home | entertainment

Retro Gaming Review #4: The WWF Edition
by Scrooge McSuck

- Well, it only took until the fourth one of these before I featured a wrestling game edition of it, but that's further in than I originally thought I'd make. I had another set of games lined up originally for the 4th installment, but figured this one would be a lot easier to do without having to attempt to play through three very deep, difficult, side scrollers. Plus, I figured this would be easier to get a few cheap laughs into, at the very least.

As a kid who couldn't have everything he wanted, video game rentals was one of my favorite treats when heading to the local mom and pop stores. During the age of the NES, outside of Contra and the Ninja Turtles Arcade Game, my favorite choices were always either WWF Wrestlemania or WWF Wrestlemania Challenge. If none of those mentioned were there, then I'd rent something I didn't want, play it for five minutes, then let it sit there for the remainder of the 5 days the rental time covered. So, as a child, I thought these were the greatest wrestling games ever. How much has my opinion been effected thanks to new generation systems aimed at making good game? The following will cover a variety of World WRESTLING Federation licensed games from various systems, so we'll be covering a lot of territory when it comes to release dates.

NES Wrestlemania

WWF WrestleMania

Developer: Acclaim
North American Release Date: January 1989
Console: Nintendo Entertainment System

The one that started it all! While wrestling games had been featured on the NES for years before, this was the first to have a licensing agreement with one of the active companies in North America. WWF WrestleMania is a very basic and limited game compared to later releases. There's only six wrestlers featured, something that can easily be over-looked when you consider WWF Superstars was released in the arcades, with far more memory, and only featured six (playable) wrestlers. The real problem is the limited amount of options. Either a singles match or a "tournament" of singles matches, where you wrestle the other five guys. Johnny Cage was right, that is retarded. A tournament has brackets, this is you just wrestling everyone, one after the other until you lose.

Anyway, back to the selectable roster. It's only six, but it's a strong six... Hulk Hogan, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, Andre The Giant, The Honkytonk Man, "Million $ Man" Ted Dibiase, and Bam Bam Bigelow, who was already long gone from the company at the time the game was finally released, a trend that still haunts games to this day due to long production periods and the excessive amount of roster turn-overs. Graphically, things could be worse. If you were to throw me into this game, with a mild understanding of wrestling at the time, I could identify everyone. Hogan has long yellow hair and orange skin, Savage wears sunglasses, Andre has his singlet and is far superior in size, Bigelow is shorter but has his tattoo'ed head and flamed trunks, Honky has his goofy hair, and Dibiase... well, he's kind of generic looking. Everyone wrestles, or I should say, fights differently, too. Except Dibiase, who kind of does generic stuff. I'm sensing a pattern. I say fighting because everything is button mashing punch-kick. I don't think there's such a thing as locking up and slamming anyone, but it took me YEARS to learn to pin people, so maybe I'm still figuring things out. Oh, and there's "special items" to help you out for strength. They range from the obvious (flames for Bigelow, dollars for Dibiase, sunglasses for Savage) to the ridiculous (a giant... foot? for Andre) to the blasphemus (a cross for Hogan). I know he wore a cross, but to make it the signature item for his special powers? That comes across as just mildly offensive to religious folks.

As mentioned earlier, there's only two options to play. Either a regular, one-on-one match, or a "tournament". So I'll select someone at random... and it's Andre The Giant. Kickass! No one can stand up to the power of gigantism. Here's where I would usually make a tasteless joke, but I'll skip it here. First opponent is... the Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase! The Mega Bucks Explode! The A1 seems to have a bit of an issue when it comes to attacking the opponent, as the Dibiase sprite seems to wander around aimlessly, barely making an attempt to fight. And what in the HELL is Girls in Cars doing, being used as Dibiase's fight music?! Seriously!?! GIRLS IN CARS?! Defeated him and his fruity taste in music quite easily with an assortment of punches, kicks, and headbutts. Next opponent... Bam Bam Bigelow! Time to recreate that Madison Square Garden classic these two had! Two bad Andre doesn't do a form of a bearhug in this game. The black back-drop to the ring almost makes this feel like it's an old MSG Show, too! Anyway, Bigelow is about 800 times more up for this than Dibiase, and whoops my ass. I do my best to fight back, but Bigelow ends up pinning me. That was lame...

