Since its inception in the early 1950s, fans have flocked to stadiums to bear witness to some of life’s biggest characters. Despite numerous controversies and name changes throughout the years—from the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) and the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) to its current company name holding as WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.—they have consistently grown with their fan base and evolved with the times. From such humble beginnings, the WWE has hosted some of the world’s most iconic matches: ladder matches, The Invasion, Money in the Bank, and the now infamous Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior title match. The company has even produced some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry at the moment: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (who's an A-list celebrity and potential presidential candidate), John Cena ( who's a Make-A-Wish Foundation champ and meme gold), and Dave Bautista (who you'll know as an all around good guy and one of the current Guardians of the Galaxy). WWE has garnered this success and employed it to numerous prosperous avenues: partnerships with charity organizations, successful movies, and, of course, video games.
With WWE’s annual SummerSlam event less than a month away, we look at the franchise’s biggest winners and losers, pitting these wrestling games against each other to see who comes out on top. Fifteen candidates enter the ring, but only one game will walk away with the championship belt. Now, if you jabronis smell what The Gamer is cooking, let’s look at the 8 best and 7 worst WWE games.
15 Best: WCW/nWo Revenge
The spiritual successor to the less than stellar WCW/nWo: World Tour, WCW/nWo Revenge builds on the previous World Tour by featuring an impressive roster of over 60 superstar wrestlers, enhanced graphic presentation, and varied gameplay modes giving the game long-lasting appeal.
But what’s really outstanding here is just how WCW/nWo Revenge captured one of the most captivating wrestling storylines of the ‘90s. The New World Order storyline brought us some wrestling greats, thanks in part to Ted Turner and Eric Bishop. The strong roster of Diamond Dallas Page, Chris Jericho, Goldberg, Raven, and The Big Show nearly put Vince McMahon and the rest of the now defunct WWF out of business. Though the WCW didn’t emerge victorious with the belt in the end, it was a fun rivalry that sparked loyalties and division among wrestling fans.
14 Worst: WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game
Usually, great things happen when two worlds collide–Batman vs. Superman, Marvel vs. Capcom, and as previously mentioned, WCW/nWo. But when the collision is an attempt to simply cash-in thanks to corporate greed, then you get the disastrous results of WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game.
Part Street Fighter, part Mortal Kombat, and all-around terrible, WWF WrestleMania tried to ride the beat-em-up genre wave that swept through arcades in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The problem was, wrestling doesn’t easily translate to the fight genre. The ring has three-dimensional complexities making the game feel corny and gimmicky. The once nostalgic photorealistic graphics, much like the early Mortal Kombat games, have not aged well, and the attempt to capture the New Generation era resulted in this silly and cartoonish mess. Seriously, why did Bret Hart “bleed” hearts when he got hit? WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game is a goofy relic of wrestling’s past.
13 Best: WWF WrestleFest
Speaking of nostalgic wrestling games, one of the best to ever do it has to be WWF WrestleFest. With its bright, cartoonish graphics and a variety of wrestling legends to choose from like Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, and Jake “the Snake” Roberts, WrestleFest was emblematic of wrestling’s Golden era. Originally released for arcades in the ‘90s, WrestleFest was a quarter eating, grapple-heavy, button mashing delight. It had two different modes–Tag Team matches or the Royal Rumble, which had surprising depth, as the gameplay featured counter-moves, usable inanimate objects such as steel steps and briefcases, ringside action, double-team moves, finishing moves, and even taunts and poses.
With the game’s roster all retired, and some sadly passed away, WWF WrestleFest is a nostalgic throwback to some of wrestling’s greatest moments, and perhaps one of the best precursor games for future wrestling games to come.
12 Worst: WWF Royal Rumble
WWF Royal Rumble was slated to celebrate Sega’s newest gaming machine–the Dreamcast. Sadly, what most fans received was not a new wrestling game, but rather, a port of an arcade game. Disappointing to say the least, considering Royal Rumble was Dreamcast’s one and only wrestling offering. Hollow gameplay mechanics and minimal game modes hindered Royal Rumble’s potential. But what really disappointed fans was the paper thin wrestling roster, starring only 20 wrestlers, significantly failing to tap into the rich and varied Attitude era roster. Sure you had some of wrestling’s greats such as Steve Austin, Triple H, and the Brahma Bull himself, but with only 20 characters to chose from, the game effectively ruins the whole concept of a royal rumble. And while Royal Rumble could be praised for its impressive graphics–ahem, for the time–this is as forgettable a game as the gaming console it came with.
