Kefin and Adam from the Attitude Era Podcast are cautiously excited for the upcoming release of WWE 2K15. In the run up to the game's November release, they decided to fire up their N64 and revisit one of the biggest wrestling games from their childhoods with jaded adult eyes. WWF Attitude!
Kefin Mahon: Released in 1999, WWF Attitude was the second 3D pro wrestling video game offering for owners of the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. It was brought to us by the fine folks over at Acclaim entertainment, a company whose bankruptcy made the video game community rise up as one and go "oh, right."
(Back of box image via GameFAQs.)
The game was held back by numerous delays and was hampered by both the tragic passing of Owen Hart and the facial paralysis of signature WWF announcer Jim Ross. Nevertheless, WWF Attitude burst into stores at the height of the Attitude Era, the most creatively and financially successful period in the history of World Wrestling Entertainment. Wrestling during this period was by WWE's account for a "mature audience" and this was reflected in the many envelope-pushing segments involving race, sexuality, proper rude language and Vince McMahon doing a wee.
But similar to that shifty uncle who gives you a fiver after church to go buy a pornography magazine (just an example, my uncles are all above board), the WWF was only too happy to pretend to only be for adults and then — when no-one was looking — market action figures, lunch boxes and video games for the little ones. And this was their biggest release yet!
Kefin: When Attitude came out, I was aged 10. Much hype surrounded this offering, which was supposed to be better than what came before.
I distinctly remember an outstandingly-disappointing rental of WWF War Zone when I was a fresh faced wrestling fan. I also distinctly remember myself and my cousin throwing controllers across the room when Mankind came out to "wrong music".
Attitude, however, was a game that really closely modelled what we were seeing on our screens for the first time. It was a game that was played religiously in the Mahon household, without question. We liked wrestling in this house. We had an N64. And we were going to be damned if we weren't going to spend hours playing this.
Adam Bibilo: My first encounter with WWF Attitude was seeing it in an Index catalogue as a boy (for younger readers: Index was a rival to Argos. (For international readers: Argos is a shop)) and thinking "Wow, a new WWF game on PS1! Surely this one will be better than that lousy War Zone game that made me cry!".
A few months later, I was at my uncle's house when I saw that he had a copy of the game. Holy crap, maybe he'll let me play on it! He handed me the game and said "You can have this if you like." I nearly threw up from the overwhelming excitement. The game had a £39.99 sticker still on it, fresh from the shop. The game looked like it had barely been played.
I remember thinking this was the nicest gesture ever, when, really, I should have been thinking about my uncle's motives for giving away a brand new video game to a snotty little shit such as myself. Why was he so keen to get rid of that game so soon? Well, put it this way: WWF War Zone wasn't the last wrestling game that made me cry.
Adam: It'd be incredibly easy to just sit back, point at this 15-year-old game and say "paaah, look at how cheap it looks." But seriously, look at how cheap this game looks. In the presentation department, this game packs no bells and whistles. Be prepared for a lot of bland textures and a general feeling of vast, emptiness throughout the game.
To give the game its due, the character models are actually pretty good, with each of the colourful and wacky wrestlers of the '90s WWF rendered in a way that at least makes it obvious who they are.
Just because they're recognisable, though, doesn't mean they look good. Let me give you an example:
As a young boy, I loved nothing more than the WWF. In the world of the WWF, I loved nothing more than the 7-foot-tall, 300-pound "Big Red Machine" Kane. Imagine my horror upon selecting him in the matchup screen and seeing a skinny young boy dressed as Kane appear at the top of the entrance ramp. Who is that? This must be some sort of mistake, Kane is massive! Kane is ripped! Kane is most certainly not the same height as D'Lo Brown.
I'm serious. Everyone is the same height in this game. In the world of wrestling, that concept is ridiculous. Combine this with the massive, cold, empty arenas and the game starts to feel less like a WWF game and more of a simulator for those cheap wrestling shows you see advertised on posters in chip shops. You see the poster and beg your Mum to take you and she says, "No, come on now, there's no way that's really Kane. That's just some lad in a cheap costume". And in the case of WWF Attitude, you were right, Mum.
Kefin: I am a firm believer in a "picture painting a thousand words" but in this case, I think the screenshots contained here paint three. For fuck's sake.
Kefin: Let's not mince words. WWF Attitude has arguably the worst commentary in a wrestling game ever.
"Into the ropes"
"Against the ropes."
"The bounce off the ropes."
"Check out King! He's T'afraid!"
