When wrestling fans get together and talk about the thing that made them into wrestling fans, it’s usually the same song and dance. We either talk about our first matches, that relative who made us watch, or the first live event we attended. But for an a lot of people of a certain age, video games were the gateway.
History is littered with wrestling video games. Some are really dope and some, well, let’s be kind and say they’re less than dope. A good wrestling game transports the player to being in the ring and feels like an authentic recreation of weekly television or big events. A great wrestling game does all of the above while doubling as a fun fighting game as well.
These 10 are the best of the best.
1. WWF No Mercy
It’s tough finding something new to say about this 2000 Nintendo 64 (N64) game. But, seeing as how my job is to say things about stuff—and always with that type of eloquence—I’ll give it a shot.
WWF No Mercy is the wrestling game every other iteration in the genre is chasing. It wasn’t the first time we had wrestler entrances with theme music. Nor was it the first time we had multiplayer, create-a-wrestler, or career mode. Instead, No Mercy was the first time most of those things came together perfectly. I say “most” because those entrance videos, while adequate for the N64, look like very bad bootleg copies of your favorite movies. Or bootleg porn. Either way, hard to get too excited looking at them. But hey, at the time, it was a big step in the right direction.
Those qualities I mentioned a great wrestling game must have? No Mercy has all of that in buckets, along with a stacked roster and easy controls that lower the barrier of entry for someone completely new to the world of wrestling. The fact it came out at the height of the Attitude Era is just icing on top of a very layered and filling cake.
2. WCW/nWo Revenge
There’s a phenomena in families where an only child may feel displaced once they’re no longer an only child. They don’t get as much attention as they’re used to and their accomplishments may be eclipsed by the younger sibling. Even though those achievements are great and still worthy of every rose petal thrown in celebration.
WCW/nWo Revenge is that older brother to WWF No Mercy younger brother.
In 1998, developer AKI’s last WCW game was the measuring stick for all other wrestling games. It took everything from WCW vs. NWO World Tour and just made it better. Graphics? Check. Ring entrances? Also check. Grappling? Of course. Revenge felt like a smoother game in every respect, while introducing different WCW venues and arenas. The create mode wasn’t there yet, but they sowed the seeds with robust customization options for every damn wrestler on the roster.
Revenge’s legacy looms over everything after it and shouldn’t be forgotten by wrestling fans or fans of fighting games. While AKI improved the formula just two years later, that takes nothing away from this landmark achievement.
Plus, who doesn’t want a chance to replay Starccade ‘97 and give it the main event and ending it deserved?
3. WWF SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain
Game developers often reach their peak in the middle and near the end of a system’s lifecycle. By then, they know what they’re doing and making a game becomes as easy as writers finding good but not cliched analogies. WWF SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain dropped right in the middle of the PlayStation 2’s 6-year-run on top of the industry. The 2003 game stood on the shoulders of its predecessors—WWF SmackDown! and WWF SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth—and added more “sports” to the world of sports entertainment.
Players targeted body parts and wrestlers were affected based on how hurt that part of the body was. More damage to the legs meant a Sharpshooter did more to your opponent than a Rock Bottom, so strategy was necessary to win a match. But the game didn’t forget to throw in the ridiculousness tables, ladders, and chairs either. For single players, its career mode featured branching storylines, which were introduced way back when in No Mercy.
Here Comes the Pain is the evolution of not only wrestling games, but the wrestling industry in 2003.
4. Def Jam: Fight for NY
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: rappers love wrestling. So it was only a matter of time before someone got the bright idea to make a wrestling game filled with rappers. This is not that game, but it is the much-improved sequel. In 2004, Def Jam: Fight for NY felt like a throwback to the simplicity of what was becoming a very complicated genre. The moves were easy to learn, easier to execute, and always satisfying. Each rapper even had their own fighting style that fit their personas.
That level of detail is evident in the aspect that really separates this game from the pack, and that’s its story mode. Fight fo NY weaves a pretty complex narrative that ties directly into your character’s development as a wrestler. The more matches you win, the more money you get to improve your attire, and the more points you get to sharpen your skills.
Your wrestler travels from from borough to borough in New York City to be the best there is, best there was, and best there ever will be. Why rappers like Ghostface Killah and actors like Carmen Electra are so interested in underground wrestling is none of my business, but for the world of the game, it’s sort of a big deal. And the journey is worth every second of your time.