11 Best: WWE 2K17
The latest release of one of the biggest video game franchises in WWE history, WWE 2K17 continues the progression that developer Yuke has implemented in steering away from WWE’s extensive lineage of arcade-style gameplay so successful in past iterations. But, change is always good and WWE 2K17 is a strong candidate for one of the best wrestling games ever made. With new features such as the ability to battle in the backstage, new camera angles gives the game cinematic depth, an enormous roster, organic gameplay with varied moves, and of course, a rich and diverse creation mode.
By constantly pushing the limits of what fans come to expect in wrestling games in terms of visual and gameplay, WWE 2K17 delivers an abundance of enhancements that gives an absolutely stellar performance, cementing its place as one of wrestling’s greats.
10 Worst: WWE Legends Of WrestleMania
Wrestling is one of the greatest over-the-top spectacles and for good reason, larger than life characters and its hard-hitting, high flying action makes it an unforgettable experience. Not the same could be said for this next inclusion.
Despite the strong nostalgic factor of WWE Legends of WrestleMania, giving fans the chance to pit their favourite classic wrestlers against each other in historic WrestleMania matches, the game suffers from the developer’s decision to favour accessibility over complexity. It’s an easy pick-up-and-play game for sure, but that highlight quickly loses its shine as the action becomes bland and repetitive. Wrestlers look and feel overmuscled, digital armoured carapaces that look like ballooned versions of the real thing. Certain game modes such as the Legend Killer mode is merely an exercise in patience and tolerance for boredom. It’s a clunky, sluggish experience that’s easily down for the count.
9 Best: WWE SmackDown Vs. Raw 2007
The 2007 release of WWE SmackDown vs. Raw was a memorable edition in the franchise for several reasons.
For one, this edition of SmackDown vs. Raw was a departure from the arcade style of wrestling gameplay we’ve come to love from the franchise, instead opting for more of a simulation gameplay mechanic requiring wrestlers to take breaks after several big moves due to the implementation of a mandatory stamina bar. There was also more environmental involvement –hardcore outside ring action, locker room interfaces in story mode, and the variety of weapons available inside the ring. It was also the first time ECW characters were featured in a WWE since the company monopolized both WCW and ECW.
But perhaps the most important reason SvR 2007 was so memorable is the inclusion of Chris Benoit in his last WWE video game feature due to the untimely circumstances surrounding his death.
8 Worst: WWF Betrayal (2001)
The WWE’s extensive library of fight games have discovered the formula to their success. Regardless of any additional enhancements games have included to their in-game mechanics, the central theme has always been the pivotal wrestling ring. WWF Betrayal decides to buck that trend and channels vintage games of old, the side-scrolling beat-’em-ups like Double Dragon and Final Fight. Mind you, this isn’t actually a wrestling game, though you do get to play as one of four wrestling superstars–The Rock, the Undertaker, Steve Austin, and Triple H–as you coolly clothesline, suplex, and bodyslam your way through Stephanie McMahon’s captors.
Like any other classic beat-’em-up, the gameplay suffers from repetitive mechanics. Despite the star-calibre cast, each character has the same repetitious actions, the game’s AI meaning battles are tedious one-sided affairs, and with only six levels to wrestle through, this is a game worth considering purely for its novelty factor.
7 Best: WWE Day Of Reckoning
When Nintendo’s GameCube first debuted, wrestling fans were still reminiscing of good ol’ days from Nintendo 64’s marquee grapplers. Luckily, when WWE Day of Reckoning was released, developer Yuke gave the fans what they wanted–a near carbon copy of the classic play styles found in the N64’s library of wrestling titles.
Day of Reckoning featured the greatest hits from the 64’s quality wrestling games–arcade style play mechanics, an impressive gameplay engine, solid controls and a decent grappling system, stellar graphics, and a story mode captivating enough to want to play through. It also introduced new fighting elements that delivered complex depth to the gameplay. Momentum shifts during matches added layered variance to each match’s pacing, and the new weight system ensured that Rey Mysterio wasn’t bodyslamming The Big Show left, right, and centre. Day of Reckoning is a great WWE game, and that’s the bottom line.
6 Worst: WWE Aftershock
An often too forgotten ‘rassler video game, WWE Aftershock may only be remembered by true die hard fans, and for good reason. After all, the game debuted on the now defunct Nokia N-Gage–an odd-looking smartphone and handheld game console hybrid that vanished as quickly as it appeared. With only 58 released games for the N-Gage, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Aftershock was the device’s only wrestling game.
