Sports and video games are two of the most popular pastimes in modern society, so it makes sense that video game franchises based on sports would become some of the most popular titles in the gaming industry. However, the sheer volume at which developers produce sports-based video games means that they also become some of the most disposable, with fans quickly forgetting about their old favorites. This is pretty much based on the fact that an updated version is released almost every year. Pro wrestling is no different from other sports, and as such, World Wrestling Entertainment and plenty of other wrestling companies throughout history have been utilizing these trends to create dozens of excellent games, and as is usually the case, fans are forgetting about them more and more as time goes by.
Obviously, the new generation of gamers probably aren’t going to care about something released on the Atari, and there’s nothing wrong with the latest WWE2KX release forcing them to look back in time. That said, it is also pretty clear that retro gaming is on the rise, as well, and older fans of video games and pro wrestling could do well to look back upon some of the classic wrestling releases WWE, WCW, and others have created back in the day. Even if the controls feel a little strange or outdated, these games often serve an interesting window into what the producing company thought about their talent at the time. This is evidenced subtly in how powerful certain characters are, and more blatantly in which wrestlers happened to make the cover. Whether you’re old school or a new generation gamer, check out our list of the 15 classic wrestling games most fans completely forgot about.
15. WWF Raw
WWF Raw was the third and best game entry into LJN’s 16-bit wrestling trilogy, released in late 1994 on the Sega Genesis, SNES, Game Gear, and Game Boy. It was the first wrestling game to give superstars unique and realistic move sets, and started to differentiate wrestling games from standard fighting games, and turned them into a genre all their own. It was also groundbreaking in the fact that it was a pro wrestling game released in America to contain a playable female character, namely Luna Vachon.
There were plenty of flaws to WWF Raw, and future titles would greatly improve upon the medium. However, the game was more or less the best that could have been expected out of WWE given the limitations of the era. The New Generation is an often-criticized era of wrestling, but in a 16-bit video game environment, the flashy and colorful characters seem completely appropriate and create a fun slice of history.
14. MicroLeague Wrestling
When most people think of pro wrestling video games, they probably imagine a game that isn’t too different from most other fighting games, only with a sports entertainment edge. While that is usually the case, it would actually turn out that the first ever WWE released video game was nothing of the sort. MicroLeague Wrestling was released for Atari and Commodore 64 in 1987. The cover promised “live, action-packed matches,” but what players actually got was a turn-based strategy game. The roster of superstars all had a limited number of moves, mostly based on whether they are heel or face.
Despite a minimalist style, the game still managed to excel in certain areas future WWE releases would lack for many years. MicroLeague Wrestling actually contained commentary from Vince McMahon, Jesse Ventura, and Bruno Sammartino, with wrestler interviews hosted by Gene Okerlund. The scripts were nothing special, but they still helped the game actually feel like a WWE release, and given the immense technical limitations at the time, that was truly something to be commended.
13. WWF SuperStars
WWF SuperStars was the first wrestling game released in arcades, and even better, it was the first game where the characters actually looked and moved like real WWE performers. In a historical note, it also became the first wrestling game to feature a woman in any role, as Miss Elizabeth was featured in an interview segment alongside Randy Savage. Speaking of those interview segments, they were the first of their kind to receive voice acting, which wasn’t perfect, but was still a sign of things to come for the wrestling and video game industries.
The nature of arcade games led to a minor flaw in the concept of the game, as instead of freely playing with whatever characters they wanted, players were forced into tag team matches with a very limited roster. One player can rely on the AI to perform their partner’s moves, but that significantly increased the difficulty level of the game. There aren’t any solo matches in the game at all, and in fact, all of the tag matches are part of a tournament, ultimately leading to a final boss of Ted DiBiase and Andre the Giant (who therefore aren’t playable characters). Nonetheless, arcade going wrestling fans would probably be happy to find this hanging around a Laundromat, or wherever else they still have arcade games these days.
12. Extreme Warfare Revenge
While one would assume that the biggest thrill of a pro wrestling game is the ability to play as your favorite superstar, some fans dream bigger and like the idea of running an entire wrestling company. Many of the more recent wrestling video games have had options that allow players to give superstars championships and dictate the careers of multiple characters, but the only series to truly let gamers take control of the whole show is Adam Ryland’s Extreme Warfare franchise. Extreme Warfare expanded to include the more popular Extreme Warfare Revenge, and then evolved into the ongoing Total Extreme Warfare series, which released its most recent title in May 2016.
The Extreme Warfare series is vastly different from most of the others on the list, not just in what players are doing, but how they do it. Obviously, the idea here isn’t to fight other wrestlers and prove who has the better moves, but rather as an outline and organizer for the player’s wildest imaginations. EWR/TEW are at their core simple text simulators, but the series remains popular enough to foster multiple online fan communities to this day.
11. WWF War Zone
WWF War Zone was almost certainly the greatest wrestling title released for PlayStation, and one of the first true representations of the Attitude Era in video game form. The real victory of the game, however, was the fact that it introduced perhaps the most popular element in wrestling games, which fans likely could never imagine not existing today: Create-A-Wrestler mode. The game also featured semi-realistic commentary provided by Jim Ross and Vince McMahon, as well as small bits of voice acting by way of crowd noise and the grunts and groans of a variety of top WWE superstars of that time.
