The thought of a modern pro wrestling game these days is often coupled with an eye-roller. They've become as iterative as most sports games released on an annual basis - such as FIFA and Madden - but certainly have far less to offer than the examples just mentioned. What we're left with is a game that's ever-so-slightly improved in graphics (if at all), an updated roster and maybe, just maybe, a couple of completely new game modes. It can't be helped but thought that the content in these yearly releases could simply be delivered via DLC, and that the gimmick of a completely new game is a simple tool to drive a larger volume of sales. It just seems that sports-entertainment juggernaut WWE believes in quantity over quality, and think rapidly releasing a new game every year with copious amounts of DLC is the way forward, which certainly never used to be the case.
With that said, we'll take a look at some of the best and most popular pro wrestling games that the WWE (and WCW for that matter) released, specifically for the Nintendo 64 - known as the "Golden Era" of pro wrestling games. All to get you warmed up for WrestleMania 31.
WWF War Zone
If you think back to the very first pro wrestling game for the N64, you'll find none other than WWE's (known as WWF at the time) War Zone, published by Acclaim Sports in 1998 (it was also released on the PlayStation and Game Boy). This game was a best-seller for months upon its release, which was fully deserved. It was revolutionary in every sense of the word, for it was the first time a pro wrestling game ever stepped foot into the 3D environment. Unlike most wrestling games that followed, War Zone possessed a grappling system where the player must grapple their opponent before inputting a series of button presses to perform a manoeuvre. It almost brought a Street Fighter/Mortal Kombat/Tekken feel to the game, as players had to remember combinations and sequences of button presses to demolish their opponents with back-breakers and spine-busters.
This was even the case for finishing manoeuvres, although these special moves were not shown in the moves list screen that was available in the pause menu. It led to enjoyable 'playground discussions', due to owners of the game passing around sequences to these finishing moves - the internet in those days was somewhat scarce! Some may call it ridiculous, but it yielded some amazing moments of gameplay as these finishing moves could come out of a surprise, often completely unbeknownst to the receiver of the move that it existed altogether! It was just like the 'real' thing.
War Zone also possessed a variety of fun match types such as a 'Weapons Match', as well as a 'Create-a-Wrestler' mode - a first for the game genre. The game's roster was impressive for its time, acquiring over 15 stars which were even represented by their factions such as 'D-Generation X' and the 'Nation of Domination'. Additional wrestlers and wrestler personas could also be unlocked (and not just bought via DLC!), encouraging players to complete the game's single player 'WWF Challenge' mode. All in all, War Zone was a revolutionary wrestling game that consisted of great visuals, as well as introducing never-seen-before game modes and match types. Its physics engine probably isn't an ageless system, but nevertheless, the overall package was still a great step in moving the pro wrestling genre into the 3D world.
At the time, WWF War Zone was a game that was hard to top, but along came its sequel - WWF Attitude. The game was available for the same consoles as War Zone, with the addition of SEGA's Dreamcast. Released in 1999 (regarded as arguably the greatest era of pro wrestling - the "Attitude Era"), Acclaim Sports did the unthinkable and trumped War Zone by nearly every stretch of the imagination. To begin with, the game box and cart's front cover did all the talking, showcasing Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, The Undertaker, and Mankind - the wrestling greats of the era. Without knowing anything about the game or its predecessor, it could be said that the game's art contributed a great deal to its sales - the PS version was a best-seller in the UK.
The game shared the same game engine mechanics as that of War Zone, but we were introduced to several new features such as onscreen health gauges. A slew of new game modes and match types were added too, alongside the major enhancements to the modes also present in War Zone, such as 'Create-a-Wrestler'. Speaking of which, 'Create-a-Stable' and 'Pay-Per-View were also added, with the latter allowing players to create their very own show by booking its matches. The custom PPV could also be tailored aesthetically, including the ability to edit the arena's lighting, rope and turnbuckle colour, and logo on the sides of the ring.
