Retro Game Reviews: WWF Wrestlemania, The Arcade Game
Fighting Games are always an interesting conversation for me. Unlike some of my friends, I’ve never been huge into the genre, but I definitely agree that their impact in some corners of the video game world is enormous! I mean, I’m usually hard pressed to talk to any guy of my generation about what were his favorite arcade games without at least a passing mention of one or two fighting games.
Whether it’s Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Marvel vs. Capcom, Virtual Fighter, SoulCaliber, heck even super old skool ones like Karate Champ or Champion Boxing, have fans throughout the world that remember putting their quarters down to challenge the reigning player who got to stay on as long as they kept winning.
In fact, I for one can say that any of my arcade game collections would not be complete without having a handful of these games on hand to reignite old feuds between friends or start new ones. To that end, I’ve decided over the course of the summer to team up with fellow Ghost and frequent collaborator, Jabroniville, to take a look at some of the fighting games within this genre that might not be as well known or remembered as fondly.
So to start our series, I wanted to focus on a sub genre of fighting games that have their origins based in a very real fighting culture. I’m talking about Pro Wrestling, a topic that we have covered many times in passing on both our podcast and in articles here on the site.
I for one was a pretty big wrestling fan for many years from about the mid 90s until I got married in the mid 2000s. This was mainly during the Attitude Era, where wrestling became the most mainstream that it had in decades and it was pretty hard not to notice the sports entertainment antics of stars like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, and the Undertaker.
So I guess before we begin, Jaborniville, where you a fan of pro wrestling too?
Yeah, I’ve been a wrestling fan as long as I’ve been a comic book fan.
There’s a lot of similarities, both being power-fantasies directed at a male audience and featuring superhuman adversaries pounding away at each other in a manner that would kill any normal person.
Hell, for eons, I would say I was a BIGGER wrestling fan. I could easily hammer out more wrestling trivia than I could comic book trivia, and until wrestling got REALLY bad in the 2000s, it wasn’t even close. Only now am I really into comics on a bigger level.
Overall, I prefer to think of it on the same level as comics or martial arts cinema. It’s a soap opera for dudes, featuring awesome fight scenes. Plus wrestling has had an big influence on pop culture as well. Aside from a few wrestlers having middling-to-decent success with films (The Rock, Roddy Piper & Hulk Hogan are the only three, really), a lot of anime was inspired by “puroresu” (pro wrestling) in Japan (the whole “arms race” of guys learning new special moves to counter each other is a direct attribute of how wrestling over there works), and vice-versa (with Ultimate Muscle and other things).
A lot of people discount it as a white trash hobby (and you could find plenty of evidence supporting that), but some of the business is just AWESOME, and has some great stories going for it.
No I couldn’t agree more. In fact, my life followed a similar path in that about the time I was turned off of comics in the mid 90s thanks to terrible ideas at Marvel like the Clone Saga, Onslaught, as well as the excesses of the industry finally catching up everyone, I sought refuge in Pro Wrestling. Conversely, it was also about the time that I got back into comics in the mid 2000s, that wrestling fell by the way side.
Like you, I feel that these two pop culture interests are so very interconnected, and that they appeal in large part to the same aspects of our psyches. Whether it’s to your point that they both play out like male soap operas, providing men with continuing narratives that highlight physicality and fighting as ways to solve drama and conflict, or if it’s something deeper than that, I’d be hard pressed to find many comic book or wrestling fans that don’t in some way respect or acknowledge the importance the other plays in shaping the overall direction of their preferred past time.
That’s why I think these wrestling articles are such a good fit on Ghosts of the Stratosphere, and will continue to highlight them occasionally. But anyways, enough waxing the philosophical on the nature of Rasslin’ , the fans came to hear about a pro wrestling video game, so let’s give them the goods finally…
WWF WRESTLEMANIA: THE ARCADE GAME
So the “WrestleMania” Arcade Game is a “Mortal Kombat”-styled digitized fighting game starring the WWF superstars from yesteryear.
An odd fit given the game came out during a “down time” for the business. I’m talking about The New Generation Era of the WWE, but right before Diesel left for WCW, meaning it was also a transitional era, where a lot of big name guys would soon be leaving.
It wasn’t an overly-great game, featuring a lot of silly moves for the wrestling characters. The graphics were quite awesome, though, with giant super-sized sprites. It also got released to most of the home systems, but it was the transitional era for video games as well when the ports started looking worse and worse than the arcade versions. Most weren’t that good, and omitted characters.
