Wrestling and video games seem like a natural cross-over. That’s not to say you can’t like one without liking the other, more that they’re two great things that go well together. And while it may very well be impossible to truly create a wrestling video game that matches the natural progression of the matches we see on TV, lots of people have certainly tried to make entertaining games using pro wrestling for many years. Some of them have even been really, really good games, and it’s those ones that we’re going to talk about today. We’ve even included release dates and what systems they were on so you can find them yourself and re-live the magic!
10. WWE Immortals (iOS/Android, 2015)
Okay, so this one isn’t technically a wrestling game, but it is pretty awesome. Created by the same studio that was behind the most recent Mortal Kombat games, as well as Injustice: Gods Among Us, this game takes WWE Superstars and turns them into over-the-top fighting game characters, similar to those found in Mortal Kombat. For example, The Bella Twins are now evil sorceresses, Kane is an actual demon, and Daniel Bryan…is a guy who says “Yes” a lot. Okay, they can’t all be winners. But the entire concept is so refreshing, the story created for the game so intriguing, and the character models so unique and detailed, that it’s a shame that this was relegated to being a free-to-play mobile game instead of a full-fledged AAA console release. Hopefully WWE and NetherRealm will get their heads together and make that dream a reality with some sort of sequel.
9. WCW/nWo Revenge (Nintendo 64, 1998)
Building on the already-successful WCW/nWo World Tour, Revenge was one of the best selling Nintendo 64 games of all time. Featuring an incredibly deep roster that including every wrestler on the WCW roster (except Ric Flair, who was briefly fired at the time the game was in development), which was a truly ridiculous number at the time. The game also had one of the largest move libraries in a wrestling game, with certain wrestlers getting unique, personalized versions of normally generic moves. It was the first time a wrestling game included unique arenas taken straight from WCW’s Pay Per View sets, such as Halloween Havoc or Bash at the Beach. It also contained the basics of what would become THQ’s popular Create-A-Wrestler mode, allowing color and outfit switching on existing wrestlers. WCW/nWo Revenge won Fighting Game of the Year in 1998 and was probably the best WCW-branded video game ever made.
8. Pro Wrestling (NES, 1987)
Definitely not the greatest game of all time, but in the NES era of video games, it was the best you were going to get. It was actually critically acclaimed upon release for having realistic graphics and wrestling moves (again, for the time), and for a short period was the best-selling video game in North America in 1988, even winning an award for “Best Sports Game” from Computer Gaming World magazine. The game itself was simple, as you fought a series of matches in an attempt to become champion, then defended that title in several matches until you faced an even harder champion, Great Puma, considered by some to be one of the hardest boss characters to appear on the NES. If it sounds like Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, but with wrestling, you’re pretty much correct, but everyone loved Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, right? The game is so memorable that WWE Superstar John Cena had a shirt created in as an homage to the game, with a pixel version of himself inserted in the player character’s spot, and it is still considered one of his most popular and best-selling shirts of all time. Also, it’s responsible for the popular “A Winner Is You” Internet meme, and introduced the world to the mysterious wrestler known as Star Man.
7. WWE All Stars (PS2/PS3/Wii/DS, 2011)
A game that undeservedly flew under the radar with most people, All Stars featured cartoonishly huge caricatures of both current WWE Superstars and an array of WWE Legends, in a completely over-the-top series of wrestling matches that placed entertainment and spectacle over being an actual, serious wrestling game. The larger-than-life nature of the game is endearing, the sheer enjoyment value of the game is off the charts, and even though it will never be as well-liked as WWF No Mercy or the Smackdown series, it still had a solid wrestling game at the core. With the bankruptcy of THQ, it seems unlikely, however, that we will ever see a sequel that could have potentially added more game modes and more wrestlers.
6. WWF Raw (SNES/Genesis, 1994)
The culmination of the “button-mashing” wrestling games of the NES/Genesis/SNES generations, WWF Raw was a simple, yet entertaining game done in the style of the classic beat-em-up fighting games, as opposed to the more “realistic” simulation-style wrestling games that would follow. The game featured only a handful of popular wrestlers, but a slew of different game modes, including Survivor Series elimination matches and a version of the Royal Rumble match that featured six wrestlers on screen at a time (although it could not be a full Rumble, since the roster had far less than 30 wrestlers). Raw also introduced “mega moves”, which were ridiculously over-the-top secret moves that could be activated to utterly destroy opponents.