Although the commentary was repetitive and not particularly insightful, it was more present and relevant to the actual movements at hand than any previous attempts. It was yet another sign that wrestling games were becoming a genre all their own, and further allowed video games to capture the WWE environment. The game also featured alternative and unlockable outfits for choice superstars, adding variety and realism in a way that technology had previously been unable to allow.
10. ECW Anarchy Rulz
Some fans may assume ECW was too small to ever have their own video game, but in fact, the hardcore company from Philadelphia that changed sports entertainment as we know it, actually managed to release not one, but two video games during its brief life span. The first title was ECW Hardcore Revolution, but unfortunately, that game was almost an exact rip-off of WWF Attitude, with the only difference being the inclusion of ECW wrestlers. Thankfully, developers at Acclaim Entertainment realized their mistake, and set out to create a game that captured the true ECW feel.
The result wasn’t quite perfect, but that’s almost fitting for a company that never had as much money as the big dogs, and tried twice as hard to make up for it as best they could through sheer talent. The game attempted to create a hardcore and innovative environment by contriving new and violent match types, and interviews provided by superstars was appropriately edgier than other wrestling video games could offer at the time. Nonetheless, ECW Anarchy Rulz still wasn’t that great of a game, and only really winds up on our list as fan service to people who want to play an ECW-based game.
9. WWF In Your House
WWF In Your House is a game that was the exact opposite of the sentiment about the differences between the average fighting game and a pro wrestling game. While most wrestling titles have attempted to create a realistic sports entertainment environment, WWF In Your House copied the trend of WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game, the most recent WWE released title at the time of its creation. This trend was to ignore the wrestling aspect of these games and go all in on copying traditional fighting games. The result was wrestlers who could use magic and fantastical objects in order to literally shock their opponents into submission.
In addition to these gameplay elements, the character design was also ripped directly from Mortal Kombat, with lifelike sprites of the wrestlers spastically moving around in digitally confined small spaces. Unlike most other wrestling games, matches also took place in wild and foreign locations, contrasted to the usual limited selection of arenas (and even that wouldn’t become widespread in games for a few years). Of course, these aspects of the game can be seen both as pros or cons, and it is up to one’s own tastes as a gamer whether or not that makes WWF In Your House a complete failure or a fun blast from the past.
8. The Simpsons Wrestling
The Simpsons Wrestling is not a video game that had many fans, to say the least. However, it is a professional wrestling game where players get to play as the cast of The Simpsons, so it isn’t like the game was a total failure in all aspects. It came pretty close, though, with clunky graphics, limited and difficult gameplay, repetitive match commentary provided by Kent Brockman, and the classic video game pitfalls like slow loading times and poor color contrasts on top of it all, creating a pretty craptacular video game.
What turns the affair into a perfect cromulent experience is, of course, the equally classic Simpsons family charm. Players not only got to wrestle as every main member of the Simpsons clan (well, Maggie is part of Marge’s move set), but also fun side characters including Bumblebee Man, Apu, Krusty the Clown, and a comically overpowered Ned Flanders. The characters are voiced by their original voice actors and have plenty of big laughs throughout, giving fans of Springfield plenty to stick around for, even if the game itself had plenty of room for improvement.
7. Fire Pro Wrestling Combination Tag
WWE is becoming increasingly honest as the years go by about the fact that they aren’t the only wrestling company in the world anymore. Japan, in particular, has had a thriving pro wrestling scene completely independent of WWE for many decades now, and considering the amount of video game technology that is created in Japan, as well, it was inevitable that the Japanese wrestling community would develop a pro wrestling game of their own. Fire Pro Wrestling Combination Tag was the first in a long-running series of independently made PC games, and though the first title was rather small, it started a franchise that would become one of the biggest in wrestling history in more ways than one.
The fact that the Fire Pro Wrestling series is independent of any particular wrestling company may have a few cons, but one of the pros was unquestionably the biggest draw of the entire series. Although the developers couldn’t name their characters after real wrestlers, they could make it very obvious who the characters were based on, and when the technology allowed it, this meant the games’ rosters could include virtually every wrestling superstar on the planet at the time of their release. Combination Tag started the trend by including Japanese legends Antonio Inoki and Masa Saito alongside Mexican icons Mil Mascaras and Dos Caras, plus American superstars such as Bruiser Brody and The Road Warriors. The irony was that while these games were almost guaranteed to have something for everyone, they received a limited release outside of Japan, and few players were ever able to enjoy them.
6. WWF WrestleMania 2000
WWF WrestleMania 2000 is mostly remembered in history for being the immediate predecessor to an even greater WWE released title, but the game itself is actually quite notable for several reasons. While all wrestling fans are aware of the incredibly heated rivalry between WWE and WCW throughout the late 1990s, the full extent of that war can still manage to shock and surprise fans when they least expect it. One example of this is the fact that WWF WrestleMania 2000 was the first WWE video game developed by THQ. The company would go on to produce all WWE games for the next 13 years. Prior to this release, THQ had an exclusive contract with WCW, and WWE aggressively pursued a deal with the company as a result of the partnership’s past success.