A further great improvement of WWF Attitude compared to its prequel was its Superstar entrances. War Zone didn't have entrances, at least not in full - the only glimpse of an entrance we received was in 'WWF Challenge' mode, where the wrestlers walked down the ramp - and that's about it. In Attitude however, we got the full works. The highlights included wrestlers performing signature traits, lighting and pyrotechnics unique to each wrestler, and to top it off the developers even managed to maintain high quality audio throughout every theme song - meaning players could witness full entrances in all their glory. Despite all of Attitude's global success, it was unfortunately short-lived. This was due to the sports-entertainment conglomerate ending its partnership with Acclaim Entertainment and joining forces with THQ in the same year of 1999, after witnessing the video game success of its competitor, World Championship Wrestling (WCW), with the game publisher.
WCW vs. nWo: World Tour & WCW/nWo Revenge
Before we get into WWE's success with its new partner, let's delve into the reason as to why it decided to leave Acclaim Entertainment for THQ. WWE's direct competitor, WCW, had great success within the video game industry in its partnership with THQ and AKI Corporation. The first game produced by the pair for the company was 1997's WCW vs. nWo: World Tour, which scored great reviews all across the board due to its ease of gameplay, especially when compared to the later released War Zone. It possessed a simple and effective grappling system that involved the player grappling their opponent by tapping the A button, and then inputting a direction and A/B button to perform a move. Stronger moves could be performed if the player held the A button when attempting a grapple (known as a "strong grapple"), although this was easier to counter due to taking longer to execute. The grappling system was so successful that not only did AKI Corporation use it in future wrestling games, but also used the engine in their Def Jam Vendetta series (published by EA Sports BIG).
THQ also did things quite differently with its pro wrestling games. Instead of realistic commentary (as demonstrated in the Acclaim games), instrumental rock music played during matches, something that could have been easily scoffed at when the concept was introduced at the time - but surprisingly worked a treat. However, what really caught the attention of WWE was the game's sequel - WCW/nWo Revenge. It retained AKI's revolutionary grappling system, as well as received a major buff in its graphics, roster, move-set library, and nifty features such as instant replays. It also introduced actual arenas, such as Monday Nitro, Starrcade, Bash at the Beach, Souled Out, SuperBrawl and Halloween Havoc.
Another notable difference between these titles and the Acclaim games was the use of spirit meters. This feature displayed wrestlers' overall health and spirit through the use of colours, primarily ranging from dark blue to bright red. The meter gradually became red hot when players caused damage to their opponents, and even taunting contributed to this. When the meter began to blink, taunting once more by flicking the control stick allowed the player to enter SPECIAL! status. This gave the player a sudden boost of momentum, meaning it was harder for opponents to execute counter-moves. More importantly though, it enabled players to use their signature finishing move via a strong grapple and a flick of the control stick – a stark contrast to performing finishing manoeuvres in the Acclaim games. Players could also enter DANGER! status if they experienced too many hits or spent too much time outside of the ring. Being in this status, therefore, made the player easier to pin or submit.
Another big difference between the Acclaim and THQ games were its visuals. In terms of appearance, War Zone and Attitude had opted for a realistic approach, whereby World Tour and Revenge undertook a far more 'chunky' look and feel. As a result, wrestlers resembled as though they were made from Mega Bloks, although this was less exaggerated in Revenge. All in all though, the game engine that THQ and AKI implemented into these games more than restored this minor issue, if you could even regard it as one. Revenge scored highly amongst critics, and became the highest selling console game in North America within a month. It also won 1998's "Fighting Game of the Year" by the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences - the second year in a row that a THQ/AKI title achieved the honour (World Tour also achieved this the year before). The game was known to have been countable for THQ's profits in late 1998 and '99, and was one of the best-selling N64 games of all time.
