There isn't much wrestling fans can agree on. Let's go, Cena? Or does Cena suck? Is Ric Flair the best of all time? Or is it the Macho Man Randy Savage? Is Roman Reigns the worst ever? Okay, so maybe there are some things we all agree on.
Making a good wrestling game is a challenge, partly because there are so many different aspects to focus on. Wrestling is a sport of sorts, but it's not enough to just make a sports game. And although there's fighting in wrestling, treating a wrestling game like a Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat game doesn't quite fit either. For a lot of fans, the biggest draw in wrestling is the backstage drama, so the game has to also provide story and do its best to mimic the crazy, backstabbing world fans see on television every week. Not only that, the best wrestling games have to appeal not just to hardcore fans, but to the pick-up and play audience looking to try something new. Whew. Fortunately, there have been a handful of games that have achieved the perfect blend that is a memorable wrestling game, and, as always, more than a few that haven't. Here's our list of the eight greatest grapplers of all time, and seven that made us tap out.
Did we miss one of your favorites? Let us know!
15 Best: WWE 2K14
When 2K took over WWE games from the now defunct THQ, fans weren't sure what to expect. It signaled a potential sea change in the series, for better or worse. Luckily, the results have been overwhelmingly positive, even as 2K continues to find it's footing in My Career mode, which feels destined to one day be the biggest selling point of the game.
While pretty much any of the 2K titles would be right at home on this list, WWE 2K14 is their finest installment to date. With a massive roster including plenty of classic superstars like Macho Man Randy Savage and —for the first time in years— the Ultimate Warrior. The match possibilities were endless. This was 2K's last WWE title for the PS3/Xbox 360, and their creation suite is packed to the gills with options (many of which had to be taken out when the series moved to next-gen in order to get the game out on time). Additionally, the "30 Years of Wrestlemania" mode allowed wrestling fans to relive some of the greatest moments ever in the history of the showcase of the immortals, all the way from Hogan to Cena. Add to that authentic looking TV presentation and commentary by the legendary Jim Ross and Jerry "The King" Lawler, and this game is a can't miss.
14 Worst: ECW Hardcore Revolution
When Acclaim and WWE (WWF at the time) finally parted ways after the ill-fated WWF Attitude, the company found a way to stay in the wrestling game industry by partnering with Paul Heyman's ultra-violent, super low budget, and incredibly cool Extreme Championship Wrestling. But while ECW's edgy and frequently gory on-screen product was red hot in the wrestling world, the same could not be said for Hardcore Revolution. The game seems to have taken the worst elements from WWF Attitude and found a way to make them even worse. Grapples and finishers can only be performed by putting in multi-button combinations. Environments are dark and uninteresting. The character models and blocky and almost look unfinished. Playing this game is a literal chore. It's a shame wrestling fans never got the awesome ECW game they deserved. Frankly, it's a shame ECW didn't get a lot of things. Oh well.
13 Best: Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium
Now, this is a wrestling fan's wrestling game. The Fire Pro Wrestling franchise is known for delivering detailed, realistic wrestling combat. Perhaps no game showcases that better than this one. It's just way ahead of its time, on countless levels. Combat is slow paced, methodical, and all about perfect timing — a stark contrast to the arcade feel of the Smackdown games. Graphically, the game is incredibly advanced, especially for the Super Famicom. A crowd full of people cheer on your match. Character models really look like the wrestlers they're portraying. And while the game features some American wrestlers (Hulk Hogan and the Undertaker), where the roster really shines is in its offering of Japanese wrestlers. It even has a create-a-wrestler mode, something no other wrestling games were offering at this point. While the game may not necessarily be for the casual wrestling fan, or even casual gamer for that matter, this is a hardcore fan's promised land.
