Kickin’ It Old School – Wrestlemania

Wrestlemania time is a special time for the wrestling industry and its fans alike. It’s like the Super Bowl, World Series and Stanley Cup all rolled into one. Maybe I should add the World Cup into that, too, but soccer sucks, so I won’t. What doesn’t suck is Wrestlemania. It’s the time of the year when everyone steps it up a notch; even guys like Giant Gonzalez seem a bit more mobile at the big show.

The first Wrestlemania I watched was Wrestlemania VIII. My older brother was a fan, and I watched with him to see the guy I had recently discovered was the coolest person in the world, Shawn Michaels, and stayed to see the Ultimate Warrior run out to help Hulk Hogan at the end. I had no idea who the Warrior was, but he was awesome, and that was enough to make me a fan for life.

But, seeing as this is a column about video games and not a column about wrestling, the above two paragraphs are rather tangential, so lets just move on. Wrestlemania video games fall into two groups: simple, harmless fun, and “oh my God, how did this get released?” Wrestlemania XIX on the Gamecube immediately springs to mind as an example of the latter. It’s rather perplexing that the biggest WWF WWE show of the year doesn’t translate to the best wrestling games out there. Regardless, here are some of my favorites.

WWF Wrestlemania Challenge (NES, 1990)

Oh hell yea. This game was awesome. The roster was rather small, consisting of “Macho King” Randy Savage, the Ultimate Warrior, Rick Rude, Brutus “the Barber” Beefcake, Andre the Giant, the Big Boss Man, Jim Duggan, Hulk Hogan and “Yourself”. If you choose to play as Yourself, you face every other wrestler in the game, one after the next, on your way to becoming WWF Champion. Whether Yourself is supposed to be you, the one holding the controller, or some random, generic jobber whose name just happens to be “Yourself” has stumped me for years. He certainly looks pretty generic, although to be honest, I’m not going to pretend to have the look Vince McMahon would like for his wrestlers, so maybe Yourself really is an accurate rendering of me.

Anyway, the game is played from a different perspective than its sequels. The ring is rotated 90 degrees; it’s like a diamond instead of a square. This can be pretty hard to navigate sometimes, but is pretty unique among wrestling games. The game isn’t very deep, as everyone has pretty much the same moveset, consisting of punches, kicks and a body slam of some kind. You can fight in either one-on-one matches, a tag team match, or a three-on-three elimination match, in addition to the aforementioned “Yourself” mode. There are life bars on each side of the ring, one for you and one for your opponent, and relieving your opponent of his energy is the only way to guarantee yourself a pinfall, although you probably could have guessed that.

The graphics are pretty good for a NES game. Everyone looks like they’re supposed to, especially in relation to Andre the Giant, who is, realistically, the size of three other guys combined. What really stands out to me in this game is the music. Instead of random electronica playing in the background like wrestling games these days, Wrestlemania Challenge plays awesome 8-bit versions of the entrance music of one of the wrestlers in the match.

So that’s one generation of systems, so how about the next? Well, there were two Wrestlemania games released for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, and I had to go with the one that was a little less realistic, but way more fun.

WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game (1995, SNES, Genesis, Arcade…I should just move on)

This game is rather polarizing amongst wrestling fans, because it went in a more arcade fighter direction, like Mortal Kombat, with digitized graphics and fantasy special moves. It was also released on the Playstation and Saturn, but I never played those versions, so we’re just going to ignore their existence for the time being.

The game has two modes, in which you can fight for either the Intercontinental Championship or the WWF Championship, facing a different number of guys per match in each mode. As far as the roster goes, you have Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Lex Luger, Razor Ramon, The Undertaker, Doink the Clown, Yokozuna and Bam Bam Bigelow, though the latter two weren’t included in the SNES version. Each one has special moves based on their character, like Undertaker hitting his opponents with an actual tombstone, Doink using a handshake buzzer to electrocute people, Bam Bam shooting fire at people, etc. This aspect causes wrestling fans to denounce the game as being too unrealistic to be good, but looking for realism in wrestling is like looking for music on MTV; it’s just not there.

You get the awesome commentary of Vince McMahon and Jerry Stupid “the King” Lawler in the background as you play. If you win without taking much damage, Vince says “it’s a total debacle!” which for some reason sounds absolutely hilarious. There’s really not much else to say about it. You aren’t going to get hours and hours of action out of this game, and it’s pretty over the top for a wrestling game, but the it’s fun while it lasts, and that’s all that matters.

WWF Wrestlemania 2000 (N64, 1999)

Wrestlemania 2000 is the first WWF game made by AKI, which had previously made a few WCW games, the engines of which were pretty superior to Acclaim’s attempts with WWF Warzone and WWF Attitude, so it’s a step in the right direction. Each wrestler has an “Attitude” meter, which increases as you hit moves and decreases as you get hit. When it gets all the way up (tee hee…) it flashes “Special”, and you can hit your finishing move. You can also taunt your opponents in your character’s signature style, or steal your opponent’s taunt, which also raises your Attitude bar. My friends and I used to make a match with a Diva vs. Billy Gunn and steal his taunt, mooning the opponent, to make the Diva pull her pants down. What can I say; I was 12, give me a break.

The game has a large amount of match types you can use for individual matches, and an extensive story mode. Of note is the Pay Per View mode, in which you can set up your own matches for one of the WWF pay per views they had at the time. There is also an awesome create-a-wrestler mode. The roster is huge, too huge to list, so I’ll just say that all your favorites (and Al Snow) are included. There are also several unlockable characters, such as the McMahons, Dude Love, Cactus Jack, and the then-retired Shawn Michaels.

The N64 graphics were pretty blocky, but the faces were detailed, so it evens out. The animation is pretty smooth, too. The music is the way aforementioned electronica, but every wrestler’s real entrance music is included, which all sounds good. All in all, this game was great for its time, but it has since been overshadowed by its sequel, WWF No Mercy, which many feel is the best wrestling game ever. Personally, I don’t think any game will ever surpass WWF Wrestlefest, but that’s neither here nor there.

So those are some of my personal favorite Wrestlemania games out there. They aren’t the best ever, but they’re fun. Wrestlemania XXIV looks pretty good, too, and I personally can’t wait for it. Go Triple H!

Next Time: A game that kicks so much ass, it makes up for the crappiness of its sequels: Turok: Dinosaur Hunter!

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