Not as lame as selecting none other than HULK HOGAN for the rematch(es)! First is Dibiase again, and as expected, he goes down in about 30-seconds. Then Bigelow whoops me again, thanks to him getting about 14 power ups in a 20-second span, while I recieve none, and the horrible pin attempt button combination (B and Up and Down) fustigating me while I had Bigelow down and out. Fucking Bam Bam...

That does it, Bam Bam gets the call! And he's AWFUL to control, thanks to his short range of attacking, plus Dibiase's cowardly fighting technique. The first match actually goes to a Time Limit Draw! Rematch time, and I barely win with a few seconds to spare. Second match is wiith... the Honkytonk Man! Oh my GOD, what is wrong with his picture on the screen?

Honky Tonk Man

He looks like my grandmother in drag... or maybe my grandfather in drag. Either way, he whoops my ass because he can move a hell of a lot better than Bigelow's short, fat ass, and I lose. Yes, we know, in reality, Honky was very not that athletic, while Bigelow was, but this is a video game dammit, so try and take everything with a huge handful of salt. Anyway, I'm done with this game dicking me over with terrible controls and poorly balanced out A1, so we'll just move onto the next game in our run...

WWF WrestleMania Challenge

WWF WrestleMania Challenge

Developer(s): Rare Ltd. / LJN
North American Release Date: November 1990
Console: Nintendo Entertainment System

Onto the second of four WWF games to be released on the original Nintendo, but the last of the bunch we'll be covering. WrestleMania was nearly two years old at this point, so I'm sure anyone that bought the game back in the day had it stashed away in the closet after countless frustrating matches with shit-ass controls. Again, back to my childhood... this was THE game to me. I remember fondly my brother and I playing it together, doing tag matches. I would take great pleasure in selecting Andre, and butt-dropping anyone he dare pit against me. I've always been a bit of a sore winner. While we're on the subject, don't ever play Monopoly with me. I take great pleasure in putting people in the poor house, but that's a tale for another time.

There's some vast differences between WM and WM Challenge, but vast in the era of 8-bit video games means "adding a new sprite" or "new 3-note tune." First, the obvious... expansion in selectable wrestlers. This time we're up to Nine, but to be fair, one is a "Yourself", a generic jobber you can control as, well, you. The "real" wrestlers.... Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake, "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan, Andre The Giant, "Macho King" Randy Savage, "Ravishing" Rick Rude, and the Big Boss Man. Not too shabby, an impressive collection of top of the card performers... if this were the Summer of 1989, when the game first went into production, I'm sure. By the Fall of 1990, half of these guys were either gone or demoted down the card to the point their spot could've been used for someone else.

Second, the graphics have been improved upon, to the best the NES could do, I guess. First, there's a crowd now, so we're no longer sitting in a black room. Second, the ring view has changed to an over-head diamond view, so it's no longer a side-scrolling wrestling game, allowing action to be taken all around the ring. Second, while the sprites are a little smaller, everyone looks like they should, in a cartoony colorful way. Warrior has his face paint and big hair, Andre is much larger than everyone, Boss Man is really huge with his cop outfit, and Beefcake is wearing hot pink everything. I'm not going to complain here, as I really loved the graphics as a child, and that was the key demographc, of course. The sound is approved on, slightly, with wrestler themes being used as background music. Well, those who HAD theme music at the time the game went to production. Made up tunes for Duggan, Andre, and Boss Man are obvious. Plus there's an actual noise for pinfall counts, so we're not looking for magic floating numbers to guide us to see if we made the pin or not. Also, the action can spill outside the ring, and did I mention Tag Teams? Yes! On top of the usual single player tournament crap, you can do tag matches, as well as 3-on-3 Survivor Series matches! Oh the joy I used to have with this game!