12 Worst: WWF In Your House
The sequel to the very successful —and super fun— WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game, WWF In Your House is Acclaim's second foray into the wrestling genre (they would go on to create tons of terrible wrestling games, see below). Not unlike its predecessor, In Your House is less of a wrestling game and more of a fighter, based heavily on Mortal Kombat. In fact, character designs look very similar to those in MK, and wrestler attacks over the top and almost campy (British Bulldog attacks people with the Union Jack and The Undertaker shoots blue and green stuff...?).
Unfortunately, this game neither looks as sharp or plays as well as Wrestlemania, and feels much more like a step backward than a step forward. On top of that, the game only gave players 10 wrestlers to choose from, and while it did include commentary by Vince McMahon, the few, choppy lines he recorded get old really fast. What a maneuver...directly into a trash can.
11 Best: Def Jam Vendetta
Who would have thought that combining the Def Jam Records' hip hop roster with AKI's foolproof wrestling engine (used in games like WWF No Mercy and WCW vs. nWo: World Tour) would produce such a Ludacris-ly fun game! Okay, I'll stop. The two worlds blended together perfectly: the smack talk and one-versus-all aspects of hip hop culture seem right at home in the squared circle. Players could choose from a variety of their favorite rappers, including Ghostface Killah, Method Man, or my personal favorite, DMX (of all the rappers on the roster, I would argue X is the only one who makes good on his promise to "give it to ya.").
Def Jam featured an awesome story mode that took the player from the bottom of the street wrestling world up to its heights. Thanks to incredibly fun, arcade-based gameplay, and solid graphics (all the rappers truly resembled their real life counterparts), Def Jam Vendetta is proof you don't have to have actual wrestlers in your game to make a solid wrestling game. It's so good, I personally guarantee it'll make you act a fool up in here (up in here). Okay, now I'm done for real.
10 Worst: WCW Backstage Assault
Listen, I love wrestling. You love wrestling. We all love wrestling. But what's with that pesky ring? If only there was some way to just get rid of it completely, and instead have every match take place somewhere...backstage. Yeah, that's it. Take out all the pageantry and pomp, and circumstance of wrestling people enjoy and just replace it with some dudes fighting backstage. Perfect. Now, add to that clunky controls, no wrestler entrances, and various weapons you can pick up but will have a great deal of trouble actually using. And there you have it! WCW Backstage Assault was the perfect WCW game for the early 2000s; it was disappointing, half-baked, and completely skippable. You have to give the developers credit for trying something new: setting a wrestling game 100% in backstage environments is a risk. Unfortunately, it's one that would have been better taken if there'd been more focus on the final product and presentation.
9 Best: WWE Smackdown! Here Comes The Pain
Here Comes the Pain makes a strong argument; it might be the best wrestling game on the PS2, and possibly of all time. The Smackdown series, which eventually evolved into the Smackdown! vs. Raw games, was a winner from the first installment, and for a time was one of those few glorious franchises that actually improved with each installment. Here Comes the Pain, the fifth entry in the series, took the games to the next level. It highlighted a potent grappling system, which allowed each wrestler to have sixteen unique moves, each fitting in with their wrestling style. This allowed for more complex move combinations and attacks. To this day, the character models look amazing. The game was released during that sweet spot when developers were really starting to realize just how they could push the power of the PS2, and at first glance, you might even think you're looking at a PS3 game. HCTP was the first game to include the Elimination Chamber match, now a staple of WWE television. If you're a fan of wrestling games, this is a must own. And fortunately, Fred Durst is NOT an unlockable character in this game.
8 Worst: M.U.S.C.L.E.
Remember the M.U.S.C.L.E. toys? They were these little pinkish tan figures that always seemed to somehow end up at the bottom of your backpack or between your couch cushions (sorry again, Mom). But what many don't know, is that these figures were actually taken from a Japanese manga called Kinnikuman. From mentalfloss.com:
Pretty cool, right? Too bad it didn't carry over into the NES game. Good lord, M.U.S.C.L.E. is probably the worst wrestling game ever made (along with being one of the worst names to have to type repeatedly. All those periods!). The graphics look dated, and considering what the NES was capable of, were extremely disappointing. The gameplay is pretty much all jumping and punching. Every so often, a flashing dot appears in the ring. If you get it, you are pretty much untouchable and can beat the snot out of your opponent. If they get it...well, reset button time. Pretty riveting stuff. M.U.S.C.L.E. is a game that is probably pretty hard to get your hands on today...and that's a very good thing.
