World Wrestling Entertainment video games have been a staple of any gamer's repertoire since the early days of gaming. With fast-paced multiplayer action, and customizable elements in almost every aspect of the games — there's no denying WWE games have been pushing the envelope for some time. Even things we take for granted —like having customizable characters that can resemble the likeness of any person— are brilliant concepts integral to WWE video games.
These games are therapeutic for many gamers. Still, they aren't without a few shortcomings and snags that the developers have been forced to face throughout the years. There are dark skeletons in WWE’s closet. They've faced everything from changes that shook the infrastructure of the business itself, public controversy and tragedy, as well as a complete disregard for their game. Frankly, in some cases, the developers have been forced to play catch up to the rest of the gaming community.
Vince McMahon’s cavalcade of characters still shines onto this day with the looming release of WWE 2K18, but it seems like a lot of their mistakes have been swept under the rug and out of mind for many unknowing gamers. Do not be fooled by their seemingly perfect wrestling simulation of our modern days; some of these mistakes are inexcusable.
Back in the end of 2002, the World Wildlife Foundation filed a lawsuit against the World Wrestling Federation to gain ownership of the WWF trademark and name, and they won. This caused the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) to change into what they are now, the World Wrestling Entertainment. Seeing as the logo has been blurred whenever clips used to be shown, it was not until they reached an agreement in 2015 to allow historic usage of the logo that it was finally resolved. Even still, this is an embarrassing time for the company because of how defenseless they were to a peaceful environmentalist group. Some have even referred to this ordeal as the final nail in the coffin for their beloved Attitude Era that once seemed unstoppable.
There is a brand new era of wrestling the WWE that has dubbed “The Woman’s Revolution.” In it, the spotlight that was usually saved for burly men is focusing on skilled female competitors. This is something that a lot of other sports neglect, and while WWE should be commended for their progressiveness in 2017, one should not forget their misogynistic roots. Sure, we have seen Vince McMahon make women make out with him on television, but nothing has been as blatantly gross as the “Bra and Panties Match” that was a staple for games in the late 2000s. The matched stipulated that the player would have to remove the clothing of their opponent and were declared the winner when the other one would be in nothing but underwear.
WWE Crush Hour was a strange experiment on the part of the developers and its existence remains a mystery that is up to debate in the WWE fandom. The idea of wrestlers driving monster trucks and battling each other is just absurd, and there has been no reference to this title or a possible sequel. The game itself stands as a terrible game on its own, but thinking about the time and effort that was put into making a racing game based on a wrestling company just gives you migraines. WWE Crush Hour feels more like a 9-year-old's idea of a sick mashup than a professionally curated and developed video game. We will probably not be hearing about a remake or remaster anytime soon as they continue to focus on wrestling simulation games (as they should).
A match type that has not been seen in almost a decade, the Buried Alive Match has only occurred five times in WWE history. Each of these matches featured The Undertaker, and while they are (mostly) considered to be the character's gimmick, the matches still appeared as an option in Exhibition mode for many titles. While it was satisfying to bury your opponents in the game, it still felt out of place and felt like something you would expect from a Mortal Kombat game as opposed to WWE’s main game. Seeing as WWE has since changed their programming to PG, we will probably not be seeing the Buried Alive Match anywhere on TV or in the game anytime soon.
Back in 2012, developers THQ filed for bankruptcy as they were unable to make back the money that had spent developing their games. While there were a number of reasons that were outside of WWE’s control, the simple matter of the fact here is that the WWE games were just not enough to keep them afloat. This meant that despite their close attention to WWE 13, their last game for the franchise, was a vain attempt to save their company from dying. The years that came after this collapse would be some rough transitional phases for the franchise, as Take-Two was virtually unaware of how to handle the WWE license after buying it from THQ. Here is to hoping that WWE 2K18 will finally prove Take Two’s ability as the new holders of the franchise.
Something that was nothing short of a true tragedy was the passing of Chris Benoit, a professional wrestler that committed double-murder suicide in 2007 — leaving a dark cloud over the world of wrestling for years to come after. His presence in the WWE has been largely ignored by the company and has never been mentioned since his passing. The video games are no exception. Even the fact that he was a former World Heavyweight Champion has not saved him from vanishing into obscurity and we will probably never see him in the video games again. What makes this even more depressing is that he was once one of the highest rated Superstars in the game, and while his place in the Hall of Fame is up to debate with wrestling fans, there is no debate in the WWE, given their strict removal of his presence.
