Wrestling games are often ridiculed by non-fans for the fact that they exist in a weird spot between two universes. Wrestling is obviously a scripted event treated as legitimate to enhance the entertainment factor, but the games themselves omit the spectacle aspect to treat the whole thing as a simulation of a real fight. Despite it all, the genre still generates new games year after year, and they keep selling to an audience which is incredibly thirsty for that kind of content. Because of their niche nature, wrestling games are not covered with the same depth as other games by the press. Therefore, what goes on behind the scene is often left unexplored.
Well, we at The Gamer happen to love exploring the unknown. That’s why we have made our way through interviews, articles, and even troubled ourselves with compiling our own statistics to bring you these 25 facts you (probably) did not know about wrestling video games. With the wrestling business being what it is, some of these facts and trivia go to dark places, but we have also made sure to include lighter stuff as to not make this article too depressing of a read. Nevertheless, you will see that just like the sport on which it is based, wrestling video games have a very weird and unusual story to tell.
25 A Grim Statistic
Wrestling has the unfortunate reputation of a discipline where its athletes die young. In the past, wrestlers were mostly left to their own, but thankfully things are changing for the better. Major wrestling companies have policies in place to protect their people, but the older generation is still at risk. Because of that, a lot of wrestling games become morbid reminders of this trend only a few years after release. Out of every licensed wrestling games, Showdown: Legends of Wrestling is the unlucky record holder, with 28 wrestlers on its roster now being deceased. The nature of the game was, however, working against it, as many of its characters were already dead before their inclusion. Out of the games with rosters which were current at the time of release, the “winner” is WCW Thunder, with 14, although that also includes managers which were secret characters. WWF No Mercy is second, with 10.
24 The Depiction Of Ends
With the exception of the Japan-only Super Fire Pro Wrestling game written by Suda51 (more on that later), only three wrestling games depict death on screen, and they all do it in diverse ways. Let’s start with WWE Wrestlemania X9, a Gamecube exclusive released in 2003. The game features Revenge Mode, where your selected character is tasked by Stephanie McMahon to ruin Wrestlemania in order to get back at her father. This includes going through malls and construction sites in order to wreck shop, assaulting the various civilian workers in the process. At one point, the player is on top of a skyscraper under construction, and different maneuvers allow you to toss the poor workers off the structure, sending them plummeting towards the ground. Their fate is left uncertain, but really, there aren’t that many possibilities for someone falling twenty floors at terminal velocity.
23 A Bit More Graphic
Another game that depicts the demise of its characters is ECW Anarchy Rulz. The infamously bad game features a brand-new match type called “Blistering Brimstones”, in which the ring is surrounded by hot coals. The object of the match is, of course, to throw your opponent into the fire to win. When you do, the victim will catch fire and scream in pain, and then instantly vaporize, leaving nothing behind to indicate that they once existed. Needless to say, this gruesome match type, which it must be mentioned was never attempted in real life, was enough to give the game a rating of “M for Mature”. Sadly, ECW would fold soon after, depriving us of the opportunity to see what crazy match type they could have come up with for the sequel.
22 Implying It Is Classier
Finally, WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game went a different route and simply mentioned the death of thousands of people without being as graphic. The game’s endings are nothing but text which scrolls on screen, with every character getting a different explanation of what happens once he wins the World Championship. For example, Yokozuna’s win collapses democracy in the United States, while Bret Hart just becomes an actor. Bam Bam Bigelow’s ending, however, is something else entirely. Bigelow is put into a trance by his triumph, and somehow, starts producing fire from his hands. He then turns to the audience and burns everyone, and the arena itself, to the ground. Everything is reduced to ashes. Thankfully, this act of destruction is only written, so you have to use your imagination to get the full effect of this tragedy.
21 Here Comes The Money
Floyd Mayweather was once part of a memorable angle with Big Show at Wrestlemania 24. What looked like a total mismatch on paper ended up being surprisingly entertaining. To celebrate the collaboration, there were plans to add Floyd Mayweather to the next edition of Smackdown vs Raw. The development team came up with a unique entrance and a move set, and everything was ready to go, until Mayweather backed out of the deal. History does not state why, but we have to guess it had something to do with money. The animations stayed on the shelf for many years, until Mike Tyson struck a deal to become a playable character in WWE 13. His character used the exact same entrance and move set that had been elaborated for Mayweather a few years prior.
