With the release of WWE 2K18 almost upon us, let's reminiscence about all of those wonderful and terrible pro-wrestling video games from years past. Gaming has come a long way over the past several decades, evolving from barely-recognizable sprites to the amazing spectacle featured in the WWE 2K cutscenes. Still, gameplay and entertainment value is what gamers really care about with their pro-wrestling titles.
While I cannot wait for what awaits us with the release of WWE 2K18, I feel as though the gamers of wrestling games have become very fickle and spoiled, and for good reason. With every little change that 2K decides to make, they run the risk of breaking the game or make it unplayable. Of course, the developers can't satisfy everyone, but I just hope that the game is as fun as it is beautiful. Honestly, I can do without the beauty, especially since I have a tiny television. Just make it fun.
Over this list, we will examine some of the classics, both good and bad. Some of them will have you playing for hours, while others will have you throwing your controllers in disgust. Here are the eight best and worst pro-wrestling games of all time.
15 Best: WWE All Stars
WWE All Stars is an animated over-the-top reinterpretation of the typical pro-wrestling simulation much like other recreational classics such as NBA Jam, featuring insane signature and finishing moves that would make the grumpiest wrestling enthusiast crack a smile. Though purists might consider the gameplay and presentation of this game as shallow and overly simple, it still received positive reviews and an exciting departure from the typical wrestling titles that were coming out at the turn of the decade. Unfortunately, with the demise of THQ shortly after, it is extremely likely that WWE All Stars will never receive a sequel or even a much-needed rehashing.
14 Worst: WCW Mayhem
When THQ and AKI acquired a license to create WWF-branded games, EA took up the mantle of developing and releasing their first-ever wrestling games for the WCW promotion. Due to the intensifying Monday Night Wars, WCW declined to partner with THQ despite having tremendous successes with the THQ and AKI partnership. The game's robust roster and excellent presentation including great graphics and sound effects. Unfortunately, the game suffered from average gameplay and lack of innovation. Though not entirely terrible, WCW Mayhem paled in comparison to what their rival promotion had to offer, as well as failing to reach the popularity of its THQ-released predecessors.
13 Best: WWF Wrestlefest
Among the many great and terrible wrestling games on this list, WWF Wrestlefest is special because it is the only one to be released exclusively for the arcade, without ever being ported to any home console. Developed and released by Technos in 1991, WWF Wrestlefest was an improvement to WWF Superstars and superior to every wrestling game during the 8 and 16-bit eras. Supporting up to four combatants, it also featured ten of the biggest WWF stars at the time including Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Big Boss Man, and the legendary tag teams of Demolition and The Legion of Doom. THQ remade the game for the iOS in 2012 with an updated roster, but since THQ's demise, the game is no longer available for download on the App Store.
12 Worst: WWF Steel Cage Challenge
During the 8-bit era, it was extremely difficult to find a decent wrestling game. Just know that if the game is published by LJN, make sure you don't spend any real money on it. WWF Steel Cage Challenge was one of these games. Released for the original Nintendo and Sega Genesis, this game featured ten selectable wrestlers, but it really didn't matter since everyone looked the same and all of them shared the same movesets. Among its peers, WWF Steel Cage Challenge was extremely lacking in fortitude and overall entertainment value, being the total antithesis of the excellent WWF Wrestlefest arcade game. It might be one of the worst LJN-published games of all time, and that is saying a lot.
11 Best: WWF Wrestlemania 2000
Released in 1999 at the height of WWF's Attitude Era, WWF Wrestlemania 2000 was originally an exclusive for the Nintendo 64 and was the first ever WWF-oriented game published by THQ, after breaking ties with Acclaim. Notably, it shared the same gaming engine as AKI's domestic-only game Virtual Pro Wrestling 2: Odo Keisho. Indeed, one of the best American pro-wrestling games ever created was developed by the Japanese. Famous wrestlers like The Rock, Mankind, Triple H, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and The Undertaker were all featured in their prime in WWF Wrestlemania 2000. The main draw of the game came from the very popular and innovative “Create A Wrestler” mode, pioneering an entire subculture of fan-generated recipes. Pretty much every future wrestling title would make a “Create A Wrestler” mode a standard feature.