As a wee lad, I never expected an n64 game to be capable of such audio. Human voices on cartridges were limited to Ganondorf snickering and Mario saying "Thank you so much for to playing my game" — a feat of audio engineering so intense, you could see smoke emanating from your console when you reach that part of Mario 64.
But hot damn, Attitude had commentary — from Shane McMahon and Jerry "The King" Lawler no less, aka the commentary team that time forgot, probably because time wasn't aware they were ever really a commentary team. As a man who's watched most if not all of Raw from 1998-2000, I can tell you this was not a combo that made it to the primetime. However, it provides the game's most consistently entertaining moments.
"Check it out! He's a moron!"
"THE PROVERBIAL SHOE IS ON THE OTHER FOOT NOW"
Seriously the WWE's current three-man Twitter/app/Network-plugging team could learn from the cold, prescribed commentary styles of the WWF Attitude announce team. Hey, WWE, for one of your three hours of Raw one week, I suggest you trial the King/Shane commentary track from Attitude. It literally couldn't be worse than the current scenario.
Attitude also gave us the music of all the wrestlers in the game. In the days before YouTube and Podcasts that feature grown men humming pro wrestler entrance music, you only got to hear your favourite themes for a few seconds before a match on TV (or during a run-in). Attitude helped the workin' child finally get the chance to listen to the second stanza of 'No Chance' and, in my case, learn the lyrics.
The final thing Attitude had sound-wise — and arguably what the game is most notorious for — are the odd but fascinating sound bytes you hear from each wrestler at the start of the match, and oftentimes during the match itself. Thank you, Acclaim. Thank you for the scenario you've implanted in my head of Gangrel coming in to the sound studio on his day off to spend the afternoon recording grunts. I'll defer to Adam on this, our resident master on grunts.
Adam: Words cannot express my sheer devastation that, among the pre-recorded grunts and soundbytes on the disc, Jeff Jarrett's "glaaargaegh" sound was not to be found (don't worry non-podcast fans, this is the only self-indulgent podcast in-joke I'm making in this piece).
To tell the truth, the audio as a whole is just all over the top. I mean, for a late-'90s game, the sheer amount of audio content the game's creators crammed onto a single disc (or even more impressively, an N64 cartridge) was impressive.
But man alive is the audio awkward. Nowhere is this more evident than in the wrestlers' entrances. We see an empty stage and hear D'Lo Brown's "I Think You Better Recognise" music start playing. D'Lo appears, and we hear what sounds like eight people booing and jeering. D'Lo says "I think you better recognise!" and wibbles his head. Then the crowd falls silent as D'Lo quietly shuffles into the ring, wibbling his head some more. I've heard more raucous crowds on a putting green….in a library.
Even when the crowd do decide to "make some noise" (that may be an in-joke too, soz), it's only so they can shout something banal like "You suck, Player One!!". UGH.
Kefin: As with most wrestling games of the era, the most amazing feature was multiplayer. Picking your favourites, squaring off and determining who is the truly dominant friend was a massive part of both WWF Attitude and growing up. For those of us playing with power (i.e. on an n64), we even got to have four-player mode. Common occurrences included: uncoordinated tag matches, complaints that you had skipped your friend's entrance when they had been civil and sat patiently through yours and controllers being ripped from sockets and dipped in Fanta.
(GIF via Metal Arcade on YouTube)
However, multiplayer in WWF Attitude was more often than not, a bleak affair. Or, given the right circumstances, downright annoying. There is much to be said about the game's… 'unique' controls. I will admit to being a fake guy gamer for the most part, but good lord Attitude made it taxing to do anything closely resembling wrestling. Unlike the likes of No Mercy and Smackdown, where the controls could be explained to a neophyte in an intense five-minute coaching session, I can honestly say after having the game for 15 years, I'm still not entirely confident playing it.
Yes, A kicks and B punches, but that's where the simplicity ends. To pull of any move worth pulling off, you had to input complex sequences of buttons at lightning speed. Wanna do the Rock Bottom? Can I wiggle the analogue stick maybe? NO. You must press up down left right up down c left and do it in less than 1.5 seconds. Think "really hard ocarina songs from Majora's Mask" but if you do it wrong, someone dropkicks you.
Now I know this seems like a petty complaint and one that exposes my inadequacies as a player of fighting games (Yes, I suck at Street Fighter, Marvel vs Capcom, I gag when I drink energy drink etc). But we're supposed to be emulating wrestling! The game's matches have no momentum or drama, as you end up pressing start and pausing the game every three seconds to consult your character's contextual move list. And this was a nightmare for the likes of me, because even if I knew that the piledriver was up down up B, I simply had to check first, just in case I got it wrong. It results in self-doubt, irritation and compounds general low self esteem in fighting games.
