Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Look Back at the Nintendo 64 Wrestling Games

From about 1994-98, I didn’t play console video games. I had discovered the world of PC gaming and left behind my days of playing video games hooked up to a television. Most of the games I wanted to play were exclusive to PC and I really didn’t care about playing the Playstation or Nintendo 64. Mario 64 and Crash Bandicoot didn’t impress me as much as Command and Conquer or Doom. I couldn’t imagine any reason for wanting to pick up another console.


When professional wrestling blew up in 1997-98, my casual fandom turned rabid. Twenty-four hours a day, my mind was on wrestling. I acquired enough wrestling shirts to wear a different one every single day of the month. My entire life was dedicated to educating myself about wrestling and enjoying it to the fullest extent. Enjoying it meant catching up on all the video games I had missed out on since Royal Rumble on the Genesis.

I was shocked to see that not many wrestling games had come out. Wrestling lost its mojo in the mid-90’s and video game companies lost their interest as well. The landscape on PC was especially bare, with only WCW Nitro and WWF Wrestlemania Arcade available for purchase. WCW Nitro was newer and had some cool features such as video taunts, but it was arguably one of the worst and most unresponsive games I’ve ever played. WWF Wrestlemania Arcade was a blast, but it was dated by 1997 and had more in common with Mortal Kombat than anything I saw on Raw.


I was desperate to live out my wrestling dreams in a video game, and when WWF Warzone began advertising during WWF events, I just about lost it. The graphics were amazing and it contained all of my favorite wrestlers. It was everything I wanted in a video game, but sadly, it was only coming out for the Playstation and Nintendo 64. My interest in console gaming went from zero to sixty in one thirty-second commercial. Too bad there was no way my dad was going to buy me a new gaming console when he just upgraded our computer a couple months earlier.


Like all resourceful kids, I decided to team up with my little brother in an attempt to score a gaming system. We decided to put our money together and combine our upcoming Christmas presents in exchange for a system of our choice. It was a great plan that even impressed my dad. Now, we just needed to decide what system we wanted.

We had recently moved to Dallas, Texas where we knew no one and had no friends. There wasn’t anyone that I could borrow a Playstation or N64 from, so we decided to do the next best thing: rent one. At the time Blockbuster would rent you a video game system in exchange for a deposit of $200 and $30 for five nights. I think we had a harder time convincing my dad to put up the deposit money than to actually get us a system that year.


We rented the Playstation first along with WWF Warzone and a couple other forgetful games. I remember being so let down by the graphics, controller, and the load times. However, Warzone was great and being disappointed in the other stuff was minor compared to how fun it was to finally be Stone Cold Steve Austin. By the end of our rental, I was sure we were going to buy the Playstation just for Warzone. No other games mattered anyway, I planned to keep playing my PC games.

The next weekend we rented the Nintendo 64. I wasn’t really interested in renting it since I felt we were wasting valuable time that we could be buying and enjoying our own Playstation. My brother insisted though, since he wanted to try out Mario 64, and I couldn’t risk putting our new and fragile alliance in jeopardy by upsetting him, so I kept my mouth shut.

I had given up on Nintendo a few years earlier when I got my Sega Genesis. I got caught up in the whole Sega vs. Nintendo war and had sided with the blue spikey dude. It was silly, since Super Mario World was my favorite game and I really didn’t have any issue with Nintendo other than Sega’s marketing had made it look like a little kid’s machine. Mario’s smiling face on the Mario 64 box only reinforced that idea all these years later, so I had no interest in playing it. Instead, I rented WWF Warzone on the Nintendo 64.


I remember opening up the hard plastic case to look at the Nintendo 64 and seeing the controller that was waiting. If I described the Playstation controller as disappointing, I’d describe the Nintendo 64 controller as downright disgusting. I had no idea how anyone could play with such a funny looking controller. It just looked so stupid; I didn’t even want to try it out. But then I remembered it was for Warzone, and I was willing to play using my feet if I had to.