Since we tried the Tournament Mode in the original WrestleMania, let's go and take a chance with the 3-on-3 Elimination Tag Team Match! You can select your partners, but the opponents are chosen at random.

WrestleMania Challenge

Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Brutus Beefcake vs. Big Boss Man, Rick Rude, Andre The Giant! Wow, talk about a match for the ages! Hogan and Boss Man rekindle the rivalry from nearly 18-months prior to this games release. Hogan shows off his amazing strength, body slamming the Boss Man over and over again to make the first pinfall of the match. From here, it's all downhill for the Mega Ultimate Maniacs. Warrior and Rude have some good video game chemistry, but after several Rude Awakenings, and a timely tag to Andre, the Warrior is finished. Beefcake comes in next, and is literally gone seconds later, thanks to Andre as well. Hogan puts up the fight of his life, slamming the 1023 pound Andre The Giant through the center of the earth, all the way to China, but he succumbs to the Ravishing one, leaving Rick Rude and Andre The Giant the Survivors of the match. And to think, neither man was on WWF television anymore at the time of this games release...

Compared to the original Wrestlemania, I actually had fun trying to win my match, and while the A1 sprites were playing a lot of running around, the character sprites move a lot smoother, and the controls seem less clunky. Add into the effect you can do a grapple move or two, as well as (in some cases) special moves, then this game allows a little bit more than "punch-kick" marathons like in the original. Still, there could be room for improvement, but sadly, we will NOT examine Steel Cage Challenge, which doesn't make an improvement, and King of the Ring, which I do not have, is just an average game without anything to write home about, so we'll skip to the next Generation...

Super NES

WWF Super WrestleMania

Developer: Scultured Software / LJN Ltd.
North American Release Date: March 1992
Console: Super Nintendo Entertainment System

I would like to point out that there's also a Super WrestleMania available on the Sega Genesis, and while the gameplay structure is the same, there's a slight difference in rosters (size and choices), as well as the ability to perform finishing manuevers, although you can do them at any point during a match, making them less special after the 10th or 11th time. It doesn't matter, because right now, we're focusing on the Super NES version of Super WrestleMania. Again, before I owned a copy of a WWF game, this was a very frequent rental, along with F-Zero and A Link To The Past. Eventually I got a copy of the latter, because renting that game and trying to beat it in such limited amounts of time was impossible for a seven year old.

Again, we have some improvements. Like always, I'll start with the choice of wrestlers available to play with... Hulk Hogan, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, The Undertaker, Sid Justice, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, "Million $ Man" Ted Dibiase, The Legion of Doom, and The Natural Disasters. For the most part, a roster that's fairly accurate for its time of release. While the roster size has increased, everyone, sadly, is exactly the same size. The 200 pound Randy Savage is nearly identical to the 400+ pounders Earthquake and Typhoon, and he's roughly the same height as the 6'10" Sid Jusitce. While the early NES games were flawed, at least they tried to distinguish size among all the wrestlers. Another "improvement" is adding more detail into the crowds, as well as having (I think) Vince McMahon and Bobby Heenan sprites at ringside, motioning things along with the action in the ring. It was cool for 1992, dammit! We also have a NEW grapple system, which, depending on the difficulty setting (another new edition), can either be pointless or frustrating to the point your controller will be chucked through the television screen in front of you. Is it really worth 30-seconds of button mashing (momentum tug-of-wars) to pull of a damn suplex? Also, top rope action has become much easier, but everyone does the same generic move, so it's rendered pointless after so many times.