20 Never Seen Before On TV
Although WWE has featured many outrageous storylines on its weekly TV shows (death by explosive limousine, live sex celebration, the whole Katie Vick debacle), it never featured anything more supernatural than The Undertaker producing lightning at will. Even then, it’s easy to just imagine Taker slipping a hundred-dollar bill to the special effects guy before the show to help him intimidate his opponent. Smackdown vs Raw 2007 however goes much further. In the game, Candice Michelle aligns with Edge and challenges your character to a match. To make things fairer, she turns your male character into a woman using her magic wand. Then Viscera, a 500 pounds man in a pajama, falls in love with you. Then Edge, previously your enemy, wants to get into your pants. Candice gets jealous and turns you back into a dude. WWE was never known for subtlety or good taste, but they still manage to surprise me.
19 A Case Of Very Bad Timing
As wrestling games became more sophisticated, fans started asking for more intricate story modes. It thus became customary to include brand new storylines for the people to play, with the appeal being that they were unique to the game and unlike anything you would see on TV. In Smackdown vs Raw 2006, this need for one-of-a-kind stories created an unfortunate display of bad timing. The game’s season mode features a match which culminates with The Undertaker chokeslamming Eddie Guerrero straight into a casket. The problem: Guerrero had died a few months before the release of the game. While there wasn’t much the developers could do because of the timeline of events, the incident was seen as an example of bad taste. Thankfully, it was the last time such a thing would happen, right?
18 The Undertaker Strikes Again
Oh. The very next year, in Smackdown vs Raw 2007, the development team decided to go with The Undertaker again for one of the game’s season mode’s main storyline. It was only natural, with The Deadman being one of the company’s focal point at the time. The storyline also involved, well, Chris Benoit. At one point, this very uncomfortable threat is uttered by The Undertaker before a match: “If you insist on making this mistake, your grieving family will have no one to blame but you when the inevitable occurs”. A few months later, Benoit would end his family before saying goodbye himself. Of course, there is no way that the developers can be blamed for this one, despite the seemingly prophetic nature of what was supposed to be nothing than a spooky threat.
17 Supersized Punishment
WWF No Mercy is considered to be the definitive wrestling game by many gamers. Not only in terms of gameplay, but also because of its roster. The depth of talent is arguably unequaled to this day. One name which is suspiciously absent from the game is Big Show, who was employed by the WWF at that point. The truth is that Big Show was supposed to be in the game, but he fell out of favour with his employer. Big Show’s weight had been steadily climbing since his arrival in the company, to the point where the WWF sent him to Ohio Valley Wrestling, their farm system at the time, to try and lose some girth. When that did not work, punishment was extended to the gaming world, and Show was removed from the game. For enterprising gamers, his model is still accessible through the magic of GameShark.
16 Unfortunate Circumstances
Owen Hart was a beloved wrestler who might have played a bad guy on TV more often than not, but who is often mentioned by his contemporaries as one of the nicest people to ever make it into wrestling. Hart met an untimely end in 1999, but his memory lives on in the heart of wrestling fans everywhere. At the time of his death, he was to be included in the latest WWF video game, titled WWF Attitude. The timing of his accident means that it was too late to remove him from the final product. Instead, the entire game is dedicated to his memory. As it is, this also made Owen Hart the first wrestler to appear in a game after his death, something which has become more normalized with the inclusion of legends in recent WWE games.
15 The End of the Line
While WWF Attitude was dedicated to his memory, it was also Owen Hart’s last appearance in a WWE-licenced game to this day. A lengthy court battle with Hart’s widow made the subject a bit touchy, which is also why Owen Hart has yet to be included in the WWE Hall of Fame. For fans of Owen, there is only one series which was allowed to make him a playable character after he passed away: Legends of Wrestling was given the rights to his likeness, and while the games are nothing to write home about, it still appealed to a certain section of wrestling fans who could finally pit official versions of all their all-time favourites against each other in a virtual ring. With the series being discontinued, Owen Hart hasn’t appeared in a video game since 2004.
14 What’s In A Name?
In 2002, the then-World Wrestling Federation lost a very important fight to the World Wildlife Fund. The Fund was awarded exclusive use of the “WWF” name, meaning that Vince McMahon had to come up with a new designation for his company. McMahon had already been referring to wrestling as “sports-entertainment” for decades, so his simple solution was to turn “World Wrestling Federation” into “World Wrestling Entertainment”. That change was to affect everything from archive footage to video games. As such, the first game to officially be branded with the new name was the PS2 title WWE Smackdown: Shut Your Mouth. It was also the last game to be named after a catchphrase of The Rock, as we were starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel on that regard.