We got home, played Warzone first, and I was surprised by how well the controller worked. I found myself liking it better than the Playstation controller, but I still viewed the whole machine as childish. It didn’t help when my brother put in Mario 64 and the bright colors popped up on screen and Mario began speaking. I remember sitting on my bed flipping through a wrestling magazine rolling my eyes at his childish delight in playing Mario. Then a few minutes later I started helping him get through the level by pointing out things. Then I had to make a couple jumps for him, and then the next thing I know, I’m sitting on the floor grinning like an idiot loving every second of Mario 64. I would never admit it at the time, but it was a thousand times better than Warzone and really influenced our decision to get a Nintendo 64 over a Playstation.


After our rental period was over, we took a trip to FuncoLand where we bought a used Nintendo 64 and a copy of WWF Warzone and Mario 64. We played both games every free moment that we could for the next two months. Then we visited my mom for Christmas, and she shocked us with several Nintendo 64 games. She knew about my love for James Bond, so she got me Goldeneye. My brother got Wave Race 64. Then she got one game for us to share, WCW Revenge.

I’ll never forget being a little disappointed. I wasn’t ungrateful, because with those three games, we had officially more games for one system than we ever had for any particular system. It was just that my love for WCW was waning and I was slowly becoming a WWF guy. I didn’t have any interest in playing a WCW game that looked like a cartoon. I was all about those real life graphics like Warzone had. But history was about to repeat itself, I was about to find out how wrong my impression of WCW Revenge truly was.

We tried out Goldeneye and Wave Race first. My brother wasn’t really interested in playing Revenge, so it got that odd man out Christmas present treatment. I was excited to finally get to play as Diamond Dallas Page and Hulk Hogan, so I knew I had that going for me at least. After it loaded, we were greeted by a very cool intro video. Then came some awesome menu music and a crazy large roster of wrestlers.


I was impressed with the presentation and selection of wrestlers, but once the gameplay began I became frustrated. It didn’t play like Warzone and I just couldn’t figure out how everything worked. It took me about half an hour to break my Warzone button memory and finally embrace the flow and workings of WCW Revenge. It was so simple, it was hard to adapt to. I was used to playing War Zone which played like a really bad fighting game. Once I got Revenge’s flow down pat, I realized that I was playing a much better video game.


In fact, WCW Revenge was way better than WWF Warzone. It didn’t have The Undertaker or The Rock, but the gameplay could easily be described as being perfect. There was a large move set for each wrestler that actually represented the wrestler’s own move sets and abilities. The graphics, while cartoony, actually looked better and more realistic in their movement. I was unable to find any element of the game that Warzone was actually better at. WCW Revenge was my new go to wrestling game.

I got online in order to research WCW Revenge some, and found out there was a game prior to it called WCW/nWo World Tour, made by the same company called AKI. It had fewer wrestlers and more of an international presence but it ran on the same gameplay engine, just one that wasn’t nearly as developed as Revenge’s.


Around the time I was finally able to secure a copy of WCW/nWo World Tour, I saw this magazine cover and about lost my mind.


Yes, AKI, the makers of WCW Revenge were now making a WWF game called Wrestlemania 2000. The game was going to expand on what WCW Revenge had started. It had more wrestlers, more venues, different match modes, and a story mode. The graphics got a boost and so did the animation smoothness. The only real trade off was the frame rate here and there.


WWF Wrestlemania 2000 was the game I was hoping WWF Warzone to be. It was perfect in every way. The Create-A-Wrestler was especially impressive and thanks to the internet, you could now print off templates to help you design any wrestler you wanted. I was finally able to realize my dream of seeing classic Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior battle it out in a modern ring and not suck.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, WWF No Mercy was announced. It was yet another upgrade on the same engine that powered Wrestlemania 2000, WCW Revenge, and WCW/nWo World Tour. No Mercy had better graphics, more wrestlers, a deeper storyline, and even more match types. Again, the only trade off was the frame rate, that suffered deeply when you had a lot of weapons in the ring or during a ladder match. But overall, the game was solid and a ton of fun.


