Ah, professional wrestling, the one true sport. Is there anything better than having a big fake fight? Of course not, which is why kids have play-fights all the time. And, just like wrestling, sometimes those fights become all-too-real when someone works themselves into a shoot.
Wrestling, of course, has quite the storied history not just in The World, but on Nintendo, too. So we’ve decided to brave the squared circle and unleash twelve of the best, most important and most interesting wrestling games in Nintendo history all over your candy asses. And, if you disagree with the list, just pretend it’s a Russo-style swerve!
Still the only game officially licensed with the NWA, WCW Wrestling is a standout showing for grap fans on the NES. Its original Japanese release was called Superstar Pro Wrestling, but for the western debut it was rebuilt with WCW wrestlers, including the likes of Sting, Ric Flair, “Dr Death” Steve Williams and – interestingly – the Road Warriors, who, uniquely, also appear in the Superstar Pro Wrestling version. It’s rather forward thinking, too, in allowing the player to customise their chosen wrestler’s moveset prior to a match.
Granted, there aren’t that many moves – eight to choose from per wrestler – but this feature combined with the fun pick-up-and-play gameplay itself made for an early winner.
Fascinatingly, this is the first grap-game ever to feature a full play-by-play announcer. No, of course it’s not full sampled speech – the accurately-named Tom Talker offers his colour commentary in the form of pop-up speech bubbles. Indeed, if that were all the game had to offer it’d almost be enough to justify its place on the list, but each of the ten imaginary wrestlers here have over 20 moves apiece – a stunning number considered how limited the games that came before could be.
Brilliantly, Ninja Gaiden-style “theatre” sequences are used in action replays, in order to display the impact of particularly devastating moves.
The iconic Fire Pro Wrestling series got its start on PC Engine, but it made the leap to Nintendo here for the first of seven (!) entries on Nintendo systems. What makes Fire Pro so beloved and unique is its focus on timing – not just the fact that button-mashing won’t get the player anywhere thanks to a fastidious grapple/counter system, but also in terms of its adherence to the rhythms and momentum of a real wrestling match, in which the action sees peaks and troughs before coming to a head with a spectacular finisher and dramatic kick-outs.
This big, bombastic coin-op conversion is best known for its inclusion of Final Fight’s esteemed mayor of Metro City, one Mike Haggar. Despite utilising some attack movements from the popular Street Fighter 2, the controls are overall more simple, with only punch, kick and jump buttons available – though wrestlers can venture outside the ring to plunder weapons from the crowd. The SNES version packs both the Single and Team Battle modes from the arcade game, allowing four players with the use of a multitap.
Amusingly, the game’s Western localisation makes the rather dubious claim that wrestler Gunloc is Street Fighter Guile’s brother – something that remains resolutely non-canon.
The titular Funaki Masakatsu co-founded the MMA organisation Pancrase, predating the UFC and offering up future WWF Attitude Era star Ken Shamrock. Prior to his glittering MMA career, however, he was a pro wrestler for New Japan Pro Wrestling, and it’s this aspect of his life and work that the next entry in our list focuses on.
The most notable feature here is the create-a-wrestler mode, that allows you to, well, create a wrestler and then watch their life play out on screen, including marriage and the birth of their child, who can themselves be trained as a wrestler and become playable at 18 years old. Brilliant.
If Slam Masters took a leaf from Street Fighter’s book, then WWF: Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game does the same for Midway’s Mortal Kombat series. This digitised scrapper is as cartoonish and exaggerated as the WWF product was at the time of its release, seeing The Undertaker throwing fireballs all over the ring. There’s little in the way of pinning strategy, here – simply empty your enemy’s health bar to go for the pin.
It’s not the best version of the game – indeed, the Mega Drive version is (whisper it) superior – but it’s still enormous fun to this day, hence its inclusion in our list.