James Blackwell hears the bell and taps out some of his favourite wrestling button bashers.
5. WWE All Stars (2011) – XBOX 360/PS3
Released in 2011 by THQ and developed in-house, WWE All Stars takes a step away from the more simulation style of the Smackdown series. This was a great move, as the game could be as silly and crazy as it liked… and it was.
The gameplay was very arcade-y with fast action and combos at the heart of its grappling system. The graphics featured each wrestler in a completely over-exaggerated look with most having bulging muscles and full heads of hair… I’m looking at you, Hulkster!
The roster included a variety of superstars from the Rock n’ Wrestling era, the Attitude era and current times, such as John Cena, Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, Bret Hart, Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, CM Punk, and Dusty Rhodes. Each wrestler also had over-the-top signature moves that send shockwaves through the arena once they are hit.
Also, the marketing campaign featured the return of Macho Man Randy Savage, which was excellent news as he hadn’t been linked with anything WWE-related since the early 90s. The Ultimate Warrior followed in Savage’s footsteps a few years later by promoting another WWE game. Unfortunately, both men weren’t long for this world and sadly passed away not long after their respective campaigns were completed.
All Stars probably wasn’t the biggest commercial success, so we never saw a sequel, but hopefully 2K can revisit this formula at some point.
4. Def Jam Vendetta (2003) – PS2/XBOX/GC
A strange title, this one.
Def Jam Vendetta was really the only true sequel western audiences would ever get to the great WWF No Mercy. THQ had decided to follow-up their WWF games with more titles from Yukes, and AKI had been snapped up by EA to create a new WCW game since they had won that contract once THQ had secured the WWF licence. But, unfortunately for EA, AKI and all of us wrestling fans, the WWF purchased WCW from Time Warner in early 2001, leaving EA and AKI with no wrestling game licence and us fans with only one choice for wrestling entertainment as ECW had also been swallowed up by WWF at a similar time.
So, what were EA to do? They had the best talent in wrestling video games working for them but no game to make…. so they decided to find another licence. They could have gone the way Acclaim did by taking a roster of legends and building a game from that, but instead, they wanted to have rappers fighting so they settled on the Def Jam brand. AKI took the reigns and ran with it. What we got was a traditional wrestling game built on their fantastic grappling engine with a lot of the extras taken out. The graphics were the best overall since the N64 days, and they looked solid if unspectacular for the time. The main portion was the story/career mode in which you took control from one of four fictional characters to fight through a variety of hiphop stars, including DMX, Redman, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, and Ludacris in an attempt to save your girlfriend, Angel (Christina Milian).
Sadly, a lot of wrestling tie-in staples such as creating a wrestler or multiple match types were left out of the game, so it didn’t quite have the re-playability of AKI’s earlier efforts. The game later received a sequel named Def Jam: Fight for NY which worked on the same premise, but was more of a fighting game than the more traditional Vendetta.
3. WWF Wrestlefest (1991) – Coin-op
This arcade classic came to us straight from the developers of beat-em-up milestone Double Dragon, Technos. Released in 1991, this game was only available to arcade-goers of the time as was its predecessor, WWF Superstars. It built upon the great arcade style of grappling gameplay and added a new Royal Rumble mode. What really set it apart at the time was the glorious graphics that featured huge sprites of all the WWF’s greatest wrestlers of the period. Any kid walking past this machine in the early 90s would have been tugging on their parents’ arms for 20p to have a go.
2. Fire Pro Wrestling Returns (2005) – PS2
The Fire Pro Wrestling series is probably the longest-running wrestling game series ever, with the franchise having its roots all the way back in the NES classic Pro Wrestling. Since then, the series has gone through a lot of different games and systems, eventually reaching this final PS2 release which was criminally only available in Italy for PAL gamers.
Fire Pro Wrestling Returns keeps the series firmly in 2D with the most detailed sprites of the lot and the familiar timing-based grappling mechanic. This game has over 300 wrestlers who are mostly based on real-life legends and just slightly reskinned. It also includes Japan’s crazy death matches and a whole host of other different game types. This game can be seen selling for £70+ on eBay currently, but if you own a PS3, it can be bought for $10 on the US PSN store.
1. WWF No Mercy (2000) / WCW/NWO Revenge (1998) – N64
This might be controversial as these are two different games in the top spot, but in my defence. they are made by the exact same people and came out in the same era of wrestling tie-ins. These AKI-developed games were published in the late 90s/early naughts by THQ and were the most complete wrestling experiences we had seen up until that point.
During the period that WCW was on top, they were also on top in the video games stakes with WCW/NWO Revenge being the very best of what they had to offer. It had absolutely loads of great content such as multiple WCW arenas, weapons and a roster of over fifty wrestlers with some unlockables in there, too. The game included WCW’s incredibly diverse roster of wrestlers split into their different factions; we had NWO White with Hollywood Hulk Hogan and The Giant as well as NWO Red with Macho Man Randy Savage and Sting. Raven was even there with the rest of his flock, and various WCW factions that included Goldberg, Roddy Piper, Bret Hart, British Bulldog, and many more such as cruiserweights Chris Jericho and Rey Mysterio Jr.
But what really made these games special was the gameplay engine which ran a little slower than most wrestling games at the time, but allowed you to easily perform grapples and a variety of moves using a strong and weak grappling system; you didn’t need to remember button combos like WWF Warzone or Attitude. You just had to strategically wear your opponent down and eventually fill your special meter to hit your signature move and pin your opponent.
So, as 1999 came about and WWF had finally turned the tables in the Monday Night Wars, they also managed to contract their licence out to THQ and replace WCW. This led to the hugely popular WWF Smackdown series for the Sony Playstation and the continuation of AKI’s excellent Nintendo 64 series. First of all, they released the excellent WWF Wrestlemania 2000 which was released in late 1999, and then in late 2000, they released its sequel, WWF No Mercy, which was the absolute pinnacle of AKI’s western-released series. This game improved upon the others in every way by including better-looking graphics, more moves and their most complete “create a wrestler” mode. Now, they had over sixty wrestlers to choose from, and even some non-wrestlers including everyone’s favourite evil twin referee, Earl Hebner, and even one of the Godfathers Ho’s. The game featured an all-new story mode that closely followed storylines of the era, depending on which championship you chose, and a variety of different matches including the ladder match.
This game is still held aloft by wrestling fans everywhere with spiritual successors in development and a variety of mods to the emulated version, which include high-resolution textures and completely new rosters for all sorts of different wrestling companies and eras.