10 Worst: TNA Impact!
The only console game created for the TNA wrestling promotion, TNA Impact! was a promising effort featuring matches and wrestlers only TNA had to offer. Yes, it was the first place to ever play as AJ Styles and Samoa Joe. It also featured several other legendary figures such as Kurt Angle, Sting, and Booker T. While the game looked absolutely fantastic, the list of available moves was surprisingly small, especially when you compared it to a WWE 2K game at the time. The weirdest thing is that the game's story mode featured a fake wrestler Suicide, which ended up being turned into a real-life persona on TNA programming soon after, probably to promote the game. Though I wish there would be another TNA-branded game, it is unlikely this troubled promotion will ever have any other game to its name ever again.
9 Best: WWF Smackdown! 2: Know Your Role
The second title carrying the WWF Smackdown! name and the final one for the original PlayStation, it was the best-selling wrestling game for the console. WWF Smackdown! 2: Know Your Role also was my first-ever wrestling video game that I owned, thus, it had a lot of sentimental value for me. The expanded storyline mode featured a lot of interesting concepts, such as being able to walk around the backstage area and talk to various characters in order to advance the story. Besides just a “Create A Wrestler” mode, it allowed players to create and assign managers, as well. The only downfall of the game is the annoying-long load times while walking through an arena, which meant gamers spent more time staring at the load screen than playing the actual game.
8 Worst: WWF In Your House
WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game might be one of the silliest, but most enjoyable fighting-styled wrestling games to ever be released in arcades or on the consoles. Containing digitized sprites and Mortal Kombat-like gameplay, it was not your typical grapple and slam wrestling title. Sadly, its console-only sequel WWF In Your House was a weak and disappointing effort at best. There was just something missing with this game. Honestly, even the 16-bit version of WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game played and looked superior to the sequel despite being released a generation prior.
7 Best: WCW/NWO Revenge
For loyal fans of the WCW promotion before they were unceremoniously bought out by Vince McMahon, WCW/NWO Revenge is the single best wrestling game to carry the WCW and NWO name, ever. The final WCW-branded game developed by AKI and published by THQ, WCW/NWO Revenge was the sequel to the largely popular WCW vs. NWO: World Tour, and became the greatest-selling wrestling title for the Nintendo 64. Among third-party titles for the console, it was the best-selling game. Unlike its predecessor, WCW/NWO Revenge featured more-accurate signature and finishing moves and boosted one of the largest rosters for any wrestling game. Players could also adjust the colors of the costumes and gear, a feature that would expand into the “Create A Wrestler” mode in future WWF/E titles when THQ acquired the licensing.
6 Worst: WCW/NWO Thunder
I bought this game in the clearance rack at Target and yet I still feel as though I was ripped off. As the second wrestling video game I ever owned, I initially thought WCW/NWO Thunder was an incredibly fun game. That magic soon wore off after several days, as my other PS1 wrestling game, WWF Smackdown! 2: Know Your Role, was superior in every conceivable way. WCW/NWO Thunder had terrible graphics and even worse camera angles. Outside of three or so signature moves for each character, every wrestler would share the same pool of moves. Some of the input were unreasonably complicated, needing the input of four different buttons to pull off. At the end of the day, the only interesting feature of this game comes in the form of those odd, but hilarious videos at the selection screen where each wrestler cuts a promo.
5 Best: WWE 2K13
With CM Punk as the cover star, you kind of knew from the beginning that WWE 2K13 was going to be something special. The second title under the WWE 2K banner and the final one under THQ, which went defunct soon after, is probably the best of out of the bunch. Replacing the annual Road To Wrestlemania mode was the Attitude Era mode, essential one of the most popular eras of professional wrestling. Revisiting some of the memorable moments of the Attitude Era and the Monday Night Wars, it garnered positive reviews and ushered in the next generation of wrestling gaming refining the third-dimensional presentation that existed since the original PlayStation and Nintendo 64. Every year of the WWE 2K franchise appears to be trying to recapture this magic. Hopefully, WWE 2K18 will finally restore the series to its former glory.
