Are Wrestling Video Games About To Get ‘Good’ Again?

Let’s remember wrestling games. Let’s remember those rare, fleeting moments in video game history when those games were ‘good’.

The times you pumped loose change into WWF Wrestlefest in the arcades, the time you spent playing WWF Wrestlemania on the NES.

That was when? The late 80s? Early 90s? Glorious times. Glorious times indeed.

Then, for some reason, wrestling games sucked for a while.

Then all of a sudden they didn’t suck. Wrestling games were relevant again. They were important. They were ‘good’. In fact, for a short period of time during the Nintendo 64/PlayStation 1 era, wrestling video games weren’t just ‘good’, they were amongst the best games on their respective systems. Games like No Mercy or WCW vs NWO. These games were popular, not just with wrestling fans, but across the board. They graced the covers of magazines, we discussed them enthusiastically. No Mercy was being mentioned in the same breath as other multiplayer classics like Goldeneye or Mario Kart 64. No Mercy was a big deal.

Then, once again, wrestling games sucked for a while, right?

Well, not exactly.

Let’s look at those two peak periods for wrestling video games. Let’s make a few connections.

WWF Wrestlemania was released in 1989 and WWF Wrestlefest hit arcades around 1991. That’s the first era. That’s when wrestling video games were first seen as something worth playing, in the west at least.

The second period hit almost a decade later. WCW vs NWO World Tour was released in 1997 and WWE No Mercy was released in 2000. A number of other equally successful sequels and spin offs were released inbetween those two releases. The successful WWE Smackdown series on the original PlayStation was also launched during this time.

These two eras are typically seen as the two ‘golden ages’ for wrestling video games: 1989-1991 and 1997-2000.

What a coincidence: those two time periods coincide with two of the most successful periods in wrestling history in terms of mainstream popularity and drawing power. 1989-1991 being the ‘Golden Era’ when wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior and Ric Flair became household names. 1997-2000 being smack bang in the middle of the ‘Attitude Era’, when The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and the NWO complete reinvented the wrestling product for a new generation of fans.

Here’s my argument: games like No Mercy and WWF Wrestlefest are retrospectively discussed as classic examples of the genre, not necessarily because they were great video games, but because that was the precise moment in time when the vast majority of the gaming audience loved professional wrestling.

Those were the time periods when the Wrestling business was ‘hot’. That was the time period when Wrestling was relevant and felt important. When it was popular enough amongst specific demographics to actually sell video game magazines, to sell video games in droves. When it was a mainstream phenomenon.

The wrestling business is notoriously cyclical. Those dead periods? Those moments when wrestling video games were being ignored by mainstream audiences, and tended to review poorly? Those moments coincided with a downturn in the wrestling audience, coincided with the moments when wrestling moved back into its shell, awaiting the next moment when it would gather momentum and steam again. It coincided with moments when we simply just didn’t really care about wrestling.

It can’t be coincidental: the moments when we, as a collective, are most excited and enthusiastic about wrestling video games are linked to the moments when we are excited about wrestling as a product, and our perception of the quality of the games is inextricably tied to that.

I’d argue that wrestling video games haven’t really improved over the last decade, but they haven’t really decreased in quality either. For the most part they’ve kept pace with technology, with the expectations of what a wrestling video game should provide for its audience. They’ve made slow progress in some areas, revolutionised in others, but for the most part I’d claim that wrestling games (when compared to other games in other genres) haven’t slipped, they haven’t gotten worse, we’ve just been – in general – less interested in wrestling as an overall product.

But that’s all about to change.

As a lapsed wrestling fan I’ve noticed a sea change over the last few months. The growth of the audience, the hype leading up to WrestleMania XXX, the slow burn process of Daniel Bryan transforming into the ‘next big thing’. Wrestling is in the early beginnings of becoming ‘cool’ again. It’s part organic/part genius and it’s being led, I’d argue, by one of the most forward thinking moves any form of entertainment has made in years: the WWE Network.

In short: people are talking about wrestling again, and pretty soon we’re going to be excited about wrestling video games again. Our perception of their quality will change and in 10 years time we’ll reminisce about how good WWE 2k16 was; we’ll ask ourselves, ‘what the hell happened to wrestling games? Remember when they used to be good?’