WWE 2K18 screenshots and gameplay footage have been clear examples of how the WWE game franchise is finally catching up to the rest of the world and getting that much closer to the real-life simulation status that it has been reaching for. But this comes after year after year of releases that featured graphics that were far behind what consoles were able to do. Games like Halo 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 were gorgeous titles that gave us that sense of reality (in 2007!!) — there was no excuse for the Smackdown vs. Raw games to look as terrible as they did. Perhaps it was done to keep memory for the move sets and the in-depth wrestling engine, but it just comes off as lazy in comparison to what they could have designed.
Weapons have been a part of wrestling pretty much since it was invented, and have become a good tool to progress stories as they provide another element to work with in the plot. While there are still steel chairs in the game, the classic shot to the head has been banned just as it was in real life. In reality, they were taken away to help reduce the number of concussions in the WWE and help usher in the PG era (the goal of which is to be a better example for kids). While the games have a few moves that are illegal in the WWE, steel chair shot has remained a thing of the past. It would be nice to see it come back in the game to help replicate some famous moments from the Attitude Era, but this is probably a long shot.
The WWE is a lot of things, but one of the things that it is particularly known for is the risk-taking content that they put out once upon a time. Nothing compares to the stunt they pulled in 2004-2005. The WWE saw the debut and meteoric rise of Muhammad Hassan, a character roughly based on being a terrorist (he ordered a group of all-black wearing masked men to attack The Undertaker). This culminated at the Great American Bash, where he suffered a loss to the Dead Man and never appeared on WWE TV again. That is because sponsors were horrified at this entire ordeal and threatened to back out of their deals with WWE because of the racy storyline. It was a shame, too, as Hassan was being prepped for a World Heavyweight title run and not many wrestlers can say they had a rivalry with The Undertaker.
One of the most characteristic traits of WWE programming is their stellar lineup of commentators that move the story through narrative progression. This helps fans understand what is going on. In a real way: they are the voice of the company, representing them by calling moves and giving insight into the world of wrestling. Unfortunately for the games, however, the feature of commentary has been widely unavailable until later installments such as Smackdown vs. Raw. While WWF Warzone for the PlayStation 1 featured commentary, it was a far cry from the improved engine and sounded very choppy. Even now, the commentary is subject to criticism for its repetitive and often nonsensical nature in comparison to games like the NBA 2K and Madden franchise which feature realistic sounding play-by-play analysis.
CM Punk was a beloved icon in the squared circle and made shockwaves in the industry as one of the hottest entities in the business. He had a firm grip on his abilities as a microphone assassin but was no slouch when it came to the ring and was responsible for some of the best matches in the early 2010s. He had rivalries with the Undertaker, The Rock, John Cena, and even Triple H. So when he starkly left the company in 2015 to little fanfare, he left a huge hole in the main event scene and even bigger question mark on his part in the game. He was removed from the game altogether as WWE does not want to give the spotlight to him anymore and would probably want you to forget that he was their poster boy for WWE 13.
During the release of the highly anticipated WWE 2K14, 2K held a press conference to help promote the game by having a panel of guests that represented the “30 Years of Wrestlemania” mode. This included the likes of Mick Foley, Rey Mysterio, Daniel Bryan, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Ric Flair. The panel was hosted by good ol’ Jim Ross, and he did a fairly stellar job at keeping the event going. This was until Flair, who had just recently had a death in his family, began getting emotional and trailed off into a deep story of his life. It was a touching moment, but it caused controversy in the company and resulted in the firing of Jim Ross. JR has always been the subject of much bullying in the WWE, but this was a complete overreaction to the situation.
Wrestlemania XIX was a GameCube exclusive title that launched in 2003 and featured a star-studded roster to go with its fun, arcade-style wrestling. This was made even more fun when the wrestling mechanics were applied to an open-ended third person style story mode that saw the player trying to stop Wrestlemania XIX from happening. It is already strange enough that the story’s main focus is on sabotaging the company, but there was something about this mode that came off as truly odd. It was the inclusion of the feature of being able to murder construction and police workers that are on duty trying to protect Mr. McMahon’s company. The player can throw them off skyscrapers or just brutally beat them until they are incapacitated. Is this a WWE game or a Grand Theft Auto clone?