As for match options, it's pretty much the same as Wrestlemania Challenge. You have singles, tag teams, and now, a 4-on-4 Elimination Tag Team Match, as well as the obvious Tournament (or Gauntlet) modes, of course. As much as I love playing through the Tag Team matches, I just wish there was something unique to this game to keep things fresh, but a las, we're going to have to go with the stand-by Survivor Series Match as our example to see the gameplay.

The Match! Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Hawk and Animal vs. Earthquake, Typhoon, Ted Dibiase, and The Undertaker! Howard Finkel gives us the introductions of the teams, courtesy of text messages, of course, but hey, it's an improvement over simply being thrusts into the match without warning, I guess. First thing I noticed... there's NO background music, and the crowd is dead, with minimal reactions to the actual moves performed. The tug-of-war becomes a pain in the ass, as the button mashing hurts my thumbs. After a few minutes of learning, to controls, Typhoon is gone first thanks to a few slams from Hawk. Next up, Animal takes a bit of a whooping from the Undertaker, before being finished off by Dibiase. For the next fall, it's a spirited little match between Savage and Dibiase. Savage eventually comes out on top, finishing Dibiase off with a slam and top rope elbow smash. Earthquake is gone next, also courtesy of Hawk, leaving a tired Undertaker left by himself, and he's quickly dispatched at the hands of the Immortal, Hulk Hogan, making Hogan, Savage, and Hawk the Survivors. Only Animal was a casualty for his team.

While I appreciate the effort in making the A1 competant and competitive, I must express, once again, how tedious (and sometimes, unbalanced) the grappling system was, and the lack of ANY background noise really makes it a bit boring to sit through. I also would appreciate being able to select my own opponents. If you tried to play this game more than once, you will notice that depending on who you select, you will almost ALWAYS get the same opponent. For example, if you do one on one, and choose Savage, your opponent 9 out of 10 times is Jake Roberts. If you do tag teams, it's always LOD vs. Natural Disasters. Or Hawk vs. Earthquake/Animal vs. Typhoon if you split them for singles matches. What if I wanted to do Hawk vs. Animal, huh? A match we ALL wanted to see... never happen. Blech, these bad games are making me tired. Can I please get ONE truly enjoyable game out of this bunch?

Royal Rumble

WWF Royal Rumble

Developer: Acclaim / LJN Ltd.
North American Release Date: June 1993
Console: Super Nintendo Entertainment System

If you ever wanted to know the video game equivilant of crack was to me, it was THIS game. I remember getting this as a christmas present, and played the unholy hell out of it for years, even into the age of the PSone and N64. In a nutshell, this was the best a console could get to recreating the wonder that was WrestleFest, the arcade classic that ate a lot of my quarters for years. I'm not saying this game is like that exactly, but everything works, and the new features obviously bring back memories of the arcade, as well.

First, as with Super WrestleMania, Royal Rumble was released on the Genesis, but with a drastically different roster. The SNES roster consisted of the following: "Macho Man" Randy Savage, Bret "Hitman" Hart, Mr. Perfect, The Undertaker, Tatanka, Crush, Ric Flair, "Million $ Man" Ted Dibiase, Shawn Michaels, Yokozuna, "The Narcissist" Lex Luger and Razor Ramon. The Genesis version went with a more "older fans" direction, including Hulk Hogan, Jim Duggan, Rick Martel, I.R.S., and Papa Shango (okay, not THAT much older), but that game isn't being featured here, so we'll just get right back on track with the SNES Rumble.

This game not only features more wrestlers than before, but a lot more gameplay options. There's singles, singles tournament, tag team, tag team tournament, six-man tag matches, no holds barred brawls, and, of course, the Royal Rumble Match itself. Also, difficulty settings range from 1-10 instead of the three basics of easy, medium, and hard. You also have the ability of selecting your own opponents, if you're just going up against the computer.

