From the ring action to the larger than life characters, pro wrestling has everything video game fans would love. However, to compile a list of truly great wrestling games is a bit harder than you think. For one thing, it took a while for video game technology to be able to provide some realistic looks for the wrestling. Early attempts in arcades and home systems could be botchy and little more than colored figures going at it. As things have improved, fans have been able to enjoy some really great experiences.
Arcades have given good stuff like Wrestlefest and more while home systems are now the big ones. WWE has been providing annual games that replicate wrestlers almost exactly and give some terrific game experiences. It really is like the real thing and fans can even enjoy booking it as they’d like.
But not all wrestling games are good. In fact, many are very, very horrible on multiple levels. It’s one thing to judge earlier games when the technology wasn’t that good, but even more modern ones are bad. There’s also how some aren’t even “wrestling” games per se, but using WWE and others in different settings. The games on this list had glitches, bugs, horrible design work and just overall bad to play. A few were so bad, they are infamous and rank among the stupidest ideas for any wrestling game. Here are 15 of the worst wrestling video games and how the business doesn’t always adapt well to the medium.
15. Steel Cage Challenge
A lot of the early NES games for wrestling were rather poor and you have to make allowances. The very first WWE game, WrestleMania, was a bizarre affair of barely any movement. But by 1992, there should have been more of a push to get something good going. Instead, this game was a serious step backward. It took place totally inside a steel cage, those massive blue bar ones WWE would have for years. The ten man roster showed guys from 1992 (Undertaker, Bret Hart, the Mountie, etc.), but the move set was horrible, only a half dozen for the entire game. Thus, no matter who you played as, the game play was the same, which was damn horrible. The graphics were terrible as well, the cage ugly and distracting, the wrestlers just colored blobs with little to differentiate them and it just came off pretty terrible and downright boring. The cage was a good idea but not enough to elevate this above other NES entries.
14. Microleague Pro Wrestling
True, this was one of the first ever wrestling games so it can be forgiven a bit for being so bad but still…It was part of the wave of “sports simulations” in the 1980s and thus it’s not really a full on game. Rather, you would see photo montages of major WWE stars like Hulk Hogan or Randy Savage on screen. On the side, there would be a list of moves to choose from to enter in and the photos would shift to show it. Below, text from Vince McMahon and Jesse Ventura subbed for commentary. There were five basic moves, four major ones and a finisher. As a card game, this worked fine, but for a wrestling game, it was bad. It wasn’t a game much as a PowerPoint presentation and half the time the moves didn’t even work as planned. Released for the Commodore 64 and Amiga, the game was barely a blip as it worked okay for card playing, but not for a video game format.
13. WrestleMania Arcade
On the one hand, the graphics are great. Released in 1995 in arcades, this game boasts fantastic versions of Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Undertaker, Razor Ramon and other stars of the time. They look terrific and just like their counterparts. The problem is that it’s not a wrestling game but rather one of the many attempts to cash in on the Mortal Kombat fighting craze of the 1990s. While you had the occasional actual move (like a Sharpshooter), it was mostly a lot of punching and kicking and some freaky stuff. Ramon’s hands become real razor blades, Undertaker shoots out smoke, Donk electrifies folks with a buzzer, etc. It plays with you facing two or three guys at once as you’re hit and things like hearts or other stuff fly about and a weird “ending text” on your character. While the visuals are good, it’s a stretch to call this a wrestling game by any means and a waste of perfectly good talent.
12. TNA Impact
It may be no coincidence that shortly after the release of TNA’s only video game, developer Midway went out of business. The graphics are pretty top notch, using high-def scans to replicate the TNA roster from AJ Styles to Kurt Angle, Abyss and more. You have the option of playing in Ultimate X and other unique matches and the animation flows of the moves were good. Sadly, it was let down by several factors. First, the move set for each player was incredibly limited; you could do a finisher like Styles Clash, but otherwise guys played exactly the same no matter their size or background. Also, one had to open up the story mode (which was rough) in order to do more matches. It lacked the depth of WWE’s games and the AI was horrible, leading to some ugly matches with glitches. It sold poorly with bad reviews and perhaps fitting how TNA’s only video game can be a major letdown.
