Company: Rare (Distributed by Acclaim)
Platform: Nintendo NES
Controller: Default controller of the console.
Late 80s, almost to enter the 90s decade, and in USA the company (back then known as) WWF was in the path to become one of the main companies in the show-sport known as Wrestling in the USA. With a cartoonish style targeted at the youngest of their audience, and shows bigger than life either in the ring or outside it, started to get a stronghold in the preferences of the sports audience with a funny mix of physical combat, scripts worth of a soap opera and light-sound incredible shows.
One of their main reasons of that popularity were the annual events where more extravagant (even to the standards of the company) than ever, shining one in particular: Wrestlemania, with its first iteration in 1985.
With the popularity of WWF Wrestling skyrocketing, trying to exploit the also rising videogame market, which happen to have also wrestling fans, so it was very predictable that this set of fans would try to copy their idol’s antics, but unlike previous videogames of the time, with their idols.
Well, in the first WrestleManias, the close physical combat was commonplace, rushing constantly to the ropes to gain impulse and hit their rivals, and relatively few moves, the videogame company tried to give their players a closer experience to the kind of wrestling show offered by WWF at the time, unlike previous videogames more oriented towards the japanese style were applying moves where more common.
The graphics are very good, with a clear defined ring, and where the wrestlers are detailed enough to recognize them as counterparts of their real-life inspirations. Now, what many videogame fans at the time were hoping to see in this title, specially after seeing previous games, was to apply eye-catching moves to their rivals. This videogame lacks that feature.
Let’s see, the videoplayer can move freely the virtual wrestler around the ring and start punching or kicking the rival, varying the type of hit according to the button pressed. When the virtual wrestler is running can give a different kind of hit, or even getting impulse from the ropes. Well, that also can vary according to the virtual wrestler, because instead of applying a different move according to the button pressed and the virtual wrestler, not all the virtual wrestlers can apply a move when using a certain combination with the control.
I know, it’s confusing and frustrating. True, the idea of implementing different behaviours according to the chosen wreslter is a good idea, the execution gives a lot of room for improvement. But you are wrong if you think that the combats can be monotous, quite the opposite. That is because every wreslter has different strength, stamina or speed. This is another polemic point, because some wrestlers are very cheap to use, and winning with others is really an accomplishment.
Every virtual wreslter has an energy bar, that decreases when receiving hits… or giving them. And it refills slowly otherwise (or getting certain items dropped at random), so giving punches or kicks without hitting the rival is not advisable. In fact, the only move available for all wrestlers is the Body Slam, and can only be applied when the virtual wrestler has more energy than the rival. A rival can be pinned only when its energy bar is empty.
The videogame only offer hand-to-hand matches. There are two modes: one without a time limit where you have to beat one rival, or a tournament where you have to beat all the other wrestlers (if you lose a match, is game over. If it ends with a tie or the time expires, the match restart until a winner is defined). There is also a two-player mode where two human players fight each other.
|Ted “Million Dollar Man” DiBiase – A great character, iconic cartoonish villain so common in those years. However, in this game, is the ideal sparring so a rookie videogamer can get the pace of the game beating him. He is really slow and his hits are probably the weakest of all the game.|
|Bam Bam Bigelow – Called “The Beast from the East“, a quick and agile wrestler despiste his size. Stronger and faster than DiBiase. Actually if you can properly execute his cartwheel move (he is the only one with two different moves while running) you may survive.|
|Honky Tonk Man – I really hate this guy. He’s fast enough to avoid getting his ass kicked soon in the match. He can give you barrages of regular strength, which is useful facing weaker rivals (only two). With stronger rivals, it can buy some time, but it will be very hard to pull off a victory. Have I already mentioned I hate him?|
|Randy “Macho Man” Savage – A surprisingly addition to the game, even if the guy was one of the top wrestlers of the WWF. He is as fast as Honky Tonk Man, but considerably stronger. It’s a good wrestler to get accustomed to the game if the videogamer does not want to use the cheaper ones.|
|André The Giant – In my opinion, the best wrestler in the game. The slowest one, but believe me, it’s not a problem with this dude, as soon as it’s not a timed match. By far, the strongest of all the wrestlers in the game, with devastating punches even if the reach is not what it should be. He can receive a lot of punishment. I enjoy using him to kick the crap out of you know who.|
|Hulk Hogan – Hogan can be considered the final boss, because he is the one you face at the final match in the tournament mode. Only André The Giant is stronger, and altough a bit slower than Macho Man that does not hinder him much. A match against the weakest wrestlers is really fast with this dude.|
I really gave a lot of thought to include this game or not, because during late 80s there were a lot of LCD handhelds, really populars at a time before the arrival of gaming handhelds with interchangeable carts.
Acclaim, the company who distributed this game for the NES, also distributed (I haven’t found if developed it or not) this port.
Sadly I haven’t been able to test it, so I don’t know if the games only have in common the title, or there were more similarities. I hope it will be emulated really soon to update this entry with the info on how to play this port and my impressions of it. If someone is interested in the plot of the game (it looks like it had one) you can see this image.
The game apparently set the foundations from where to develop more wrestling videogames, and showed that there was enough people interested in play videogames related to WWF (and later, with other companies) at least in the title, so more titles were developed for the NES and other consoles.
Two years later, the company Ocean developed a port, mainly aimed at personal computers of the time, with the same name, but with really different gameplay. The very little I have found of this game, it was not very cheered by the public, but probably will make another entry, or update this one in the future.
In my opinion, many of the critics toward this game have to be analyzed from the perspective of what the developers wanted to offer, as already mentioned. Even then, I did not like the lack of eye-catching moves, considering that previous titles for the same console showed a rudimentary, but diverse, repertory of moves.
Having said that, the game is quite acceptable if we consider these two points. A wrestling game will always be good to me, if I can kick HTM0s ass. Must give credits to the game when every wrestler has a really distinct look making them different from the others, while at the same time, I would have liked more balance between all of them.
This videogame proved that getting the license to use real life wrestler can improve the success of the videogame.
That same year, 1989, an arcade videogame, WWF Superstars, which opted to mix the use of recognizable wrestlers with more moves to apply. That formula was really successful, and this game will have an entry in the blog.
Console Icons taken from Retroarch.
Images of Wrestlemania Handheld taken from Electronic Handheld Museum.