Welcome to another edition of Playing With Power. The review article that looks at all things Nintendo Entertainment System. Earlier this month we stepped into the ring with Pro Wrestling, one of the best wrestling games of all time, and easily the best on the NES. Now it’s definitely time to look at the opposite end of that spectrum. So what’cha gonna do when WWF Wrestlemania runs wild on you? Or in this case, craps all over you? Well, let’s dive into this game to see just how bad it really is.
The World Wrestling Federation was riding high on the hog in the late 80’s. The competition was being killed off one by one, Hulkamania was running wile, and the WWF has become a pop culture dynamo, with no signs of crashing down to earth any time soon. So naturally, a WWF video game would be in high demand, especially for the NES. And of course, the ones who would get their grubby mitts on the licensing rights first would be our old friends at Acclaim. And since they were pretty much making at least half of the games on the NES at the time, Rare would be in charge of development.
In January of 1989, the first WWF NES game would be released in WWF Wrestlemania. The success of the WWF would pay off big time for Acclaim as the game would be a top seller on the console. But of course that major success wouldn’t hide the truth about the game for too long, and that was that this game, well… sucked big time. It was panned by critics and gamers alike for its terrible gameplay. However, despite that hatred, the game has proven to hold a cult following and is even found its popularity in pop culture. Hell, even the 2008 movie “The Wrestler” would feature a scene involving an altered version of the game called Wrestle Jam 88. But despite the game’s cult popularity, is it still a bad game? Let’s get a bit further in, shall we?
There really isn’t too much to say about the cover. It’s Hulk Hogan in his iconic shirt ripping pose. Considering that this game was released at the peak of Hulkamania, it’s a no brainer that the game would sell easily with Hogan on the cover. And considering that the game was a best seller on the console, that was easily the case. Acclaim knew their stuff when it came to catching the eye of the consumer, even if the contents within weren’t exactly of the utmost quality. And this game is certainly no exception to that strategy.
WWF Wrestlemania is a 1-2 plater wrestling game. You can play in one on one bouts against an opponent, or compete in a tournament mode which has you face off against all of the wrestlers in the game. The roster contains six of the most iconic superstars the WWF had to offer in that time period. The roster stars Hulk Hogan, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, The Honky Tonk Man, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase, Bam Bam Bigelow, and Andre the Giant. Certainly a motley crew of legends. You can select any of them from the menu and after waiting for the versus screen to finish up, you go right into the ring to compete.
The D-Pad will move your wrestler in any direction in the ring. The A button punches, and the B will kick. They will for the most part of the game be the only moves you’ll execute with ease. Because trust me, there isn’t much more you’ll be able to do purposely. You can body slam, but trying to execute it right can be nigh on impossible. You can jump off the top rope, but that can be infuriating to execute. The best move you can pull off other than kicks and punches is a back elbow smash. But good luck hitting those too, because every move feels almost too buggy to execute correctly.
Hell, even pinning in this game can be tough to get just right. You press B and Down at the same time when your opponent is down for the count, but you have to be in the perfect position, and not a pixel off, or sometimes it won’t work. I can forgive a lot of the issues with this game, but when you can have issues with trying to finish your opponent, then that’s where I get a little annoyed.
Wrestlers will also be able to hit certain specific moves, like for example Bam Bam’s cartwheel, but once again, just like a lot of things in this game, it can be pretty tough to not only execute, but to hit successfully. The game’s hit detection is annoying. Wrestlers have to be perfectly in front of you for a kick or punch to land.
Another detriment is every attack you use will wear your own health bar down. Meaning every kick, and every punch will wear down on your health, helping to lead to your own downfall as you try in vain to lead to your opponent’s end. You can restore health by not attacking, and there are items that will be thrown into the ring that gives you short health boosts when collected(The items being a cross for Hogan, a guitar for Honky Tonk, fire for Bigelow, a $ sign for Dibiase, a giant slab of meat for Andre, and a pair of sunglasses for the Macho Man). But your opponent will also restore health when they take a break from attacking, leading to matches that are more frustrating than fun.
Another big detriment to this game is the extremely annoying AI. They like to swap their “strategy” (if you want to call it that) from being moronic and walking aimlessly around the ring, to suddenly turning vicious and keeping to trapped in a corner. They’ll spam back elbows, punches, and their special moves, and sooner than later you’ll be down for the count. This doesn’t feel like a fun challenge, but a complete test of patience from an extremely broken video game. It’s astounding how much about this game just doesn’t work.
The game has awful controls, and like I said, the hit detection is beyond wonky. This is a prime example of a video game that was rushed out the gate, and not given enough time for quality and care. Look at Pro Wrestling, a game that came out give or take 3 years prior. Look at how much about that game was done right. And how much attention to detail was put into it. not to mention just how fun the game is to play because holy crap, it actually plays like a wrestling game. Then look at Wrestlemania on the NES. It’s an absolute joke. A broken fighting game pretending to be a wrestling game. Whether this goes more on the conscience of Acclaim or Rare, the fact remains. This is one of the worst wrestling games ever, and an ultimate example of dropping the ball on what could have been a solid game.
The graphics are pretty bad in this game. From really terrible caricatures in the character select screen to the matches themselves with the bland ring, no crowd, and decent at best wrestler sprites. Another notch on the “lazy effort” belt if I do say so myself. Once again, I have to mention Pro Wrestling. How much detail was done for a game of its time. I mean, this game came out about 3 years prior, and it had a crowd, commentators, a frigging cameraman! Then look at a game that came out years after, and you just get emptiness. Just like this game. You look for fun, and you just get emptiness.
Despite my bashing of this game so far, one thing I do believe Rare did right was in the music department. This game has a solid soundtrack. It boasts great 8-bit renditions of classic wrestling themes like Hulk Hogan’s “Real American”, Honky Tonk Man’s “Cool, Cocky, bad”, and Macho Man’s “Pomp and Circumstance”. Though why Dibiase has “Girls in Cars” and Andre has “Stand Back” is beyond me. Also, I believe Bam Bam’s theme is an original song from Rare. If I’m wrong on that, feel free to correct me. Rare knew how to make great music in even the most terrible of video games, and this one is certainly no exception. But even ear candy as sweet as this still can’t cover up the poor taste this game will no doubt leave in your mouth
This game is a bad one. Bad in almost every way (music aside). This is an ultimate example not just of how not to make a wrestling game, but a video game in general. It’s deprived of so much that makes wrestling games fun. Not to mention, when you consider the fact that there is a far superior wrestling game that was made prior to this, it doesn’t soften the blow of just how poor this game is. Unless you’re a collector, I’d say that it’s wisest to give this game a pass. It’s very deserving of going down for the count.
RATING: Thumbs Down