Acclaim, makers of War Zone continued to churn out wrestling games during this time. They made a sequel to War Zone called Attitude that was released prior to Wrestlemania 2000. After they lost the WWF rights, they signed ECW, a smaller organization out of Philadelphia. I was a huge ECW fan, so it was like a dream come true to see them actually get not one, but two video games. Sadly, they ran on the same old War Zone engine and it did not age well. It was playable, but it seemed really out of place in a world where No Mercy ruled all.


WCW went on to sign a deal with EA. EA released WCW Mayhem in 1999, which was actually pretty decent. It looked and played better than the ECW games, but it couldn’t compete with the AKI games. Still, it was an impressive debut for a new wrestling engine. Sadly, they decided to follow it up with a game that focused on wrestling anywhere but in a wrestling ring. It wasn’t nearly as well received, despite being a decent wrestling game.


Here is how I view the wrestling games on the Nintendo 64. I’ve broken them into three categories: main eventer, mid-carders, and jobbers. Several of these games (especially the Acclaim titles) could easily slide in and out of mid-card and jobber. I tried to take into considerate the time when they were released and the polish of the game without comparing it too hard to the AKI games.

Main Eventers:


WCW Revenge (1998) - The game that really started my love for the AKI games. The roster was stacked with 63 wrestlers from WCW in 1998: Sting, Chris Jericho, Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Bret Hart, The Giant, and Rey Mysterio were some of the highlights. There wasn’t a story mode, but there were a series of matches that led to winning different championship belts and unlocking hidden wrestlers. The different venues looked fantastic and the wrestling was super smooth. While the game didn’t have the depth and options that its successors did, I would argue that overall it played better. It was smoother and more consistent.


WWF Wrestlemania 2000 (1999) - I loved Wrestlemania 2000 when it came out, but put it away once No Mercy was released. Years later, I went back and played both games and found that I enjoyed Wrestlemania 2000 more than No Mercy. Similar to Revenge, I felt the gameplay was smoother than No Mercy. The roster was really a who’s who of the Attitude era with over fifty wrestlers included. Great wrestlers like: Stone Cold, The Rock, Undertaker, Kane, HHH, Mick Foley, etc. All of the wrestlers could be edited and extra costumes could be made for each one. The career mode allowed you to start off as a jobber and you slowly worked your way up to the heavyweight title. It was the first game to really make you feel like you were progressing through a wrestler’s career.


WWF No Mercy (2000) - This is the game most consider to be the greatest wrestling game of all-time and it really is hard to argue. The storyline is great, the match options are extensive, and the roster is just simply amazing. THQ and AKI pushed the limits of the Nintendo 64 and I think that’s what hurt the frame rate when too many objects came on the screen at once. Of course, no one complained then and it’s really a nitpicky thing to complain about now. The game was great. The graphical improvement between Revenge and No Mercy is staggering. So is the large amount of new moves that were added over the years between releases. The game did have to cut some things from Wrestlemania 2000 such as long entrances and themes, I’m guessing so that they could fit everything on the cart. Ladder matches were added, backstage areas could be fought in, and everyone loved putting their opponents through the announcers table. The addition of the Smackdown Mall, where you could buy different wrestlers, clothing items, and other assorted randomness was arguably the best addition. It took a long time to buy everything which added a ton of replay value to a game that had a staggering branching storyline in the career mode.


WCW Mayhem (1999) - Some might argue that WCW Mayhem is not in the same league as Wrestlemania 2000 and No Mercy, and I’d agree. However, if you look at the game by itself, it was pretty darn good. The graphics went the realistic route similar to War Zone, but looked tremendously better. The gameplay was smooth, and all the wrestlers represented themselves well despite the lack of moves. The game was the first to include backstage areas and also to include all twelve pay-per-view venues along with the TV shows. One of the coolest features involved codes that were given out on the actual WCW Nitro TV show. These codes could be entered and it would pre-populate the entire upcoming pay-per-view in your video game. It was sort of a precursor to what many sport games do today with real life schedules and match ups.

