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Wrestling: The Games I Grappled With

Wrestlemania is here! The largest event on the WWE calendar. This gigantic Pay-Per-View has often been host to some of the most iconic matches in the industry: Hulk Hogan v Andre The Giant, Bret Hart v Shawn Michaels, The Rock v Stone Cold Steve Austin (twice). This year’s event is spread across two nights with several titles on the line. It has been a long time since I was invested with wrestling but there was a brief time during the Attitude Era when it had a big impact on me. The WWE was pretty much the only company I watched as WCW and ECW were incredibly hard to come by. I do recall WCW being on a TV channel I could only get on my holidays. I would watch the highlight shows on Sky, catch delayed coverage of SmackDown on Saturday and record the PPVs on Channel 4. My friends and I would often have wrestling matches, where we crafted our own ridiculous storylines, despite the warnings of “Do Not Try This At Home”. Of course, there were video games to go along with my excitement. Below are some of the video games I played growing up. I won’t cover all the games I had as there’s just so many of them but I will talk about the ones I felt had a lasting effect on me.

WWF War Zone

PlayStation – 1998

WWF War Zone was the very first wrestling game I owned. My friend was big into wrestling at the time and he introduced me to it. We would rent the game every now and again and just play Tornado Tag matches. Eventually, I got my very own copy from Dixons (or Currys or PC World or whatever it’s called now). The game looks incredibly dated now, with moves requiring button combos to pull off moves, similar to how fighting games work. We would print out a copy of the wrestlers’ finishers and see how many we could pull off. The game featured a sizable selection of wrestlers from Stone Cold Steve Austin to Ahmed Johnson (who’s videos were amazing) to the Headbangers. There was also a Create-A-Wrestler mode. It was primitive but I loved it, creating classic wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Brutus The Barber Beefcake (yeah, I don’t know why either). There was a sort of career mode where you progressed through a wrestler’s story, fighting ever challenging opponents. This mode had video call outs that would play as you progressed. Even now, its well worth looking up Ahmed Johnson’s ones.

WWF Attitude

PlayStation – 1999

Acclaim’s sequel to WWF War Zone took everything great about it and made it bigger. The roster was much I proved, with characters such as Al Snow, Steve Blackman, Dr. Death and Sable joining the roster. Create-A-Wrestler was also much improved, with new costumes, selectable moves instead of move sets and a decent Create-An-Entrance feature. The game boasted even more grappling matches and its story mode was a big improvement on the first, even if it didn’t have any of Johnson’s famous promos. I got this the day it was released, along with a WWF Attitude t-shirt I wore until it fell apart. By this time, I was fully invested in wrestling and being able to play as the lower mid-card wrestlers was great. The game still used button combos for finishers but now it had a move list in the menu so I no longer had to write them down. This was probably my most played game with my friend at the time. The only issue I remember is that the roster felt a little out of date as Triple H was getting a big push at the time but they still had him as an emerging talent… or maybe I’m just remembering it wrong…

WWF SmackDown!

PlayStation – 2000

My earliest memories of WWF SmackDown! are a friend telling me all about the backstage areas in the game that he’d read in a gaming magazine. I thought he was mad. I didn’t think there was any way to include the backstage areas. Then when he told me it was going to have one button to pull off finishers, I just laughed in his face. That’s how ridiculous it felt at the time, and yet he would be right. WWF Smackdown! was released while I was away on a school trip abroad. For weeks, I wouldn’t shut up about it and when I got back, it was waiting for me. My mother had picked it up so I would have it when I got home. To try and describe the step up between WWF Attitude and WWF SmackDown! is difficult now but at the time it felt like a gigantic leap. The wrestlers looked crisper, the backstage areas were fantastic and the storylines were amazing. There were some issues though. The wrestler entrances were poor, something which the series continued with into the sequel, and the Create-A-Wrestler was a step back. Instead of being able to customise individual parts, you had to select from pre-rendered heads, torsos and legs. Nonetheless, I loved it. Again, it was a game I played with friends and we would often play Tornado Tag matches. I didn’t think it could get any better.

WWF Wrestlemania 2000

Nintendo 64 – 1999

There are a few reasons I bought a Nintendo 64. My mother was sick of renting one every time I wanted to play Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros. was announced and I was super excited for it, and it had WWF Wrestlemania 2000. I got both Super Smash Bros. and WWF Wrestlemania 2000 with it. WWF Wrestlemania 2000 was a different beast to WWF SmackDown!. It was from a different developer and felt more complex. I hadn’t played WCW/nWo Revenge or WCW vs. nWo: World Tour so I wasn’t familiar with this style of gameplay. It’s grappling style and finisher setups were different to its PlayStation cousin yet I enjoyed it. It had a superior counter system, which was beautifully shown off in its intro video with the Stone Cold v Shawn Michaels Wrestlemania match. The Create-A-Wrestler mode was far better than WWF Smackdown!, its roster had some unique wrestlers, the arenas looked better and it had proper entrances. I wasn’t a fan of how the wrestlers looked but it never bothered me enough to stop playing. I did love its multiplayer action, especially as there were four player ports built into the N64. There was also a Road to Wrestlemania mode that had you replay certain events across the last two years. I never got far in this as I found it difficult but I’ll have to revisit it someday.