Wrestling games are about to be ‘good’ again. Whatever that means. They are about to become ‘good’ because, as a community, we’re in the process of beginning to care about wrestling, investing in the characters, in the matches. They’re about to become ‘good’ again because we’re about to decide, as a group, that wrestling is ‘good’.

Such a strange dynamic but, for some reason, I’m excited by it. I’m part of it. Wrestling is about to become important again. Wrestling video games, by association, will be a part of that change.


Comments

    There's hype leading to Wrestlemania XXX? I mean, asides sounding like a porn parody...

    Serrels, baby. What about Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain? This has to be an exception to your Gold Ages?

    You frog splash people from moving helicopters. Is that doesn't make it Best Wrestling Game Ever, then I hereby hand in my belt.

      The gameplay was brilliant as well. Its the only WWE game I haven't traded in.

      It was nice being able to shoulder back toss people straight out of the ring without having to play some stupid QTE.

    Does this mean we get another video of you ripping your shirt off soon?

    I've played 90% of wrestling games to date and the N64 THQ ones were the best by far. Clearly they can't just clone it but If they can nail that balance of gameplay then they're onto a winner.

      Except that the engine of those games is insanely dated and has no depth at all. The Wrestle Kingdom games in Japan continued using the game engine and those sucked. Yes, the N64 games had a good, but limited, story system that looked enjoyable; but today's games have that depth plus a good game engine... Except it's been "cool" to hate on wrestling during the last 5 years, so people tend to trash what has been vast improvements on the series (Except 2K14, which was a transitional bait and switch.)

        I think what nailed it for me was the solidness of the models, all the characters feel so floaty now. I'd played the past four modern iterations of wwe games at friends places and took a punt on 2k14 and picked it up for myself... didn't really grab me, just seemed like the same system they've been pumping out for ages.

        It's a bit hard to explain but it's almost like they keep leaning a bit more towards a "sim" rather than a "brawler". I'm not saying a wrestling game should be a brawler but I think they need to bring back the balance a bit more.

        The TNA game that came out was a bit more arcadey but I found it really enjoyable. Once I'd finished it, it was fairly boring because you'd just go back and do the same kind of fight over and over again.... but I liked that they at least went out on a limb and did something new.

        I was excited at that legends of wrestlemania game.... yawn haha, not so good :)

        Off topic, but really excited for the new UFC game.... I'm hoping it's a winner.

      I still have my copy of Wrestlemania 2000 on the N64. The insane amount of customization you could do to your movesets was awesome. I would actually go back to a wrestling game if it gave me that level of freedom.
      (Been off wrestling for a long time)

    WWF SmackDown! 2 is still by far the best game in my opinion; with so many hours poured into a randomized and yet believable season mode, in-depth and open ended backstage brawls... it was an attitude era experience true to the actual show.

    Games that have since followed have had much to be desired, and I think at the heart of it, is the licensed developed Yukes being the problem.

    In 2012, I bought WWE '13, which was my first WWE game since SmackDown Vs RAW 2006, and I enjoyed it for a time because of the large gap between games and the features between them. But then came the DLC, the closure of THQ and the announcement of WWE 2K14, which looked exactly the same.

    Even after all this time, they've still only barely captured the likenesses of the talent currently employed by the WWE. This image practically illustrates the point I'm making: http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m9jy0kBwnU1qzl7f5o1_1280.png

      Oh man I sunk so many hours in this game. Me and a mate use to play the season mode together, what a great feature that was too! Being able to play two player season mode. It was awesome how it would randomly generate matches and let you to for multiple belts. And it was endless! Have been waiting for a game to replicate this but sadly none have ever done it the same as smack down 2 did it :(

        Totally agreed. When I bought WWE '13, there was a mode that was kind of similar but it was pretty half-assed.

          Yeah the universe mode I believe it's called. The idea is there but the execution isn't. It would just keep getting me to defend my title and I'd be all like "Nah let me go for another one!"

    I really enjoyed WWE Allstars that came out a couple of years ago. Had a few flaws, but was great to play w/ 3 friends.

      Yep, I loved that game.

        The cast was perfect and the art style was awesome.

        The only part that really let it down was online - people would just spam getting in and out of the ring to recover health, which meant you couldn't pin/ko them.

        Ultimate Warrior for the win!