5. WWF No Mercy (Nintendo 64, 2000)
Considered by many to be the best wrestling engine of all time (the AKI engine, which would go on to be used in such games as Def Jam Vendetta), this was the last wrestling game released on the Nintendo 64. The game included a robust story mode, with many branching paths that were based on match results, and interesting angles, some of which were taken from real-life wrestling storylines. No Mercy also pioneered the ability to wrestle in backstage areas and fight on the ringside announce table. No Mercy also included an incredibly robust character creation mode (for the time), which gave the game an incredibly extended lifespan as players were able to constantly update their rosters with versions of current wrestlers. In fact, the game remains fairly popular to this day.
4. Extreme Warfare Revenge (PC, 2002)
A wrestling game that featured absolutely no wrestling, Extreme Warfare Revenge was a text-based simulator in the vein of Out of the Park Baseball or Football Manager. Instead of taking control of a wrestler, a player assumes the role of the owner of a North American wrestling promotion, from WWE to independent groups like Ring of Honor, all the way down to a fledgling backyard wrestling league, and tries to turn it into a huge success (or, if you choose WWE, expand your dominance). Though it was not an official licensed property, the game contained names and statistics for every active wrestler and wrestling promotion in North America (later sequels would introduce the rest of the world). As the owner, you sign or release wrestlers, fully book wrestling shows (both televised and live events) and angles, deal with locker room drama, beg television networks for different or additional time slots, almost everything that comes with the day-to-day operation of a wrestling promotion. The game was actually incredibly popular, and eventually spawned some commercial sequels under the name Total Extreme Wrestling, with several concessions made to the lack of licensing.
3. WWF WrestleFest (Arcade, 1991)
A classic arcade wrestling game if there ever was one, WWF WrestleFest was a button-mashing, quarter-eating fiend. Featuring a roster of the most popular wrestlers of the early 90s, all done in fantastic detail, WrestleFest allowed players to choose two Superstars as a tag team and fight through a gauntlet of other teams, eventually facing the Legion of Doom for the Tag Team Championship. The other mode was a Royal Rumble match, albeit one where you could eliminated someone by pinfall or submission as well as throwing them out of the ring. What made WrestleFest special was the array of unique moves that were different for each Superstar, and all dependent on match context, including the position of the wrestlers and their remaining energy. WrestleFest was actually re-released in 2012 as a mobile game, featuring the old roster as well as many new ones, including current WWE Superstars.
2. Saturday Night Slam Masters (Arcade/SNES/Genesis, 1993
You didn’t think we’d forget about this one, did you? The only wrestling game to let you play as Mayor Mike Haggar from Final Fight, Slam Masters is a game so fondly remembered that it’s shocking that nobody has tried to re-make it at this point. Released by Capcom and done in a graphical style similar to the popular Street Fighter series, it contains only two game modes and a small roster of only 10 characters, but all of them are incredibly unique and memorable, and all have an array of custom fighting maneuvers. Slam Masters is considered one of the best games to be released for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis-era of consoles, and is probably the best non-licensed wrestling game of all time.
1. WWE Smackdown! Here Comes The Pain (PS2, 2003)
It just wouldn’t be a list without an entry from THQ’s long-running Smackdown series (which evolved into Smackdown vs Raw, and is now, since 2K acquired the license after the fall of THQ, the WWE2K series), and Here Comes The Pain is probably the most popular one in the entire series, despite being released over a decade ago for the Playstation 2. It was probably the best-reviewed game in the series up to that point, and combined an excellent story mode with incredibly improved controls to provide the best wrestling game experience up to that point. It also featured one of the deepest rosters in a WWE game (including the the short-lived Hollywood Rock gimmick, complete with ridiculously long helicopter flyover entrance), matching WWE’s actual roster depth at that point. For trivia’s sake, it’s also the first time John Cena (among others) appeared in a WWE video game. At any rate, while there is usually something to like about all the games in this series, Here Comes The Pain has to be considered the peak of the franchise.