WWF SmackDown! 2

PlayStation – 2000

WWF SmackDown! 2 was one of my favourite games on the PlayStation growing up. Its roster was bigger than the first game and its story mode was much improved. It followed the lead up to Wrestlemania 2000, starting with Backlash. This mode, like in other games, was how you unlocked hidden wrestlers, such as Shawn Michaels and the Mean Street Posse. Its backstage areas felt so much bigger and better connected. It had new match types, including the legendary Hell In A Cell. Sure, it didn’t look great but it was there. The Create-A-Wrestler mode was much improved, with you being able to edit outfits rather than selecting a template. Using a multitap, my friends would have all sorts of crazy matches, from King of the Ring tournaments ending in a Table Match (which I lost), to a Championship Scramble. I got this one just before Christmas and spent so much time with it, I unlocked everything fairly quickly, went past the main story in career mode by about five years, and had created all sorts of wrestlers, both real and fake. One little tip, if you start a match with an Irish whip followed by a sidewalk slam (Bossman Slam) that automatically pins, you’ll win in about 6 seconds.

WWF No Mercy

Nintendo 64 – 2000

For many, this is the crème-de-la-crème of wrestling games. Its community is still modding the game, adding in new wrestlers, new promotions or even just updating the roster. The game features a huge selection to choose from, a sizeable number of match types to pick, and an interesting Championship mode. In Championship mode, you select which belt you want to compete for. Then, you complete (or fail) certain objectives as you progress to the Title fight. Depending on how you perform, you may get different paths, for example, losing a match sees Shawn Michaels return and you have to beat him. It’s not as in-depth as WWF Wrestlemania 2000 or WWF SmackDown! 2 but it offers a more personalised experience. It’s Create-A-Wrestler mode is also fantastic. I still have all orts of wrestlers I created from my childhood saved on the cart. The one thing I remember this game most for is its multiplayer. I remember two friends and I competing in a Triple Threat Ladder match. Due to how the stamina system works, it was a tense affair. Every time one of us looked like winning, another would recover just in time. It went on for about forty minutes until I finally one (and I will brag about it to anyone I meet). If you want a wrestling game from this generation, this is probably the best one to pick up.

WCW Backstage Assault

PlayStation – 2000

Not all memories are good and not all wrestling games are created equal. EA’s second attempt at a grappler brought us WCW Backstage Assault. I enjoyed their first entry, WCW Mayhem, even if I never owned it. When I found a copy of WCW Backstage Assault, I snapped it up hoping for a similar experience. Yeah… no… it’s not great. WCW Backstage Assault literally does what it says on the tin. There’s no ring, just backstage areas. Many of the characters are locked from the start, including big name wrestlers such as Bret Hart (I’ll never forgive them for that), requiring multiple playthroughs. The gameplay is worse than WCW Mayhem, feeling stiff and unintuitive. It looks like a mess and the sound effects are… ugh… no really, that’s al you’ll hear. Although I got this at a discount, it was such a waste of money. It now only gets played when I want to show friends how utterly ridiculous it is.

WWF SmackDown! Just Bring It

PlayStation 2 – 2001

WWF SmackDown! Just Bring It was one of the games I got with my PlayStation 2 (the others were Pro Evolution Soccer and Grand Theft Auto III). If you look at the three SmackDown! games on the PlayStation 2, this one definitely stands out. It looks… odd. Not terrible, just odd. The gameplay is the usual grappling mayhem, especially with three friends. You’ll find the usual stuff here: decent selection of match types, good Create-A-Wrestler mode and unlockable wrestlers (and Fred Durst!) Graphically, it is an impressive jump from the second game (it is a new console) but at the time I felt it offered little else. Its fun, don’t get me wrong, but I was hoping for the same leap I had seen with WWF Attitude to WWF SmackDown! or from the first Smackdown! to the second. The story mode is woeful. Its incredibly short, pointless and a big draw back compared to what earlier entries managed. The single player mode just feels so weak. WWE SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth would improve in every way on this and showed what a grappler on the PlayStation 2 could be like. It would also pave the way for one of WWE’s finest entries on the system.

WWE SmackDown! Here Comes The Pain

PlayStation 2 – 2003

I have skipped over WWE SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth just to keep this short. It did some great things, such as expand the backstage roaming sections, introduce a new draft and had excellent story lines that would develop depending on how you performed. WWE SmackDown! Here Comes The Pain took the strengths of its predecessor and improved upon it. Its probably the best entry in the SmackDown! series and my personal favourite. Both Shut Your Mouth and Here Comes The Pain came out while my interest in wrestling was waning. I wasn’t familiar with the rosters and I didn’t know of the storylines. Here Comes The Pain didn’t reinvigorate my interest in wrestling but it did provide me with an excellent game that I sunk hours into. I loved the Season mode, with its branching storylines, the excellent legends you could unlock (this was amazing at the time) and the new match types (some have aged better than others). The grappling system wasn’t much improved from what came before but the character models were marginally improved. It was the small gains, the multiplayer madness and the strongest Season mode of the series to date that really drew me in. It’s still my favourite from the time and one I have to revisit one day just to reexperience the grappling greatness.

After this, my interest in wrestling was gone. Sure, I still picked up games like WWE Wrestlemania 21, WWE SmackDown vs Raw and WWE 2K18 but they never had the same impact the earlier games had on me. What was your favourite wrestling game? Are you excited for the second night of Wrestlemania?

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