More than simply introducing WWE to a video game company that would produce some of their greatest titles in the future, WWF WrestleMania 2000 also predicted a new generation of WWE games, with a wider variety of wrestlers who appeared more realistic and individualistic than ever before. The history with THQ meant plenty of WCW stars were subtly referenced throughout the Create-A-Wrestler mode, which proved easier for fans to make that wide roster even bigger than it already was.
5. Tag Team Wrestling
Video games and pro wrestling are both industries that are ever-changing, and the fact of the matter is, they don’t always get it right on the first try. Thus begins the story of Tag Team Wrestling, the very first pro wrestling game ever made. Tag Team Wrestling was released to arcades in 1983, known in Japan as The Big Pro Wrestling. It was later ported for computers, Commodore 64, and NES systems.
Given the fact that Tag Team Wrestling was invented only a few years after video games became popular with mainstream audiences, the game was obviously far more limited than many modern gamers could even imagine. On top of all the technical flaws, neither WWE nor any other pro wrestling company had any relation to the release, as it was published just before Vince McMahon had attempted to take his company worldwide. The result was a roster of two characters with only two opponents, and an equally limited move sets and gameplay options. Still, the game deserves points for historical value, as well as its role in adding some minor wrestling based innovations to the fighting genre, such as tag teams and count outs.
4. WWF WrestleMania
The first-ever wrestling game may have been pretty flawed, but at the time, most fans thought WWE’s first attempt into the video game arena was a huge success. WWF WrestleMania was the first action-based wrestling game released for NES, and the beginning of a 10-year relationship between the sports entertainment giants and video game developers, Acclaim Entertainment. The roster was extremely limited, and superstars mostly used the same moves. Yet, fans were still thrilled to play as their favorite WWE superstars for the very first time.
WWF WrestleMania was released in 1989, and still featured many elements that were similar to the average fighting game than wrestling games would include in the future, but at least it managed to do so in a sports entertainment style. Health-boosting items appeared in the ring at random, but at least these items related to the wrestlers. Some of these items included things like a guitar for The Honky Tonk Man or a golden crucifix for Hulk Hogan. Speaking of The Hulkster, his famous egomania was on display even in game form, as his character was the only one with the ability to body slam Andre the Giant.
3. WCW/nWo Revenge
WCW has almost become so infamous for the many flaws that drove the company out of business that fans sometimes forget World Championship Wrestling was on occasion capable of some serious greatness. Superstars like Sting, Goldberg, Ric Flair, and Diamond Dallas Page were always working their hardest to create the best show possible for fans, and as it would turn out, video game developers creating WCW/nWo Revenge had that same mindset when working on the sole WCW video game masterpiece.
WCW/nWo Revenge wasn’t the first WCW wrestling game, but fans would almost unanimously agree it was the best, and in fact, things started to go rapidly downhill for the company almost immediately after it was released. The game was made pretty much at the absolute peak of WCW’s powers, though, and the result is a wildly expansive roster with unique and accurate move sets virtually every pro wrestling fan could enjoy. The game was the final WCW game developed by AKI and released by THQ, and the success of its release is what inspired WWE to steal their connection and begin developing games with THQ until well after WCW went out of business.
2. Pro Wrestling
The historical significance of this first-ever wrestling game was enough to land it a bit lower on the list, and thus it should only be natural that the first-ever wrestling game to actually be any good would wind up a whole lot higher. Pro Wrestling for NES was not only the first wrestling game players actually wanted to buy, but it was also one of the greatest and most popular video games ever released on the inaugural Nintendo home gaming system.
Pro Wrestling had no official affiliation with WWE, NWA, or any other pro wrestling company, and it existed before technology allowed developers to get away with mimicking real stars in their character designs. Instead, players chose between original creations like Giant Panther and Star Man, either of which could have easily fit in with any wrestling company of the era. Beyond the characters, the gameplay was so strong that magazines like Computer Gaming World and Game Informer both later including Pro Wrestling among their lists of the greatest video games of all time, wrestling or otherwise.
1. WWF No Mercy
The debate over what the greatest pro wrestling video game is will rage on for as long as they keep making video games, but chances are that WWF No Mercy will forever remain a strong front-runner in the race. Although the game only slightly improved upon the basic gameplay previously utilized in earlier releases from both WCW and WWE, WWF No Mercy was the first wrestling game to feature a fully fleshed story mode for virtually every type of wrestling that existed at the time. It featured lengthy backstage segments that mimicked real-life WWE events from the WWE World Championship, all the way down to the much smaller scale Hardcore Championship.
The incredible stories are what kept fans coming back, as it took hours upon hours to learn every possible outcome. There were various combinations of wins and losses throughout that the game could create. While players always had to win the final match, WWF No Mercy was special in that sometimes players had to lose to get the result they wanted. To make things even more complicated, the way they lost was sometimes the most important aspect. Graphics and technical capabilities have wildly improved since the game was released in late 2000, but many video game and wrestling fans feel that WWF No Mercy will never be eclipsed.