13 A Controversial Ending
Suda51, creator of the No More Heroes series and Killer 7, worked on two games from the Fire Pro Wrestling series in the 90s. More specifically, his particular style is all over Super Fire Pro Wrestling Special. The game features an unusual and controversial story mode, where a rookie tries to become a world champion. Along the way, the player will get dumped by his girlfriend, accidentally end his best friend in the ring, and witness his trainer being ended by his rival. The whole thing culminates when the rookie wins the world championship anyway. Realizing that he is all alone and that his accomplishments are hollow, the rookie will then take his own life. That’s right: The game ends with a gunshot noise, which is not something we have seen since in a wrestling game.
12 The One Thing Going For The Game
Acclaim was once the long-time maker of WWF-branded games. They were ditched in favour of THQ after a string of lackluster titles, particularly WWF War Zone and WWF Attitude. Instead of abandoning the wrestling business entirely, Acclaim signed with ECW, a company which was known for its violent side more than its technical showdowns. Acclaim’s games were just as bad with ECW as they were with the WWF. In fact, they were exactly the same. The engine and character models were identical. Only the wrestlers were different. However, to fit its new license, the games included more violent match types, such as barbed wire, and copious amounts of blood. With that, ECW Hardcore Revolution, has the distinction of being the first wrestling game to be rated M for Mature.
11 A Bizarre Fit
Dusty Rhodes is a beloved part of wrestling history, being one of the most adored good guys the business has ever seen. However, his heydays came in the 70s and early 80s, meaning that his illustrious career does not really overlap with the explosion of video games as a media. Despite his advancing age, Rhodes kept wrestling occasionally well into the 2000s. It is that perseverance which allowed him to finally be a playable character in a wrestling game. Unfortunately, the first game to feature his likeness was ECW Anarchy Rulz, the dreaded sequel to Hardcore Revolution. Notably, Dusty Rhodes did appear in WCW/nWo Revenge, but he was simply a manager of the New World Order, wearing an ill-fitting red leather jacket.
10 Missing A Little Something
Despite probably being the best WCW game in existence, WCW/nWo Revenge is still missing a few things. The most notable of these is Ric Flair, without a doubt the most popular and significant wrestler in the history of WCW. While he was indeed employed by the company at the time of development, he was involved in a dispute with WCW president Eric Bischoff over the fact that he missed a few shows to attend his son Reid’s amateur wrestling tournament. Seeing it as a breach of contract, Bischoff suspended Flair, and his period of inactivity coincided with the development period of the game. Flair would come back to television a few months later, but it was too late for inclusion in the popular game.
9 Always So Close, Yet So Far
Despite being an unlockable character in WCW vs nWo World Tour, the career of Bryan Clarke, aka Wrath aka Adam Bomb, is a series of near-misses when it comes to video games. Sal Divita, an ex-programmer at Acclaim, has confirmed that Adam Bomb was being worked on to be a playable character in the quirky WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game. With his persona of a radioactive monster, Adam Bomb would have fit perfectly in the game’s universe, but he was unfortunately never finished. Bryan Clarke was snubbed on a second occasion years later, this time for WCW/nWo Revenge. His character of Wrath was going to appear, but was canceled at the last second. His unfinished model was however left in the game, and can be accessed through a GameShark code.
8 More Than The Streak
The Undertaker is a wrestling legend for many reasons. His longevity alone is enough to give him a spot in the Hall of Fame, and his Wrestlemania streak cemented his legacy once and for all, but the Deadman has also been breaking records outside of the ring. In the realm of video games, The Undertaker is the wrestler who has appeared in the most games to date. At this point, he’s sitting at 50+, a number which is ridiculous when you think that WWE rarely releases more than one game a year. As you would expect, no one else is even close. Despite his looming retirement, the recent inclusion of legends in WWE’s yearly releases will make sure that Taker keeps that number growing for years to come.