11. Royal Rumble Dreamcast
In 2000, the WWF was hot as hell and the arcades showed that with the fun Royal Rumble game. It was an old-styled one where four players could compete at once and was meant to eat up quarters. Sega decided to port it to a home version for their Dreamcast system and the graphics were good for the time. However, rather than try to expand it, Sega made it just a direct port. So you had either exhibition or the Royal Rumble mode itself, no other types of matches. While the Rumble could be fun at times, it was marred by the fact that the game had only 22 guys while the Rumble is meant for 30. Thus, you had copies of guys in the ring for the Rumble at a time when WWF was at a great period of talent. Worse, the move set for each guy was almost exactly the same. For example, Big Show could do some flying moves and the finishing moves did almost no damage. It was way behind the other games of the time, both in play and presentation and a true missed opportunity for Sega to give something big with wrestling games.
10. Fire Pro Wrestling 360
For years, the Fire Pro Wrestling line has been among the most popular wrestling games around. This downloadable game allows fans to play a great game with a top-notch grappling system. Better is how fans can edit their own designs to make the wrestlers look just like anyone from WWE, WCW, and more. Mostly popular in Japan, the games do have versions in North America to win fans over. When it was announced Xbox 360 Arcade would be presenting a version, fans were elated…until it came out. The characters were total cartoons with giant heads, more like a Wii game. The complex fighting engine is now just some button mashing for limited moves that have no flash and limited choices. There are just one-on-one or two-on-two bouts, none of the special matches fans would want and the backgrounds come off too goofy to get into. It’s a complete turn from what the series is about and most FPW fans loathe how one of the best wrestling games around was turned into this total joke.
9. WWE Betrayal
Video games on handheld consoles were tricky enough, wrestling games more so. But this 2001 entry still ranks are pretty damn weird. The plot is Stephanie McMahon has been kidnapped and rather than call the cops, Vince offers a title shot to whoever can rescue her. The playable characters are Steve Austin, The Rock, HHH and Undertaker, all of whom are shown with giants heads on small bodies. What follows is a side-scrolling beat-‘em-up as they race from locker room to rooftops, streets and more on this rescue attempt. The graphics were decent but the play was horrible, just punches and kicks with one finishing move for each character. The enemies were bad with refs and thugs all around and the play soon became totally repetitive with knocking out guys over and over. It was just a strange entry overall and didn’t shine well for play, making this the final entry for GameBoy Color and still one of the odder attempts to shake up wrestling games.
8. WWE In Your House
Bad as WrestleMania Arcade was, this home version was even worse. The graphics took a nose dive to look like even poorer representations of the workers. Also, they amped up the craziness with more nutty animation moves and actions that were physically impossible in real life. Vader would remove his mask to beat you with it while Goldust whipped you with a feather boa so they came off pretty ridiculous. The settings were “homes” of wrestlers and while some made sense (Bret in the Hart Dungeon), others didn’t like the Ultimate Warrior in a dude ranch or Undertaker in a strange temple while Owen Hart was in a literal house of cards. It wasn’t wrestling, just beat ’em up action, but lacking the polish the arcade game had shown. The incredibly annoying commentary by Vince McMahon made it even worse as the game was barely wrestling. Rather, it was just a fighting game and, in many ways, not a very good one at that.
A fad in 1986-87, these tiny figures were from Japan, set up as a sort of interstellar wrestling league. There were hundreds released, in various sizes and shapes, and showcased a wide range that gave owners the chance to create their own wrestling leagues. It was fun to collect them and play with, but sadly it didn’t lend well to its video game version. All of the characters are basically the exact same shape and design with only slight modifications to make them look more unique. It’s a tag team setting but it doesn’t work well as the move set is horrible. You basically just run around with some high flying “kicks” that look terrible and grabbing a power-up to boost yourself. The object isn’t to pin your opponent, just to wear them down and knock them out. True, this was the early days of home systems, but it was still an utterly terrible game in every way to show that the M.U.S.C.L.E. figures worked a lot better as action toys than a video game.
6. WWE Aftershock
The N-Gage isn’t very well remembered. It was a decent, early attempt at a handheld console, but the PSP was far better overall as well as Game Gear. Thus, it makes sense their wrestling entry would be pretty damn bad. The wrestlers are terrible to see, so badly pixelated you can barely tell who’s who and for some reason have overly long arms. The controls are a mess and fail to work properly most of the time, especially in the tag team matches. While the ring entrances are cool (Eddie Guerrero in his Low Rider) and there is good music overall, the minuses are far, far bigger. It just looks damn ugly, even worse than some of the early N64 games, and mixed with the terrible game play, it’s a total ugly mess. Thankfully, the N-Gage didn’t last long and games like this are a clear example why as it was a total misfire from start to finish.