7 Best: WWE All Stars
Wrestling is supposed to be fun. At its core, it's larger than life, almost super-human characters, wearing spandex, and beating the hell out of each other until one emerges victorious (sound familiar, true believer?). WWE All Stars is a game that grasped this concept and ran with it. Featuring over the top character models that looked more like something out of a Hulk comic book that actual humans, WWE All Stars was purely about delivering a fun wrestling experience. It is the sort of game that a non-fan of the genre could pick up and enjoy right away.
WWE All Stars' roster let players create and recreate history by featuring some of the greatest superstars from throughout wrestling history, including The Rock, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, and John Cena, as well as Hulk Hogan, Sgt. Slaughter, and Jake "The Snake" Roberts.
The game is a blast to play. Wrestlers leap ten feet in the air before delivering their finishers. The colors from their ring gear blur in the air behind them as they move. Slow motion accentuates big moves and adds to the drama and excitement of your match. WWE All Stars doesn't deliver anything close to a realistic wrestling experience — thank goodness for that.
6 Worst: WWF Betrayal
Okay, stay with me on this: what if there was a wrestling game WITH NO ACTUAL WRESTLING? While this may be Vince McMahon's wet dream, for wrestling fans, it makes WWF Betrayal for the Gameboy Color instantly skippable.
You play as either The Rock, Triple H, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, or The Undertaker, but don't worry, no matter who you choose to play as, the game's plot is still exactly the same. And aside from one or two special moves, every wrestler plays exactly the same too, which is disappointing, to say the least.
After outside interference ruins your title shot, Mr. McMahon promises to give you another one if you save his daughter Stephanie, who has been kidnapped. And thus, he glorious gameplay of WWF Betrayal begins. There is a lot of moving to the and punching guys involved. It's a mediocre beat 'em up that barely even feels related to the WWF on screen product. The only Betrayal here was releasing this game.
5 Best: WcW / nWo Revenge
The Nintendo 64 console ushered in a golden age of wrestling video games. Coincidentally, at the time wrestling games were being released for the system, the wrestling business was also enjoying unprecedented mainstream success, the likes of which hadn't been seen since the Hulk Hogan days of the 1980's. AKI's N64 wrestling titles all took wrestling games to a new level, producing some truly classic titles gamers still salivate over to this day.
The gameplay perfectly walks the line between simple and complex. You can easily throw a punch or a kick, while holding down the button for longer results in a stronger striking attack. Similarly, you can carry out light grapple attacks that will almost always work, or risk a heavy grapple attack that your opponent will have a chance to reverse.
WCW vs nWo didn't have much of a story mode (players could go for a championship by playing a series of matches), but it did feature an enormous roster. Not just that, but it added the ability to edit wrestler's attire, a feature that would prove to be a forerunner for future game's "create a wrestler" modes. With wrestlers on-screen personas changing constantly (a wrestler will often change their gimmick or character before the game is even released), this allowed gamers to update the characters without buying another game. Sting joins the red and black wolfpack? No problem. DDP goes back to wearing purple? Easy. Buff Bagwell decides to wrestle in a mask? Makes sense. Hope it works out, Buff. Really, I do.
4 Worst: TNA Impact
Oh, TNA. Poor, sweet, TNA. When you name your wrestling company after...well, T and A, you're giving your audience a pretty good idea of what to expect. Don't get me wrong, TNA has had its moments. They're responsible for jumpstarting the careers of current greats like AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, and, of course, Broken Matt Hardy. But sadly, TNA (or as they're now known: Impact Wrestling), never seems to be able to get out of its own way. It often leaves fans feeling high and dry, like they're watching the same warmed over stale programming (*cough*VINCE RUSSO *cough*).