7 Instant Buy
As one of the most revered wrestling title in history, WWF No Mercy still has droves of fans to this day. There is an entire community around the game which mods it to include new wrestlers and arenas, all of which can be played on an emulator. It's with that in mind that THQ approached WWE in 2007 with a proposal: In order to capitalize on the wave of nostalgia, the company wanted to re-release No Mercy as a Wii-exclusive downloadable game, with an updated roster and new match types. The famed grappling engine would have remained intact, which is the main reason why the game is still popular. Unfortunately, WWE did not like the idea, fearing that its main audience, the modders, would prefer to pirate the game.
6 Working Hard For Their Money
Acclaim’s first 3D wrestling game, WWF Warzone, used motion capture technology to make sure that the moves and entrances of the wrestlers it portrayed were accurate and true to life. The two lucky wrestlers selected to perform every last move in the game were Matt and Jeff, the Hardy Boyz. At the time, they were merely wrestling in opening matches and were nowhere near to the stature they would eventually acquire. They repeated the process a few months later for the sequel, WWF Attitude, which used the same technology but more than doubled the roster. The Hardys would eventually move up in their career with WWF Wrestlemania 2000, finally becoming playable characters. They did not have to perform their own stunts this time, since the game used computer animations to achieve its look.
5 The Lone Representative
Newer fans might only know the name “WCW” as that mythical organization which was at war with WWE in the 90s, a place which made household names out of Goldberg, Sting and Ric Flair. In truth, WCW was originally a simple member of a much bigger organization, the National Wrestling Alliance. When WCW left the NWA, it dealt a nearly fatal blow to the alliance, which kept existing as a smaller entity. Its days as an influential company, however, were done. With most of its period of prominence coming before video games were mainstream, there is only one game which bears the NWA name: WCW Wrestling, released for NES in 1989. Even then, you’ll have to look hard, since “NWA” only appears on the game’s box.
4 The Laziest Of Changes
The NES game WCW Wrestling was based on Super Star Pro Wrestling, a Japanese game which featured different wrestlers. In a case similar to Super Mario Bros. 2 being a simple repaint of Doki Doki Panic, the characters of Super Star Pro Wrestling were simply altered to look like the wrestlers of WCW. One character presented a problem: the final boss in the Japanese version was none other than Andre The Giant. In the US, his rights belonged to the WWF, but his sprite was too big to simply be altered to look like a WCW performer. Instead, the developers put a mask on him, and renamed the character “The WCW Master”. This is all fine, except that the alternative version looks exactly like Giant Machine, which was Andre’s alter ego in the WWF. Still, it was different enough to prevent any lawsuit.
3 Inspiration Comes From The Weirdest Places
The NES was a fertile ground for wrestling games. Unfortunately, most of them were terrible. One of them was simply called Tag Team Wrestling. It was primitive, forcing players to select their attacks from a menu, but it was memorable enough to inspire the creation of something which would arguably become bigger than the game ever was. In Tag Team Wrestling, the player’s team is called “The Ricky Fighters”, and they are the only wrestlers the player can pick. Similarly, the enemy team is always the same, and they will be your only opponent no matter how many times you play. Their name? “The Strong Bads”. This masked team was the obvious inspiration for one of Homestar Runner’s most famous character, Strong Bad himself.
2 The Early 2000s Were Weird
In one of the most dated references we can think of, Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit fan was a playable character in two early 2000s WWF games: Smackdown: Just Bring It for PS2 and WWE Raw for Xbox and PC. Did anyone ask for Fred Durst to be in a wrestling game? As it turns out, these two appearances are because of the wishes of one man only: Fred Durst himself. At the time, The Undertaker was using a remixed version of “Rollin’” by Limp Bizkit as his entrance theme. In order to allow THQ to use the song in their games, Durst asked that he be made a playable character, on top of his regular royalties. We can’t really blame the guy for asking for this, as we all would have done the same, but would anyone have really missed that part of The Undertaker’s entrance?
1 Forgetting Something Important
As the last WCW game ever released before the company was sold to Vince McMahon, WCW Backstage Assault was already assured a place in history. There’s one single detail however which makes Backstage Assault even more unique. To this day, it is the only licensed wrestling game which does not have a ring in it. That’s right! In a move which is completely in line with the craziness of late-era WCW, the company decided that the wrestling fans buying its products might not even want to play a wrestling game at all. What they wanted was a run-of-the-mill fighting game. Backstage Assault sends its wrestlers all over the backstage area, near trucks, near catering, but never ringside. Unsurprisingly, the game was a flop, and with WCW going out of business soon after, it never had a chance to make up for this dud.