4 Worst: The Simpsons Wrestling
A wrestling game featuring The Simpsons characters? What could possibly go wrong? Everything. A franchise not really known for its wrestling pedigree, unless you count that minor cameo from Bret “Hitman” Hart in one of the episodes, EA and Activision decided to publish this strange licensed mashup for Playstation One owners worldwide. In addition to having very poor graphics, the gameplay barely resembled wrestling. The Simpsons Wrestling is widely regarded as one of the worst wrestling games ever, and one of the worst games ever released for the PlayStation. No other Simpsons-related title was ever published for the console afterward.
3 Best: WWF Smackdown! Here Comes The Pain
Featuring the fearsome scowl of “Next Big Thing” Brock Lesnar, back when he was a full-time wrestler rather than a part-time circus attraction, WWF SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain was the second sequel to one of my favorite wrestling games, WWF Smackdown! Just Bring It. Like the other Smackdown! games in the series, it features a popular catchphrase as part of the title. It was also the final game before THQ began the WWE Smackdown! vs. Raw series, and the last appearance of The Rock and Stone Cold Austin as members of the active roster. In addition to a large roster of playable wrestlers, WWF Smackdown! Here Comes The Pain had unique modes new to the series.
2 Worst: WCW Backstage Assault
What if someone took a level out of a game, made a sequel based on just that one level, and then charged you full price for it? Sounds like something that EA would do, right? Yes, I have still not forgiven them for the Star Wars Battlefront DLC debacle, but their unscrupulous practices include this abomination of a wrestling game called WCW Backstage Assault. Essentially, the game took the backstage brawls introduced in WCW Mayhem, and then made an entire game dedicated to only that feature. Instead of performing actual wrestling moves in the ring, the player must beat their opponents silly in the friendly confines of the backstage area. Unsurprisingly, the game was a monumental failure both critically and commercially.
1 Best: WWF No Mercy
Expanding from the winning formula of WWF Wrestlemania 2000, WWF No Mercy was the follow-up sequel that is widely considered one of the best pro-wrestling games of all time. While already having fluid and realistic gameplay, at least at the time, THQ and AKI still found other ways to improve upon their hugely-successful rookie release. WWF No Mercy expanded upon the “Create A Wrestler” mode with more customizable bodies, clothing, and wrestling moves, all given names and added descriptions. Another improvement came in the form of an extensive storyline mode with many different variable outcomes. Because of all of these amazing features, it was one the benchmark of all forthcoming wrestling titles.
UnHonorable Mention: WWE Champions
Though not really a wrestling game, WWE Champions is a gem-matching role-playing game with gameplay that is extremely simple to grasp. Among the four WWE-licensed titles in the Apple App Store, WWE Champions probably has the worst reviews of the bunch, probably due to the fact that at any given time, something in the game is broken. As a freemium game, it is understandable that most of the sought after items and wrestlers in the games could only be obtained by using real-world money, but WWE Champions makes it extremely tedious and expensive to acquire any of your favorite wrestlers without dropping tens or hundreds of dollars. That being said, that is probably the case with most app games. But if your copy of WWE 2K18 broke at least once a week, you would throw a fit, too.
Honorable Mention: WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game
Nothing quite beats the combination of pro-wrestling and Mortal Kombat wrapped in a nice Vince McMahon-sponsored package. Though there is not much in the way of grappling, WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade game features over-the-top gameplay, combos, and fascinatingly-hilarious gags, such as Shawn Michaels bleeding animated hearts and Razor Ramon actually attacking with razor-like clotheslines. Unfortunately, its sequel WWF In Your House is just as terrible as this game is excellent. It just proves that you cannot win them all, especially from Midway and Acclaim.