    I miss the old WWF Warzone and WWF Attitude on the PS1. They were my first wrestling games right at the peak of my wrestling fandom (and the peak of wrestling in general if you ask me).

    I've been back into wrestling for a little under two years now and bought WWE2K14 or whatever it was called. Wasn't too impressed as it seemed a slightly updated version of the games from the mid 00s.

    A completely new engine on a new-gen platform would probably respark my interest in wrestling games.

      Yeah those ones were more arcadey (I liked them, but not my ultimate favs)
      Check my post above but I basically said the modern games are too "sim" orientated.... they need to bring back some of the biff !!!

    with 2k holding the license for WWE games, i want them to not only be released on PC as well as consoles but id love to see certain characters from 2k published games added to the roster. Could you imagine how awesome it would be to see Krieg and Brick take on Shaemus and Cena?

    Sony needs to get their butts into gear and the MP3 playback on the PS4. on the last gen consoles (PS3/X360)...you can make your own wrestler and give him/her their own entrance music which is stored on your hard drive as a MP3 (or give the real wrestlers their real entrance music). At the moment it's not possible on PS4.

    The next WWE game (or TNA game - if they get a video game deal)...needs a more in-depth career mode...While the current WWE Universe mode is good (as it does some storylines and you're the fantasy booker)...I would to see you concentrate on one character or a created character and work your way through NXT and get to the main roster and become a champion/star (or the equivalent in TNA)

    No Mark. Those good wrestling games were actually good wrestling games. So you think it's a "coincidence" that Def Jam was a great wrestling game?

    Made by AKI. The makers of the N64 wrestling games. Well after the "golden period". You're looking for something that isn't there.

    Wrestling games will get good again when AKI start making them again, or someone copies their formula.

    Last edited 08/04/14 3:10 pm

    My first thought when I read your first few sentences was "Yeah because wrestling sucked in between those times." So obviously I agree with your hypothesis. :)
    I used to watch the pay-per-views at a mate's place with a few of his friends. It was a great time but there wasn't really a lot of interesting stuff going on. When I moved about 3 years ago that stopped.
    I occasionally watched the odd PPV but didn't really feel invested at all. Leading up to WrestleMania XXX I decided to watch some of the last 12 months PPVs and actually found that there were some great matches.
    I think that has kind of happened despite Vince though. I don't think any of the upper management of WWE thought Daniel Bryan would become such a favorite and be as good as he is. He wrestles in a very old style way that the WWE has moved away from but that the fans still love. He has stolen the show on the PPVs I have watched since he hasn't been the main match and by comparison the main matches have been poor with the crowd shouting "boring" a lot. Vince is still very much a size queen preferring "big guys". The problem is most big guys can't wrestle for shit. If you look at the older big guys they weren't big when they started. The started and worked their way up through the ranks by being good wrestlers. Then they hit the big time, took a bunch of steroids and got big but kept their skill. For the last few years Vince has been importing big guys and thinking he can make them wrestlers. And this just doesn't work. You need to be a wrestler first. Also he can't do the steroid trick anymore because he is being watch like a hawk by the authorities.
    He needs to realise he needs people that can wrestle irrespective of size and that most likely wrestlers are going to get a bit smaller over the next generation. Proof of that is with people like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan.
    Anyway, I think wrestling is finally getting interesting and good again and it makes me want to watch not only the PPVs but the shows over the year. I actually would think about signing up to WWE TV if it came here and I think many others would too.

    I know they didn't have any wrestling licence attached, but the Def Jam games were pretty good. And I don't even like wrestling or hip hop.

    WWE Brawl was going to be rad, too. The world missed out on cacti boxing gloves and rooftop sharks.

    Last edited 08/04/14 2:09 pm

    You are forgetting Smackdown Vs Raw on the Playstation 1... That game was incredible...

    The last wrestling game that I really enjoyed was back on the Mega Drive...

    WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game & WWF RAW were buckets of fun!

    The WWE games released ever since Smackdown KYR 2 felt like rehash after rehash with graphical updates and one or two additional features.

    Now that the license is under someone elses control, I look forward to seeing what the next game has to offer.

    Last edited 08/04/14 5:52 pm

    WCW Vs. nWo Revenge. Best wrestling game ever. The roster was brilliant.

    I have very fond memories of WCW vs nWo: Revenge and Smackdown 2, in particular.

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