5. WCW/NWO Thunder
The original WCW Nitro game was well received as after years of rough efforts, the company seemed to finally put out a good game. So, THQ figured they’d have a hit with the follow-up. More wrestlers, more matches (battle royals, weapon use, etc.) and other bits and you had a hit, right? Wrong. First, there was the nutty opening as each wrestler had a video clip of a crazy promo (Kevin Nash’s is rather notable). The presentation was good but marred by some horrible AI and various glitches, lacking real polish. Worse, the move set and control scheme meant you could simply beat down your opponent, strike one blow and pin them in 30 seconds. The atmosphere was good with the wrestlers given good looks, but the overall presentation was just horrible as the dull matches and messy controls rob the fun and the commentary is damn annoying. WCW would have mixes of good and bad games over the years, but this ranks among their worst efforts ever.
4. Backyard Wrestling 2
The “backyard wrestling” craze began hitting in the late 1990s as fans started emulating the moves at home. Videos were soon around of teens taking it to each other, often in incredibly brutal fights, that got major attention. A video game was released that was a surprise mild success so a sequel was natural. However, it ended up being rushed and despite brags of “great improvements,” there were none. The game included guys like Insane Clown Posse and adult film stars with a few names like the Sandman, but others not at all known to mainstream fans. The fighting was ugly, several glitches abounding, and the custom characters were a mess. The presentation looked incredibly cheap, even cheaper than the real thing, and the mechanics were quite clumsy. Power-up moves were way too easy and the settings badly designed. It was a real mess overall, nowhere near as fun as it should have been.
3. WCW Backstage Assault
A common joke on wrestling threads is to ask how something so ridiculous and stupid can go down in the late 1990s wrestling scene and the answer being “Because WCW.” That can go for this late 2000 game, a period when the company was going seriously downhill. The idea was to have the WCW roster go at it…completely outside the ring. From locker rooms to parking garages, the wrestlers went at it, using everything from bats to flaming boxes to attack their opponent. That was bad enough, but what made it worse was the utterly horrific presentation. Even by N64/PS1 standards, the wrestlers looked horrible block figures shuffling around with little fluid movement. The controls were crazy and hard to work and half the time, you could be lashing out attacks to no effect. The idea was to just wander around, getting into fights before a champion showed up, but the play was terrible as you just beat guys down for a knockout and the move set bad. It makes sense this was the final ever WCW game as it was a terrible effort totally.
2. WWE Crush Hour
Whenever a video game becomes a massive success, you’ll see plenty of imitators. Such was the case when Twisted Metal took off, this mix of demolition derby and racing becoming a sensation. It would inspire numerous other properties to do variations of it (even Star Wars) and thus, WWE had to follow suit. The opening was unique, imagining a “WWE Network” of Kane doing a cooking show and then leading to a new racing program. So instead of wrestling, you had the stars driving their own vehicles in races and trying to crush each other. Now, Steve Austin driving his “Stone Cold” truck made perfect sense. But some of the other cars just looked rough and silly with the idea of them having special “power-up” moves to go with their driving actions. The play itself was poor with sluggish controls and failed to entertain that well. It was just an attempt to cash in on a non-wrestling game craze and didn’t work out too well in the overall effort to entertain WWE fans.
1. Simpsons Wrestling
On paper, it should work. The Simpsons, an icon of American culture that’s one of the most popular shows of all time, took on pro wrestling. Throw in how the cast of the show actually provided the voice work and it should have been terrific, right?
Wrong. The action is terrible, the camera sits at a bizarre angle from the corner, and the gameplay itself is just horrible. The PlayStation controls are all over the place, half the time your character won’t even move in the right direction of punch when he supposed to and the “move sets” are more outlandish than funny. Random power-ups just float across the ring, but don’t really do anything overall to improve you. The voices are good with taunts and some funny jokes, but are married to an otherwise horrific playing experience. The fighting is off, the controls are wonky, you can barely get anything done the way the developers intended, and the character animations are just ugly. As both a wrestling game and a Simpsons entry, it’s a total failure and remarkable how one game can let down two surefire properties so easily.