5. WWE 2K14
I’m not a big fan of the 2K series for a few reasons. Mostly because it’s rather doo doo these days. One can make the argument it’s stunk for seven years now. If that argument has any truth to it, then WWE 2K14 is the pinnacle of the series. It’s also the first in the series once 2K took control from THQ in late 2012/early 2013, meaning they peaked early. Do with that what you will.
WWE 2K14 brings the polish of the NBA 2K series to wrestling video games. That’s the hook. And in doing so, the game elaborately recreates WWE venues, wrestlers, and storylines. It’s create mode is extensive—possibly too extensive if that’s a thing—and Universe mode is made to suck up time like a black hole.
It’s 30 Years of WrestleMania mode is what makes the game worth its $60 price tag. Players go through major storylines of different WWE eras. Whether it’s Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat vs. “Macho Man” Randy Savage at WrestleMania III, or The Rock vs. John Cena at WrestleMania 29, if there’s a big match you can think of, it’s probably here. On top of that? The commentary team sometimes uses the exact same words and phrases they used in the moment. Every match has a unique set of objectives and offers multiple chances to recreate moments from WWE highlight packages.
WWE 2K14 is nostalgic for what was while pushing the genre forward. That’s a high-wire act the game pulls off beautifully.
6. WWF WrestleMania 2000
In retrospect, THQ’s first WWF game is obviously a rough draft. The company’s ‘99 entry is the game WWF Attitude wanted to be in every aspect. WrestleMania 2000’s true claim to fame was its create-a-wrestler mode. Now, we could truly be a part of the action and fantasy book ourselves into Vince McMahon’s organized chaos. The level of customization wasn’t quite on No Mercy’s level, but it wasn’t too far off either.
WrestleMania 2000 introduced the cage match, something previously lacking in THQ’s WCW games. Appropriately, the degree of difficulty to master a cage match was a lot higher than a regular one on one. Trying to get out of the cage was a job in itself, especially if the opponent just wouldn’t stay down long enough. WrestleMania 2000 required a lot more than button-mashing to get the job done. That was either extremely frustrating or very rewarding, depending on your cup of masochistic tea.
7. WCW vs. The World
WCW vs. The World is an interesting game. Released in ‘96 in Japan and ‘97 in the U.S. for the Sony PlayStation, it’s a no frills wrestling video game. No fancy production values, no entrance music, no commentary. It’s more in tune with Japanese wrestling at the time than what those of us who grew up on WWF and WCW were used to. But it’s possibly the purest wrestling game on this list and treats all of it seriously. Or as seriously as you can treat something where people dress up in face paint and other flamboyant attire.
The game is probably forgotten to time and feels almost like a best-kept secret. It didn’t get to the heights of anything else on this list, but it’s consistency makes it worthy of a spot on this list or any other list.
8. WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game
Pro wrestling is silly. We all love it dearly, but yeah, it’s more than just a tad ridiculous at times. WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game captures all of that silliness and bottles it in one video game. Razor Ramon’s hands turn to actual razors when he hits someone, hearts fly out of Bret Hart when he’s getting beat up, and I’m pretty sure The Undertaker’s fist light up when he throws a punch. Because he’s a ghost?
Anyway, this game is what happens when the makers of Mortal Kombat and the WWF team-up. And it’s fantastic. While every other game on this list offers some sort of wrestling simulation, this one goes in the complete opposite direction and even has its own version of fatalities.
If you can’t get your hand on an arcade cabinet, because duh, then look for a the Sony PlayStation version and have some fun with stars of the New Generation.
9. WWF WrestleFest
Before we pretended to be our favorite wrestlers at home, we went to arcades. WWF WrestleFest is an arcade game featuring most of the stars of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. And they were all larger than life. Each wrestler got their own signature move—just one because it was the ‘80s—and players had the option to go through the game solo or tag team for a shot at the Legion of Doom.
Not much more to say other than it’s a lot of fun and an important piece of history.
10. WWF Raw
WWF Raw is a simple fighting game for the 16-bit era. It took full advantage of the technology, including the new sound chips, and functions as a solid fighting game. The controls are simple, the moves are simpler, and the tie-up momentum meter is a fun game within a game. Like all fighting games, the goal is to beat your opponent up until their stamina is depleted. Then you can do your signature move, like the Razor’s Edge, and that’s all she wrote.
What say you, Cagesiders? I know some favorites are left off the list but, this is my list and I stand by it.