
you better recognize! The greatest European champ of alllllll time. Gotta love D-Lo and his chest protector.

My favorite wrestling game of the time was the WCW vs. nWo World Tour's sequel the awesome WCW/NWO Revenge. 

while it was an update itself, Revenge did way more than just add extra characters. Entrances were added (the animations were brilliant but sadly they didn't have the real entrance themes), different arenas, and although it didn't feature a create a wrestler option you could change the look and outfits of any of the included wrestlers. 
The gameplay was what made it though, superbly playable with truly excellent multi player. Its amazing just how good this game really was, especially considering Buff Bagwell was included!
(strangely during this time with the Nintendo 64 getting such a nice selection of fun wrestling games, the poor old Playstation was left with a shoddy follow up to WCW Nitro creatively called WCW Thunder. Aw well i guess PS owners could go back to playing the amazing Final Fantasy 7 instead)

I think Vince McMahon must have had the same opinion as me on the video games because after WWF Attitude was released, the WWF left publishers Acclaim and jumped ship to WCW/NWO Revenge publsihers THQ. Not only did the WWF win the ratings war but by doing this they also won the vidoe games war with this move. 
After the WWF had stolen their publisher, WCW moved across to EA Sports. EA are a powerhouse and have many successful sports game franchises but unfortunately they couldn't work their magic with WCW.
The resulting WCW Mayhem & WCW BAckstage Assault were pretty terrible. Although i gotta say the commentary on Mayhem was stellar and the games did introduce backstage brawls to wrestling games. 
 EA Sports not so good WCW games, even though you could play as the mighty Doug Dellinger in Mayhem!!!

After being left in the lurch, Acclaim went on to release a couple of ECW games based on the already dated War Zone/Attitude engine, rather inevitable they stunk. 
as cool as the ECW shows were back then, the games sucked.

The WWF seemed to go from strength to strength with its video games first was the AKI made WWF Wrestlemania 2000 on the Nintendo 64. 

More or less a WWF version of WCW/NWO Revenge, WWF WrestleMania 2000 was awesome, although i might argue that Revenge was slightly more playable and fluid, it was just unbelievably cool to finally deliver a satisfying 'People's Elbow' in a video game. Entrance videos were also added to the game to tie along with the entrances, (the quality of those videos is another story but still it was a nice touch) and a create-a-wrestler mode with a ton of movesets left in from the WCW games so you could make very accurate versions of WCW wrestlers.

While the N64 had the tried and tested gameplay of WrestleMania 2000. 
THQ went ahead and released the first Smackdown game for the Playstation Made by new developers Yukes, Smackdown has more realistic graphics but quicker more arcadey style gameplay, the games were good enough and different enough to warrant purchasing both.

Both WrestleMania 2000 & Smackdown quickly got sequels. 
The Nintendo 64's No Mercy may quite possibly be the best wrestling game of all time. All time i tells ya! 
Even with the bugs it had (Wiping saved data, and no blood even though the blood animation started) it was still brilliant. More characters, an awesome career mode, fantastic multi player (like i'm talking Mario Kart 64, Goldeneye level brilliance, the N64 wasn't to be messed with when it came to multi player games) and LADDER matches. The game was the bee's knees.

 Apparently there was gonna be a sequel to No Mercy called Backlash but tragically that never came about...(maybe one day for the Wii??? Please, please, pretty please!)

The Playstation got its second Smackdown game inside a year with SmackDown 2:Know Your Role. 

It was the last of the Playstations WWF games, but the start of a Madden like run in sequels for the WWE & THQ.
The big differences for Know Your Role, were it changed up its storyline mode, even with its horrendous loading times, the game was still a ton of fun to play. The way you unlocked bonus characters was pretty unique aswell, because the game's career mode was based on the previous years WWF tv & ppv's whenever you'd play the ppv that a wrestler made his return on, would be when you unlocked that character in the game. For example you unlock Stone Cold when you play the Backlash ppv and he returns as the main events guest referee. Shawn Michaels does the same at the Judgment Day ppv.
Hell in a Cell matches were also added, which was a first for any wrestling video game that i know of. Along with a fun Slobberknocker mode where you had t hit your finisher on as many opponents as possible.
Another couple of things about the game was the lack of commentary, which possibly wasn't a negative thing, and disappointingly the lack of Undertaker's real entrance theme.
The Smackdown games also contained a ridiculously detailed create-a-wrestler mode. The level of detail you could get to with your creations in the games was so deep, but unfortunately the navigation around the menu's was frustrating and also very time consuming. No Mercy's simpler create options worked better at the time and even though you couldn't make as realistic looking characters the fact that No Mercy already had a cartoony overall look made user creations fit in nicely anyway. The navigation of the Nintendo game was much better and you could much more quickly get your creations into the ring. 
Smackdown would improve its create options over the following years, firstly by sorting moves and looks by name labels instead of numbers and also making the whole process alot quicker to complete. 
Anyway, before the Smackdown series jumped to the Playstation 2, Sega's Dreamcast system had its own WWF game come out...

Royal Rumble on the dreamcast looked amazing. But sadly thats the nicest thing to say about it.
The game was severly lacking. It only had 2 modes of play. Exhibition and Royal Rumble. A career mode was none existent. If you wanted a series of fights you could play exhibit mode and it would just set up a basic line up of wrestlers to fight against until you beat them or get bored. A big selling point of the game was the amount of characters on screen at one time, being based on the Royal Rumble it had to have multiple opponents, and up to 9 wrestlers can be involved at one time. However due to a lack of characters and the option of having multi players be the same person, 9 characters might have meant a match up involving 9 of the same wrestler and you thought Undertaker vs. Undertaker was bad. 
After the Smackdown and No Mercy games on the less powerful systems, Royal Rumble was such a disappointment but since the Dreamcast didn't really take off know one really knows about it either...

With the Playstation 2 so came a new Smackdown game...which is where Part 2 of 'It's All About The Game' will start... 

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