Yeah, I gotta say that I did play a lot of this game as a young adult. I had these couple buddies at the time it was released that were really into wrestling and so on Saturday nights, we’d go to the mall to scope out the girls and after mostly striking out, head over to the local arcade and play several rounds of this.
I think it’s first where I developed my life long man crush on my favorite pro wrestler of all time, Shawn Michaels, mainly because he was a fast attacker in the game and I won more matches than I lost against my friends with that guy.
In fact, one of my buddies did ultimately get the Genesis port of this game because he was sick of losing quarters to me in the arcade over it. You are right, that it was no where the level of quality that the Arcade game possessed.
However, the Genesis port had all of the characters included in the Arcade vs. the inferior Super NES version that cut 2 of them. So at least my buddy got that right in picking the right system for the port. Probably learned his lesson from the Genesis sporting the superior Mortal Kombat port…
Anyways, speaking of the roster, who exactly was in WWF Wrestlemania for those fans out there that have never played it?
The game itself has the following members for the WWE roster from that time. I will say the roster is borderline “Primal Rage” in terms of its limited amount of select-able characters and smallness, but at least it’s looks pretty.
Bam Bam Bigelow– A Monster Heel who turned good later on, but would be de-pushed soon enough.
Bret “Hit Man” Hart– An old-school technical wrestler and Canadian hero, who was a Main Eventer who often got screwed around.
Doink the Clown– A midcard heel act turned into a generic pranking Babyface. He became notorious for being annoying, but his initial character was pretty rad.
Lex Luger– An American Patriot character with a body most bodybuilders would kill for. His massive main event push never panned out, and he was mostly done by this game’s debut.
Razor Ramon– A big-time Intercontinental Title holder (it’s the secondary belt), who would oddly debut in WCW BEFORE Diesel/Kevin Nash, making his inclusion in this game very odd.
Shawn Michaels– A World Champion who had finally hit the peak, doing a “sexy boy” gimmick, but as a good guy.
The Undertaker– A top-tier Gimmick of an undead warrior, and one of the most enduring acts in wrestling history.
Yokozuna– A former World Champion Monster Heel who was on his way down. His 600-lb. bulk was his most notable feature.
Wow…for a fan that primarliy loved the WWE during this era, this is a pretty stacked deck.
I mean, yes, some may decry it for not having bigger names like Hogan or Macho Man like other previous arcade wrestling games had (Wrestlefest from just a couple years earlier jumps to mind). But I feel like nowadays most of these wrestlers are extremely well known among fans and most have moved into legendary status.
Hell for me, it might as well be the roster from Wrestlemania 11 which is one of my all time favorite cards from that era (and not just because of the LT/Bam Bam match).
Speaking of Wrestlemania 11, peculiarly, this game does leave out Diesel who the WWF Champion for most of the year following it’s release. I blame that on the fact that he was a still a midcarder around the time the game was being designed, and thus a victim of the longer incubation period inheriant in video game design and production.
However, there are other big WWE names that were left out of this game including Jeff Jarrett, Bob Backlund (who had a short-run WWF Champion), and the 1-2-3 Kid, all of whom were pretty big news around the time the game came out.
I will say though my biggest disappointment is that it also robbed us of video game versions of Aldo Montoya, Kwang, Well Dunn and Mantaur!!
On the bright side though, with the weak tag team scene at the time, it’s no surprise no attempt was made to include them. All the WWE had were Men on a Mission and The Quebecers, and both were more mid-tier compared to what’d come before.
I would have paid good money to have an arcade game in which Mantaur was a playable character for sure! I mean, who came up with that as a gimmick?!?
It was probably the same brain child as the Gobbledy Gooker, Issac Yankem, and the my favorite of all, THE YETI!!
However, it’s important to point out to our readers that this wasn’t the only WWE arcade game that was made in this particular “Mortal Kombat” style.
They did follow this game up with a sequel a year or two later, right?
Yes, a sequel called “In Your House” (named after a lesser PPV series that would take place between major Pay-Per-Views) came out a year later. However, this game was only released for the home consoles at the time including the PS1 and Sega Saturn. There was no arcade game version.
Additionally, the game would drop everyone from the previous outing except for Bret, Shawn & Undertaker. This is mainly because most of the others had left the company for WCW by that point already.