Literally one of the strangest hidden characters in WWE game history, the Limp Bizkit singer was allowed his own entrance and wrestler slot in Smackdown! Just Bring It. Sure, at the time his music was used as a sample for The Undertaker, but it was a different time and WWE has done everything they can to distance themselves from that era of wrestling. Even his appearance at SummerSlam 2015 caused him to be removed from the arena due to him throwing up the middle finger at the camera when it panned to him. Something that Stone Cold Steve Austin did to increase his popularity is now a huge no-no in WWE’s book. Sadly to the point where they are ready to forget Fred Durst ever was a part of their important history.
There was a true sense of freedom in the earliest WWF games that graced our consoles. Games like Smackdown! 2: Know Your Role and WWF No Mercy introduced us to customization options — and it helped that they had easy controls. Another factor that made them feel even more realistic was that they allowed men and women to fight against each other as they often did in the late 90s to early 2000s. Even as we approach the pinnacle of the “Woman’s Revolution” in the WWE, they often stay very separate from the men and mainly provide the role of manager to each other. WWE probably does not want you to remember that you used to be able to make The Undertaker fight Lita, but this feature remains a treasured factor because of the possibilities of the often-done mixed tag-team match.
As mentioned, Wrestlemania XIX was as fun as it was blatantly raunchy with its murderous protagonist in the story mode. But what was even weirder was the finishing move of Dawn Marie, a smoking character on WWE TV that was known for her odd way of seducing other competitors outside the ring. So when the developers were making her move set, they decided to give her a move in which she hugs her opponent and kisses them on the lips without consent. It is a strange finishing maneuver and has not been seen in the game since — for good reason. Just the idea of a move that basically forces the opponent into a make-out session is just wrong and completely out of line with what the WWE stands for nowadays.
Here we go again, with Wrestlemania XIX and its obscure place in the franchise’s history; these not-so-PG elements seem so out of place today. Stacy Keibler was a gorgeous face and provided arm candy for the likes of Test and Scott Steiner as they treated her like garbage in the storylines they were doing. But one of her ‘traits’ was her extremely fit body complete with legs that go on for days. She apparently harnesses this power into some sort of hypnotization method as her finisher entails her shaking her booty at her opponents until they collapse. How this happened to get on the disc remains a mystery, and just like Dawn Marie’s non-consensual kissing, has been removed from future entries in their franchise.
WWE has seen their fair share of games hit the arcade, and while fans remember Wrestlefest as a casual and vibrant game that provided hours of fun, WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game was an entirely different animal. The game featured the graphics and layout of Mortal Kombat II and used the same method of taking photographs of the wrestlers and using them as sprites instead of the traditionally drawn ones. It felt clunky, out of place, and a cheap way to cash in on the success of Midway’s flagship franchise. Although, one must appreciate the strange novelty that comes with seeing wrestlers like Bret Hart and The Undertaker being animated in this admittedly unique art style. It is too bad it is now a disappointing moment in WWE games history as a huge rip-off.
WWF No Mercy was and is a legendary wrestling game that is still fondly played by many wrestling fans because of its simple yet satisfying controls along with groundbreaking features that would come to be the standard. What was not standard, however, was the inclusion of an inanimate prop as a playable character in the form of “Head.”“Head” was the mannequin head that wrestler Al Snow brought to the ring as he would scream into the microphone “What does everybody want?” The gimmick was fun at the time and gave the fans something to cheer whenever he came out, but it is now somewhat ignored by WWE since their move to PG. Given that this "mature" innuendo would go on to be a playable character goes against everything they stand for now and will probably remain in obscurity.
The removal of Hulk Hogan from the WWE games was a hard decision to make, but was necessary after he faced controversy for racist remarks he made in 2015. It is such a shame because Hulk Hogan was once the face that helped WWE become the global entity it is nowadays thanks to his charismatic promos and solid in-ring work. Hogan’s remark was scathing and did a number on his reputation as a good guy in the industry and is still felt as one of the biggest betrayals in wrestling history. This is the main reason why he was removed from the franchise, and fans should not hold their breath for his return as WWE has yet to even do so much as utter his legendary name on television.