Then, you have the audio improvements. Other than the obvious inclusion of wrestler entrance music for the select screen, the crowd has life to it for the entire duration of matches, action sounds realistic, instead of the odd farting noises moves made in Super WrestleMania, and the sickening smack of a steel chair (yes, CHAIRS!) against an opponents head still makes me smile. Then there's controls. PERFECT! No sticky, lagging actions, the grapple system, while tedious on extreme difficulties, is less agitating, and everything flows wonderfully. Finally... FINISHING MOVES! ALL OF THEM! Too bad there's no way to win by submission, thanks to people like Bret Hart, Crush, Ric Flair, and Ted Dibiase having submission based finishers, or win with a pinning combination finisher, like Mr. Perfect's or Yokozuna's. But how about Savage pointing to the heavens before crashing down with an elbow? Or planting someone with the tombstone piledriver? Or... uh... whatever the hell Shawn did? Also, there's referees to beat up on (REF BUMPS!), illegal holds, and, well, I think I've said everything, but damn, do I love this game!

Let's see, what option should I choose to play for my enjoyment. I know... it's Royal Rumble Match, time! I'm going to select my favorite, Bret Hart, and he's obviously going to be the #1 entrant. Entrant #2 is... Randy Savage! I opt to try and do the speed-run victory, but I botch it, forgetting how to perform a hip toss, so I let the match go the distance. #3 is Mr. Perfect, #4 is the Undertaker, #5 is Tatanka, and #6 is Razor Ramon, with nothing much happening. Ramon is the first casualty, at the hands of the Hitman. #7 is Crush, and forshadowing events in real life, goes after Savage, devestating him with the Cranium Crush, and tosses him out shortly after. #8 is Ric Flair, and he surprisingly eliminates the Undertaker. #9 is Yokozuna. In a cute spot, Bret applies the sharpshooter on Perfect while Flair has the Figure-Four on Crush, and at the same time, Yokozuna sends Tatanka packing for North Carolina. #10 is Shawn Michaels, and Crush, after withstanding so much punishment, is tossed as the second victim for Hart. #11 is the Narcissist, and Yokozuna is next, surprisingly at the hands of Flair. He's gotten rid of TWO monsters in this match, is this Flair's night? #12 and the last entrant is Ted Dibiase, no doubt buying his number. Ric Flair is tossed by the Hitman, #3 on his list so far. Shawn Michaels takes a whomping before finally getting sent packing by the Million Dollar Man. Dibiase, pressing his luck, attempted a charge at the Hitman, but was casually tossed, then Bret quickly sent Luger packing, surprising him from behind as he choked down Mr. Perfect, leaving us Bret vs. Perfect as the finale. After some back-and-forth action, Bret was still the fresher of the two with about an eighth of his energy bar in tact, and finally claimed victory at 7:36 (the game kept track of elimination times! YAY!).

Obviously, I still can have a huge blast playing this game, but I think because I grew up playing it all the time, I have a slight case of favortism towards it. If there's any negatives I can think of, the grapple system still isn't perfect, and Yokozuna is the same size as Bret Hart, a problem that carried over from Super WrestleMania. I guess you could say the roster was somewhat weak compared to some earlier titles, but 1993 WWF was in a little bit of a lull, and guys like Tatanka, Crush, and Yokozuna were prominently featured. Outside of Ric Flair, I believe everyone featured in the game was still active at the time of release, and to be fair to Flair, his departure was a bit of a surprise, and the game was obviously too deep in production already for the SNES Title (I think he was replaced in the Genesis version). Geez, I'd hate to be the last game featured, trying to top that one...

In Your House

WWF In Your House

Developer: Acclaim
North American Release Date: October 31st, 1996
Console: PlayStation (One)

Remember Mortal Kombat? This the Acclaim and the WWF's attempt at recreating that magic, and we all know, capturing lightning in a bottle twice is next to impossible. We're greeted with an opening video featuring WWF action, and in particular, the superstars featured in this game, to the tune that was used as the theme song for Monday Night Raw. But I thought this was titled IN YOUR HOUSE? Where's that disgusting excuse for a theme? I must say, it's an obvious welcome from the old sprite introductions (or generic, logo start screen), so all's good so far, right?