It did boast a ten-man roster, though, so at least there was a little more variety. This included the following wrestlers:
The Ultimate Warrior- One of the great 1980s/early 90s gimmicks, the Warrior would return for a short-lived run in the mid-90s, before his craziness and unprofessionalism would take over behind the scenes.
Vader- A WCW star turned potential Monster Heel.
“The British Bulldog” Davey-Boy Smith- A powerhouse who could be carried to great matches, but was always a mid-tier guy who could only KIND OF grapple with top-tier names.
Goldust- Son of legendary pro wrestler Dusty Rhodes, Dustin Reynolds had a modern-day “Gorgeous George” gimmick at this time, playing it up that he was legitimately gay for his opponents.
Owen Hart- Bret’s younger brother, who had turned into a snotty, whiny Heel.
Hunter Hearst-Helmsley- One of the main guys at the WWE currently given he’s Vince’s son in law, Triple H was just a midcard heel at this time doing a prissy snob Gimmick.
Ahmed Johnson- A huge African American powerhouse who was tearing it up with the Intercontinental Title at the time, although he flamed out quickly.
I have really fond memories of this “In Your House” game! Back in ’96, I made the boneheaded mistake of getting a Sega Saturn while everyone else backed the correct horse, in that race, the Playstation. Chalk it up to my lifelong commitment to Sega as a brand stretching back to the Sega Master System.
Anyways, this WWF game was one of the only games I had for the system for a while besides the launch titles of Virtual Fighter 2, Virtual Cop, and Daytona 500. As a result, I played a massive amount of this game, and although it wasn’t particularly great in retrospect, it did supply some fun times for me and my mates on some Friday nights in high school.
I was particularly a big fan of the voice acting, such as Shawn Michaels belting out “If you ain’t in the Clique, you make me sick!” after winning some of his matches. It was a veiled nod to the Madison Square Garden incident, and the great friendship he had with fellow DX/NWO members Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Triple H, and Sean Waltman.
Plus some of the post pin finishers were ridiculous, like dropping a giant “Heartbreak Hotel” Heart Shaped bed on your opponent. I became pretty infamous among my friends for that particular “F” You move! Check them out in the video below!
My major issue with this game was that missed out big time on the early career of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin (who would go on to be rather important) and the Smoking Gunns as a top tag team. I don’t know if it was in development long before Austin won “King of the Ring” in 1996 and got his major push following the Austin 3:16 speech, but that’s the only reason I will accept for his absence.
Also missing are some other bigger names from this time like Marc Mero, “Psycho” Sid Vicious, Dean Douglas, Mic Foley’s Mankind gimmick, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts (who was old at the time, but still had that lethal DDT finisher).
Yeah, I have to agree that the biggest omissions from this game was the absence of Stone Cold and Mankind, who both went on to have enormous careers in the WWE during the Attitude Era. But that underscores how difficult it can be to predict wrestling success sometimes. I will say in retrospect though, it’s pretty huge that they managed to get Triple H into this video game, given he wasn’t very popular at the time.
In fact, he was probably the character I played with the least when the game originally came out, and that’s saying something given I wasn’t a huge fan of Golddust at the time either.
In closing, I do have a major question as to why exactly we decided to cover this particular game series on today’s article though.
I mean, great wrestling video games are easy to come by, so it’s a bit odd that we’d focus on these mediocre ones like WWF Wrestlemania and In Your House.
Like “WCW vs. nWo Revenge” for the N64 was PHENOMENAL, as were several WWF-based games in the early ’90s. I think you mentioned WrestleFest earlier in this article, and I have to agree that game is a legend.
Even today there are good games being released for the PS4 and Xbox One. Sure, they’re basically like longer-lasting Fighting Games, with different kinds of strategies, but they are definitely better than WWF Wrestlemania.
It’s a great question, Jabroni.
Honestly, I picked this particular one because although some people consider it the Dark Ages of the WWE, I was really a pretty big fan of the stars that were wrestling in this strange pre-Attitude era of this organization. It was like the Golden Age of Shawn Michaels, which many of the GotS staff consider the best wrestler ever to step foot in a ring.
And although I’m sure more people have played the fantastic wrestling games for the n64 or the more modern day WWE 2k series, I wanted to spotlight some neat little games that perhaps a lot of people have not. Besides, these games are in some ways so bad that they are good, and that always makes for good conversations.
That’s why I think for our next selection of fighting video games we’ll cover that Jurassic Fight Club of a game known as Primal Rage, which you mentioned earlier.
Stay tuned for that, folks, in the upcoming weeks!