Unfortunately, TNA's first foray into gaming fell into the same pitfalls their on-screen product did. The game's characters looked sharp, and all the pieces seemed to be in place for a decent title, but ultimately frustrating and unresponsive controls, along with poor AI, stopped the title from achieving lasting glory. Everything falls just short, including the story mode. You create your own wrestler and try to work your way up the ranks of the TNA roster. Sadly, the voice acting feels uninspired and unpolished, seriously taking away from the attempted immersive experience. Do yourself a favor and DELETE this one from your collection.
3 Best: WWE SmackDown! Vs. Raw 2006
While 2003's Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain is often recognized as the series' greatest triumph (and for good reason), SmackDown vs. Raw 2006 will always be a personal favorite. All the best parts of the series are still here, a great story mode, create-a-wrestler, and even a brand new buried alive match. But what really sets '06 apart is the introduction of GM Mode.
The player becomes general manager of one of WWE's two flagship shows, Raw or Smackdown, then drafts their own superstar roster and goes head to head with the other show. It's up to you to plan every aspect of the show, from feuds, to keeping wrestlers happy, to whether you should air a promo for your upcoming paper view or a commercial to generate revenue to keep your top stars paid. Every week, you get a news report of how your show did against your competition and how many people are watching.
GM Mode adds what it's current replacement, Universe Mode, is missing: a reason to keep playing. Beating your competition and having the better show makes the game almost impossible to put down. Universe Mode, on the other hand, offers no motivation to keep playing other than a few unlockables and... just keep playing, please? Hopefully, now that the brands have split again on television, we'll see a future WWE release with GM Mode restored. Fantasy fulfilled indeed.
2 Worst: Simpsons Wrestling
One of the downsides of the wrestling boom of the late 90s and early 2000s was everyone wanted to get in on the action. Enter: Simpsons Wrestling. Is this a terrible idea? Not at all! People love The Simpsons! The planet and all of us will be long gone, and they'll still be rolling out new episodes. And on top of that, everyone loves wrestling! It's a perfect combination! And it almost was. Just one problem: they forgot to actually make a decent game. What we got instead was a sloppy mess. The most you can say about this game is that it put Simpsons characters (albeit poorly animated ones) into a wrestling ring. From there, what ensues is a complete disaster. Combat is clunky and consists almost entirely of jumping, kicking, and punching (all of which are by definition, not wrestling). It's aggressively unsatisfying, and characters constantly glitch all over the screen. At least they got the actors from the show to voice the characters in the game, but you'll be tired of the stale lines and noises they repeat over and over about a minute into playing. Just more proof that if you want to play a good Simpsons game, it'd better be in an arcade with three of your best buddies (I call Marge).
1 Best: WWF No Mercy
WWF No Mercy is the pinnacle of WWF wrestling games on the N64. The game walks a perfect line between realistic and good clean grappling fun. The character models look as good as they ever have on the N64. Controls are fluid, and the momentum system really helps add a realistic level of 'back and forth' to every match. The create-a-wrestler mode breaths fresh life into the genre, adding tons of new items and costumes for you to deck out your squared circle hero in. And as they had done before, AKI gave wrestling fans an enormous roster to choose from.
On top of that, No Mercy's story mode was revolutionary. It's the first game I can remember where losing a match didn't actually mean you'd lost the game. Stories could branch one way or the other depending on what happened, just like on a real wrestling show. Lose the Royal Rumble? Looks like you won't be going for the world title. Wanna go for the tag titles? Make a team and dominate the division. The game is still modded by gamers to this day. No Mercy is the WWF Attitude Era in all its 64-bit glory, and for that, gamers will love it forever.