Featuring perhaps one of the most nominal rosters (12 WWE superstars!), Aftershock suffered from many shortcomings, from boxy graphics and wooden animations to discouraging controls. And while the game may have offered online multiplayer via N-Gage’s internal Bluetooth feature, the N-Gage retailed at $299, so no opponents were ever to be had. If there’s any consolation to be had here, it’s that Aftershock was the best (and only) wrestling game found on the N-Gage.
5 Best: Tag Team Wrestling
Considered by many as the first such genre title, Tag Team Wrestling became the mold upon which future wrestling games would be built on. First released in arcades in 1983, Tag Team Wrestling was later ported to various consoles such as the IBM PC, Apple 2, and Commodore 64. Also known as The Big Pro Wrestling!, Tag Team Wrestling featured two tag-team teams, two identical black-haired wrestlers named Jocko and Spike (Sunny and Terry in the Japan version) and a heel team known as Strong & Bad or Strong Bads depending on the version, which would become the forefather for the Strong Bad character of Homestar Runner fame.
A precursor for many wrestling games after it, Tag Team Wrestling was an 8-bit classic that had elements of grappling, counters, unique wrestling moves, and even outside-the-ring action. Tag Team Wrestling is a pixelated journey reminding us just how far we’ve come.
4 Worst: WCW SuperBrawl Wrestling
While the game had a promising start, thanks in part the awesome mini videos at the beginning of the game and one of wrestling’s most famous character selection screens ever, inside the pivotal squared circle, everything just falls flat on its face.
Much like the WWE Aftershock, SuperBrawl Wrestling has marginal 12-man roster, and menial game modes. But perhaps what makes SuperBrawl Wrestling just all around awful is the rather bizarre gameplay mechanics that has eschewed the concept of a grappling system, an essential marquee move in any wrestling match. Instead, your characters are relegated to just doing moves, dropkicks, a variety of strikes, and a selection of classic wrestling moves – atomic bombs, piledrivers, suplexes. Your health and stamina bars are mere window dressings, matches are tedious tasks of repetition, and its terrible engine will make you immediately throw this game out–preferably into the front row of the crowd.
3 Best: WWE SmackDown! Here Comes The Pain
Arguably the best wrestling game in history, and only second to the seemingly unmatched WWF No Mercy by mere personal preference, WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain is an enjoyable immersive wrestling experience providing 65 unique WWE personalities to chose from–including 11 legends, eight central match types, some seriously sweet environmental areas to play in, and a faster paced style of wrestling gameplay.
SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain is an intoxicating mix of fluid gameplay – finely balancing technical elements with arcade-style mechanics – and a stellar visual engine that ages beautifully like fine wine. The spiritual successor to the acclaimed WWE SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth, Here Comes the Pain will have you coming back time after time to digital lay the smackdown on any and all contestants who enter the ring.
2 Worst: WWE Crush Hour
WWE Crush Hour is a prime example of what happens when a licensed game goes horribly wrong.
As you might have guessed, WWE Crush Hour is a car combat game in an all-new vehicular “ring.” Consider the premise: Vince McMahon now has full control over all the television networks, meaning WWE superstars are the main attractions on any TV show or commercial leading to this pet project, a TV show titled “Crush Hour,” a demolition derby-style attraction starring 30 superstars in unique cars equipped with weapons.
Though the premise is finicky at best, Crush Hour is nothing more than a poor man’s Twisted Metal, stripped-down and simplified, yet without any of the fun mechanics of Twisted Metal. At best, WWE can be praised for their attempt to do something different, but they obviously didn’t learn their lesson with the release of WWF Betrayal.
1 Best: WWF No Mercy
The undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, WWF No Mercy is a true love letter to the sport. The eagerly anticipated follow-up to the successful WWF WrestleMania 2000, No Mercy stands atop as King of the Mountain thanks to its deep 65 character strong roster – notwithstanding hidden unlockable characters, a solid, branching story mode, accessible game with depth, and perhaps one of the best Create-A-Wrestler modes available in any wrestling game.
Its infinite replayability and mass appeal to even non-wrestling fans makes WWF No Mercy the definitive wrestling bible. After all, no wrestling game before it or has yet to come has imitated No Mercy’s ability to balance arcade-style game mechanics and technical wrestling prowess. A game that endures and is on a whole ‘nother playing field, No Mercy reminds you why you love coming back between the ropes.