All of this is particularly apparent than when two humans face off. You thought pausing every three seconds to consult the move guide was irritating? Try having a match where it happens twice as much. And with an opponent who is just as eager to recall how to do a Tombstone Piledriver as you.
Multiplayer boiled down to one thing: Who can press start the fastest. Who can bring up their moves the fastest. Or if you're an incredibly underhanded, borderline-Ric-Flair-type character whilst playing (like me), it comes down to who can press start at the moment that will infuriate your opponent the most. Adam looks like he's just about to figure out how to do his finisher *PAUSE* "FOR FUCK SAKE". Adam pressed start just as he was getting up and his move list didn't display. He's just about to press pause now that his character has stood up. *PAUSE* "FUCKING HELL".
*in Freddie Blassie voice* Oftentimes in WWF Attitude, as in life, the greatest battles take place in the mind.
Adam: I got nothing to say about this. If a game gives Kefin the opportunity to be a real life heel, I don't wanna play it with him.
Kefin: Good lord, I love me a good custom mode in a wrestling game. At the best of times, it can serve as a cherry on top of a delicious cake, essentially harmonising the experience and compounding the joy of computer-simulated sports entertainment.
As a wee lad, I wanted nothing more than to create the many characters of mine that occupied the margins of various textbooks and homework journals in glorious 64-bit brilliance.
WWF War Zone had given us a teensy taste of what was possible, but the limits of the game resulted in restricted imagination. Realising the only good thing I could make was a clown, I churned out around a baker's dozen of created clowns, and in the process creatied the dreaded faction "The Cool Cool Clown Party" or "CCCP" for short. Shut up. I was nine and hadn't done Communism at school yet.
Adam: That's still better than my guy "Busta" whose gimmick was being cool, having a scar over one eye and wearing bright blue shades.
Kefin: WWF Attitude branched out. With the aforementioned pre-recorded voices and names and entrance musics, it was the first time you felt you could truly make something unique. It tended to be a unique, oddly-shaped Play Doh man with penetrating eyes, but unique nonetheless. Or in my brothers case, you can make an approximation of a 15 year old Irish child who inexplicably has Farrooq's voice.
As a lad, I made various masked wrestlers, most of which would have looked at home in the sweet embrace of the Corporate Ministry.
As grown arse men, Adam and I made John Cena instead. The created wrestlers, although weird-looking, tended to blend in nicely with the pre-loaded roster, who, as mentioned, look equally as perplexing.
Take a bow, WWF Attitude. You're on the short list of wrestling games where a gulf of quality doesn't exist between the in-game wrestlers and the ones you pull out of your arse on a Saturday morning full of Fruit Loops.
Adam: The creation suite doesn't stop there, either!
Remember a few years back, before the release of WWE '12, when then-publisher THQ made a big hoo-hah about how, for the first time, you could design your very own arena? Yeah, WWF Attitude had that, a whole 12 years earlier! Granted, its pretty rudimentary; you can only change things like the colour of the ropes, the lighting, the turnbuckles and aprons, but jeez, its something! When I was a kid, this was probably my favourite part of the game! I could finally make that Coco Pops-themed arena I thought would be such a great idea. Well, Coco Pops-themed in colour at least. It was better than nothing, which is what all future wrestling games offered before WWE '12.
What's the downside to this? All the arenas look like crud. Want to play WWF Attitude in real life? Find a massive, empty warehouse, plop a bargain-bin ring in the middle of it and then copy/paste the same six cardboard cutouts of "wrestling fans" around the edges of the interior.
While it's great that you can customise the arena to an extent, you are still trying in vain to polish a poorly-rendered turd. You can put Marc Mero in a nice custom suit, but he'd still be Marc Mero.
WWF Attitude has aged much worse than the Attitude Era itself! While there is still infinite joy in rewatching and reliving the highs and lows of 1998-2001, there sure as sugar isn't a whole ton left to cling onto with Acclaim's last WWF title! After this game came out, the WWF licence was be passed on and wrestling's most memorable games would soon come along with it!
If you're curious to check out Attitude, our professional advice is to simply watch clips of the voices/grunts on YouTube instead.
The Attitude Era Podcast looks back at the PPV's from the WWE in the late-1990s and beyond. Join Kefin, Billy and Adam as they take a humorous look back at the highs and lows of the time. You can download all their episodes for free on iTunes or through Soundcloud, or check out their audio commentaries for wrestling films over at Sellfy.com.