One of the longest-standing genres in gaming is wrestling video games. From titles that simulate the action seen on TV to those that take creative liberties with the sport in question, these games have been commonplace over the decades. In fact, one of the most popular discussions among wrestling fans is in regard to their favorite games. These discussions can become heated, but it can’t be denied just how beloved many of these titles are.
In fact, it’s fair to say that these games are being played now more than ever. During the past few months, the world has been hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. This has forced many people to stay indoors, barring shopping for essentials. Time that might have been spent hanging out with friends or taking vacations has been used to indulge in hobbies. Needless to say, gaming has been common. Perhaps it has even piqued your interest in revisiting your favorite wrestling video games or discovering new experiences.
The purpose of this series of columns is to highlight some of the most popular and beloved wrestling video games. There’s plenty of ground to cover, though, which is why this series will break down games by systems. Keep in mind that this isn’t meant to be a “definitive” list of wrestling games. Rather, these are the experiences of a single wrestling fan and gamer. With that said, let’s begin with the console that helped this genre build early popularity.
Nintendo Entertainment System
In 1983, the world experienced an event commonly known as the “video game crash.” With a saturated market, consumers grew tired of the experiences that video game companies were providing. What was once a strong market became utterly crippled. The video game industry started to recover in 1985, though, and Nintendo played a pivotal role. Enter the Nintendo Entertainment System, which was released in Japan and North America in 1985 and Europe the following year.
Initially marketed as a toy, rather than a video game console due to the aforementioned crash, the NES went on to become arguably the most important system in history. In addition to breathing new life into the industry, the NES served as the birthplace of many beloved series. “Super Mario” and “The Legend of Zelda” are only a few examples. It also encompassed various genres, from puzzle to roleplaying to sports. Professional wrestling fans got to play multiple titles that catered to this interest, some better than others.
In terms of branded wrestling video games for the NES, this is the most popular. “WWF WrestleMania” was released in 1989, developed by Rare and published by Acclaim. This game released during the era of Hulkamania. Upon starting the game, players would be greeted by a pixelized version of Hulk Hogan during the title sequence. This served to create a solid first impression, but whether or not the game holds up is a matter of personal taste.
For the time it was released, “WWF WrestleMania” boasted a modest roster. In addition to Hogan, players could choose Andre the Giant, Randy Savage, Ted DiBiase, Bam Bam Bigelow, and The Honky Tonk Man. During gameplay, wrestlers inflict damage on one another with a limited series of maneuvers, including punches and kicks. To recover health, players would have to collect symbols unique to each wrestler. For example, if one were to play as DiBiase, they would have to collect dollar signs that traveled across the ring.
Though limited in gameplay – only two modes, standard and tournament, exist – “WWF WrestleMania” stands as a classic title in the NES library. Granted, options were limited for wrestling fans during this time. Simply put, they had to take what they got. This title is worth checking out for historical purposes, but as far as fun experiences are concerned, even the technologically-limited NES had better options for wrestling video games.
“A WINNER IS YOU.” With a title as straightforward as they get, “Pro Wrestling” for the NES was released in Japan in 1986 and North America and Europe the following year. Developed and published by Nintendo, Pro Wrestling was part of the company’s “Sports Series” of NES games. Other titles in said series include but aren’t limited to “Baseball,” “Ice Hockey,” “10-Yard Fight,” and “World Class Track Meet.” Don’t let the simple title fool you; “Pro Wrestling” is a decent romp.
“Pro Wrestling” features a simple approach that can be surprisingly intricate for an NES game. Though most newcomers may rely solely on strikes, including a jumping spin kick, those that put time in will be able to master the game’s additional maneuvers. The game also does a solid job recreating a true-to-life wrestling match. With a referee that counts pins, a commentary team that sits outside of the ring, and a cameraman at ringside, “Pro Wrestling” does a valiant job incorporating elements from television programming.
Perhaps the most memorable aspect of “Pro Wrestling” is its roster. With the magenta grappler Starman and the primal fighter The Amazon, just to name a few, these characters have become etched in the minds of retro gamers. “Pro Wrestling” falls in line with the rest of the aforementioned “Sports Series.” There may not be much to this game on the surface, but those willing to put in the time can squeeze a fair amount of fun from it.
Tecmo World Wrestling
Rounding out this list of important NES wrestling video games is a lesser-known title.“Tecmo World Wrestling” was released in Japan in 1989 and North America and Europe in 1990. It was developed and published by Tecmo, which released a fair number of classics for the system. Their NES classics include “Tecmo Bowl” and the “Ninja Gaiden” series. “Tecmo World Wrestling” may not be the first title that people think of regarding the company in question. Objectively, it may be the best wrestling game on the NES.
Faster-paced than the wrestling video games that preceded it, “Tecmo World Wrestling” provides a more action-packed experience. In addition to a number of strikes and maneuvers that players can pull off, the game provides an even more involved environment. Though “Pro Wrestling” included a commentary team, it was little more than window dressing. “Tecmo World Wrestling” provides text commentary during gameplay, complete with a graphic of an announcer. Granted, many lines may be missed during more intense matches, but this was an ambitious inclusion for the time.
The wrestling element is just one aspect of “Tecmo World Wrestling,” however. Prior to matches, players can take part in training sections. During these, players are instructed to button-mash. The more this is done, the more power players develop, which has a direct impact on how strong their moves become. Another interesting point to note is how the fictional wrestlers are based on real-life grapplers. Akira Dragon’s moves are derived from Antonio Inoki, El Tigre is inspired by Tiger Mask, and so forth. “Tecmo World Wrestling” may be the lesser-known title in this rundown. That said, it’s recommended the most to those looking for genuinely fun experiences.
Other NES wrestling video games include WWF King of the Ring, WCW World Championship Wrestling, and Tag Team Match M.U.S.C.L.E.
These titles vary in quality and playing them is best left at a player’s discretion. Overall, the NES collection of wrestling titles was decent but not incredibly groundbreaking. As we run down future platforms, that’s when things will become more interesting. Next time, we will jump ahead into the next console generation with the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world.