Pro wrestling games have long been an integral part of every console generation. Ever since we performed our first 8-bit Piledriver with King Slender in Pro Wrestling for the NES, gamers were left wanting more.
Throughout the years several games attempted to redefine the genre, improving gameplay, graphics, adding depth and story lines, wider character rosters and even create a character modes so you can live out your pro wrestling dreams.
The latest iteration comes to us in the form of WWE 2K17, releasing today and already proving to be the latest and greatest in the genre. But before we get to that, let’s examine how we got here and take a look back at some of the greatest releases in the history of pro wrestling games.
‘Wrestlefest’ (Arcade) – 1991
Wrestlefest was a staple of any arcade in the ’90s. The look of this game is iconic, with large colorful sprites that actually look like the wrestlers they are portraying, which wasn’t always the case at the time.
The roster is stacked with future WWE hall of famers, ranging from Hulk Hogan to Jake the Snake. Each wrestler had their own signature moves and animations. The game play is simple: essentially a button masher with two modes of play, a Royal Rumble battle royal match where you fight to be the last man standing and a Saturday Nights Main event where you chase after the tag team titles.
The game play was addictive and featured up to four player simultaneous action, which ensured that you and your friends left the arcade with empty pockets.
‘Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium’ (Super Famicom) – 1996
Super Fire Pro Wrestling X released for the Super Famicom is known for its graphical style, technical gameplay and deep customizability. You have the ability to edit and make your own wrestler, with up to 50 moves from a list of over 700.
The roster is comprised of over 100 wrestlers from a wide variety of organizations, and keep in mind this is all on a 16bit system in the ’90s. The play style is highly technical, and relies heavily on timing. As such, this is sometimes a turn off for casual gamers, but if you have patience you’ll be rewarded with a diverse wrestling experience.
A hardcore modding scene exists which still creates wrestlers for this game, which is one of the reasons it’s still being played today.
‘WCW nWo Revenge’ – (Nintendo 64) – 1998
WCW nWo Revenge was the sequel to the enormously popular WCW nWo World Tour, and went on to become one of the bestselling N64 games of all time.
The game had a massive (at the time) roster of 50 WCW wrestlers (ahem, “superstars”), each with individual move sets, animations and ring entrances. The game play was easy to pick up for novices and diehards alike, and featured an extremely addictive four player local multiplayer mode.
The success of WCW nWo Revenge caught the attention of the then WWF, which approached developer AKI to produce their own Wrestlemania 2000 and WWF No Mercy games for the N64.
‘WWE Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain’ (PS2) 2003
Considered by many the best wrestling game in history, WWE Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain combines fluid gameplay and stunning graphics that still hold up today.
Here Comes the Pain feels like an arcade fighting game mixed with a simulation style sports game, with easy controls that newcomers to the genre can easily pick up. New event modes like Elimination Chamber and Bra and Panties match (yes that’s a thing) are intruded for the first time.
You can even battle backstage and in New York’s Times Square (where you can do an elbow drop from a helicopter). With its massive roster, loads of match types and almost perfect gameplay, it’s easy to see why this game is still so highly regarded.
‘WWE 2K16: Modern Era’ (PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC) – 2015
At first look, it’s hard to differentiate this game from an actual live WWE broadcast. The visuals are absolutely stunning, and wrestler entrances, annoying ring announcers and animations are as lifelike as ever seen in a video game.
With a 120+ character roster ranging from multiple generations, now you can finally have that Bam Bam Biggalo vs. Kevin Owens dream match you’ve always wanted. The gameplay mechanics borderline arcade fighter and simulation, forcing the player to think about resources during the course of the match, which adds a level of realism.
The Showcase mode lets you play though the career highlights of Stone Cold Steve Austin, and includes classic footage to relive the moments. Create a Character and Career modes give the game depth, allowing you to climb the ranks from the NXT hopeful to the Wrestlemania main event, and beyond.
‘WWE 2K17’ (PS4, Xbox One, PC) – 2016
WWE 2K17 continues to push the limits in terms of visuals and gameplay, with an abundance of enhancements over its predecessors. The ability to battle in the backstage areas and the crowd is back: here you’ll find trash cans, chairs and even flat screen TVs to thrash your opponent with.
New camera angles add to the effect, making the viewing experience much more like watching a live pay-per-view. The roster is an absolutely enormous 169 characters, playable from the NXT, Women’s, Smackdown and RAW rosters; as well as Legends like Ric Flair and Macho Man Randy Savage.
The box art features an absolutely fearsome image of Brock Lesnar, and the preorder included access to WCW legend Goldberg (GGOOOOLLLLDDDBBBBEEERRRGGG!!). This game is definitely worth copping.
Make sure you check out our Know Your Game Designers series, starting with Hironubu Sakaguchi.