WrestleMania 2000 & No Mercy
WrestleMania 2000 kicked off WWE's partnership with THQ, and it was the perfect game for those who enjoyed the gameplay mechanisms of World Tour/Revenge but rooted for the WWE side of the coin. It was released during the height of the "Attitude Era", where the "Monday Night Wars" (a name given to the fact that both WWE and WCW aired their shows during the same time on Monday night) began to really heat up. It possessed the same game engine as WCW/nWo Revenge, and included a very large roster of Superstars. Its 'Road to WrestleMania' mode was nothing to shout about, for it was quite an extensive and linear path of the player's chosen wrestler making their way through a season to the biggest event of the year - WrestleMania. Another gripe with the game was its audio quality of entrance theme songs, as they sounded as if they were captured from a recording device!
However, what the game lacked in an interesting one player mode and audio quality was certainly made up for with its other modes. For starters, it was the first WWE game allowing players to edit existing wrestlers' attire, leading to some very creative (and catastrophic) results. Speaking of firsts, it was also THQ's first attempt at 'Create-a-Wrestler' mode - something that had only previously been accomplished in WWE's Acclaim titles. WrestleMania 2000's large database of custom properties in 'Create-a-Wrestler' mode made it possible for players to create even more real wrestlers of their own, adding to the already huge roster that the game contained. Some taunts and move-sets were carried over from WCW/nWo Revenge, which meant that players were able to create and include WCW wrestlers, allowing fantasy matches to come into fruition. Another very cool feature was that if the player made two wrestlers' entrance music the same, they would be introduced as their real-life tag-team (obviously providing that the two the player selected were in fact a real-life tag-team). For instance, matching the Road Dogg Jesse James and Badd Ass Billy Gunn's themes would lead to them being introduced together as 'The New Age Outlaws' before a tag-team match.
Now we get into the crème de la crème of Nintendo 64 pro wrestling games, and that's WWF No Mercy. No Mercy was the last WWE game released for the N64, and quite rightly so, for it probably couldn't be topped in terms of an overall gameplay experience - especially when the system's specifications become a factor to consider. The overall theme was based around two of the hottest stars at the time, The Rock and Triple H, which was a refreshing change from Stone Cold Steve Austin being the poster boy of War Zone and Attitude. Its intro recreated the epic scene of The Rock poised on the turnbuckle in his signature stance, viciously being stared down by a fearless Triple H in the middle of the ring. Released in 2000, it was a direct sequel to 1999's WrestleMania 2000 (funnily enough), and expanded on its prequel's game modes drastically, as well as its graphics. It contained much more expansive 'Create-a-Wrestler' options, and was the first game to allow players to create female wrestlers.
No Mercy's arguable best feature is its Championship mode. It's far more extensive compared to WrestleMania 2000's career mode, as each championship title offers a unique story. What really made No Mercy's story mode so deep and vast was its branching story-lines that evolved based on the outcomes of the player's matches. WrestleMania 2000 made the player retry the match if they lost in its career mode, but No Mercy adjusted the player's story-line no matter what happened in the matchup. In fact, the player must play through each story several times and lose matches if they so wish to achieve a 100% completion rating. Finally, No Mercy allowed players to fight for title belts in its exhibition mode - a feature that was never seen again until SmackDown! vs. Raw 2006.
While No Mercy was a near-perfect game, it definitely had its flaws. For starters, entrances were chopped in half, as players could only see their favourite stars walk down the ramp before abruptly coming to an end. This was a real shame, as entrances are arguably something that many look forward to in the latest instalment to the wrestling genre. Another (and more devastating) flaw was the well-known issue of No Mercy launch copies suffering from data loss, including created wrestlers, championship story modes, and game saves. However, the bug was fixed in later releases of the game. Overall though, No Mercy was received extremely well by critics, and completed the evolution of pro wrestling games on the Nintendo 64 home console.
While there are still other pro wrestling games on the N64 (such as WCW Nitro and ECW Hardcore Revolution), we feel these were the most revolutionary titles that certainly have replay value and are worth shouting about. With WrestleMania around the corner, what better way to look forward to the prestigious event than to chow-down on some pro wrestling games? You've read what the N64 has to offer, so what're you waiting for? Go play them if you haven't, they're all worth a go - and each offer something memorable. Otherwise, which one is your favourite? Tell us below, and enjoy the show on Sunday if you're tuning in!