The lack of story mode and diverse match listings made it look bare compared to the AKI games, but you’ve got to remember, this was a brand new game with a new developer to the genre and a new property. I think it was a great start and was a step in the right direction for future games. Sadly, the true sequel, WCW Mayhem 2 was being developed by AKI in 2001, but was canceled once WCW was purchased by the WWF.

Mid Carders:


WWF Attitude (1999) - I sometimes wonder if War Zone was really as bad as it seemed, or if it was just put to shame by the AKI games. Attitude was the sequel to War Zone and it upgraded the entire WWF experience. It had more wrestlers, better sound, entrance themes, commentary, and an impressive amount of match types like Last man Standing, I Quit, TKO, First Blood, Finishers Only, Royal Rumble, Survivor Series, and King of the Ring. There was also a career mode where you worked your way up from winning at house shows all the way to pay per views. All together it was a very impressive package of a game that was only hurt by its own tedious gameplay.


WCW Backstage Assault (2000) - I could easily rank this as a jobber due to it not having a frigging wrestling ring in it, but… I’m trying to look at the game without a bias like that. The game was a product of the whole hardcore movement that was going on at the time. The hardcore matches usually stunk, but they got ratings and were entertaining to watch. I think EA was attempting to capture the fun of watching these whacky matches and turn it into a video game. They just should have left the ability to wrestle in a ring in the game as well. The collision detection was improved quite a bit from Mayhem, which made the game play better. Sadly, without a wrestling ring, it just didn’t feel like a wrestling game.


WCW/nWo World Tour (1997) - This game was the basis for the other AKI games to follow. It established that a simple grappling system is way more enjoyable to play with then some complicated button smashing like War Zone had. The game play is solid, but the graphics are pretty terrible and the roster is disappointing. It was probably the best wrestling game on the market prior to WCW Revenge, but I have a hard time giving it main event status when it was so limited. There were no belts, create-a-wrestler, a story mode or ring entrances. The game (like the ECW games) didn’t really feel like a WCW game. It was just a wrestling game that happened to have a few WCW wrestlers in it and played well.

Jobbers:


ECW Hardcore Revolution (2000) – This game followed WWF Attitude and was basically a copy of it with ECW logos. The match types were the same, just with different names. Even the career mode was identical, so Acclaim had to create a title (The Acclaim Title) to provide enough championships to win since ECW only had three titles at the time. Joey Styles did a one man commentary that was superior to Jerry Lawler and Shane McMahon’s in Attitude, but the game felt… cheap. It was ECW by name only. The only attempt at making the game hardcore was the addition of a barbwire match which was something not seen outside of Japan’s Fire Pro Wrestling series.


WWF War Zone (1998) – This is the game that started it all for me. WWF War Zone was an ambitious attempt at bringing the real life WWF onto a home gaming console. In a lot of regards they succeed, but they also failed. I feel bad putting it in the jobber category since it was a brand new game in the same regard as WCW Mayhem, but going back and playing the two its clear which game was made better. Then again, nobody ever accused Acclaim of producing quality games. This wasn’t to say the game wasn’t successful because it was very successful. I just think the success was due to the popularity of the WWF and not the actual game.


WCW Nitro (1998) – WCW Nitro looked pretty good, but played terrible. The only redeeming part of this game was the cheesy mini promos each wrestler would cut at the player select screen. They were filmed on a green screen and were just a couple seconds long, but it was so different it was memorable. Sadly, that is the only memorable thing about this game and those weren’t even featured in the Nintendo 64 version! The rants/promos were only on PC and Playstation. This game was a stinker.

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