We've got ten selectable wrestlers, and it's a pretty good cast, too. We've got Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Ahmed Johnson, Vader, Owen Hart, The British Bulldog (CAMP CORNETTE REPRESENT!), Goldust, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, and... The Ultimate Warrior? Yeah, well, okay, so Warrior was long gone and wiped from history by the WWF at this point, but you take what you get, right? 1996 was a very weak year in terms of star power, so outside of someone like, say, Mankind, who was very new and not a recognizable name to put in production as early as his run was, I think what we got here is the best we could have expected.

Vince McMahon's screaming voice guiding you through the menu screens and doing all the commentary becomes annoying very fast, and blink and you'll miss the very rare and short comments from Mr. Perfect. Also, it seems like they got lazy with the name introductions, as there's weird audio sync'ing for the Hart's names, while everyone elses, as far as I noticed, is smooth. Visually, the game isn't too bad. It's an early PSone game, so obviously, it's just a somewhat better, top of the line, Super NES game. For those who played the Wrestlemania Arcade Game on SNES, it's basically the same structure, except the backgrounds are more wrestling related, a.k.a, just a ring and generic crowd. Here, everyone has their own "arena", as I would call it. For the wrestlers I've played through and noticed, Shawn has a Heartbreak Hotel complete with a band(?), Bret has the Hart Dungeon, Warrior is in some weird desert being watched by NATIVE AMERICANS, Ahmed Johnson is given the generic treatment of being in the locker room, and so on.

Then, the controls. What a mess. So far, everything was going fine, but the controls are awkward as shit, and having the game at such a high octane speed makes it more frustrating trying to adapt mid-matches. I was basically relegated to button mashing, as I knew none of the combos, and mashed buttons together trying to pull off moves, and so far, as Bret Hart, I managed a crucifix pin and a reverse atomic drop. Oh, and there's no true "pinfalls" in a "1-2-3" sense. Once you or the opponent is depleted of energy, a simple cover wins the match, no counts necessary. And, like in all fighting games, it's best ouf of 3 fights. As mentioned, I played through as Bret Hart, and got four fights into "WWF Season" (also available is "Intercontinental and WWF Championship"). After wrestling Shawn Michaels and Ultimate Warrior in "Wrestlemania Matches That Were Supposed to Happen According To Bret Hart", Bret got to wrestle himself, and shockingly, Vince doesn't declare that Bret screwed Bret while calling the action. I finally fell victim to Ahmed Johnson, who seems to fight a little cheaply, compared to everyone else. Oh well, by that fight, I was bored with this anyway. I was going to play through as someone else, but I figured it would be more of the same.

It's obvious that I did not play this game until years after its original release, because I don't have fond memories or stories of playing it, so I've become a little bit more nit-picky about it than the previous games. While I don't consider it a bad game, it's just not a fun game, and when it comes to video games, fun is the most important part of the equation. A game can be of subpar quality but be fun as hell (a lot of NES titles, like Pinball, or Burger Time, anyone?) because of the simplicity to them that makes you want to give it another go, but for the era of In Your House, fighting games were plentiful, and this one added nothing to the market, other than another title ripping off Mortal Kombat, except for a PG Audience.

Final Thoughts: The progressive nature of my gamer experiences is clearly defined by these selections. We started out with stuff that brings back nostalgic memories, despite lackluster qualities, then we advance to the time where the games meant more to me when it came to quality, and has forever been put up on a pedestal, to be judged as the supreme ruler among it's similar compadres. Finally, we have the point where games turned into something that was nit-picked, and if there was even the most minor of flaws, then it's time to bring out the torches and pitch forks. Much like in television form, I guess it's easier to explain these kinds of reactions using wrestling as my subject.