10. WWE All-Stars
Fans weren’t quite sure what to make of WWE All-Stars when it was announced, as the outlandish arcade style of the gameplay and its bright, colorful visuals suggested to some that this would perhaps be a game aimed at kids or the casual market.
To be honest, that assessment is not entirely inaccurate. However, WWE All-Stars still managed to win over a variety of wrestling fans by providing one of the most purely entertaining wrestling games ever made. The gameplay may be completely absurd, but the completely over-the-top matches do an admirable job of conveying the fun in professional wrestling and make for some incredibly amusing multiplayer showdowns.
Even if you’ve never seen a wrestling match in your life, you’d have a hard time not having fun with this gem of the genre.
9. Saturday Night Slam Masters
Without the benefit of a wrestling licence to fall back on, Saturday Night Slam Masters had to be something special in order to appeal to Super Nintendo wrestling fans that already had games featuring their favorite wrestlers to play instead. Fortunately, special is exactly what it was.
It should be no surprise that Saturday Night Slam Master’s psuedo-2D fighter controls were rock solid given that the game was made by Capcom, but what was surprising is how the game nailed the presentation elements of professional wrestling like no other game before it licensed or otherwise. Everything from the entrances to the costume designs is brimming with personality and it lends an element of distinction to this game that few modern wrestling titles even get to enjoy.
It’s also a fact that Mike Slamkovich is the greatest pro wrestler name in video game history. So this game has that going for it.
8. WCW/nWo Revenge
Although developer AKI’s previous WCW wrestling game on N64 – WCW vs. nWo: World Tour – was an outstanding effort, it was a fairly simple game that managed to impress largely due to its incredible controls.
WCW/nWO Revenge would carry over that control scheme and top it off with one of the most complete character rosters ever seen and more gameplay modes and customization options than had ever been dreamed of up until that point. Elements like actual set recreations and fully accurate entrances may be standard today, but back then they helped Revenge recreate the experience of watching professional wrestling like nothing else had.
As amazing as this game is, developer AKI would actually manage to top in in every way with another game later on this list.
7. Tecmo World Wrestling
While Pro Wrestling for the NES gets all of the love for being one of the first wrestling games to feature a semi-realistic recreation of pro wrestling, as well as some loveable translation goofs (“A Winner Is You!”) it just can’t measure up to the brilliance of Tecmo World Wrestling.
Tecmo World Wrestling was a truly revolutionary pro wrestling game. It was the first to feature character customization, the first to feature announcer commentary and it was the first to really play with the idea of television-like presentation as the game would zoom in during big moves and climatic moments. Speaking of big moves, Tecmo featured more faithfully recreated wrestling maneuvers than we would see out of a wrestling game for years to come and a roster that creatively mimicked some of the best wrestlers in history.
This was as good as it got for wrestling fans in the 8-bit era.
6. Fire Pro Wrestling Returns
The Fire Pro Wrestling series has always been built around the idea of giving pro wrestling fans more content than they could ever possibly find anywhere else. Though the franchise has been consistently successful in that pursuit, Fire Pro Wrestling Returns for the PlayStation 2 may just be the series’ greatest accomplishment.
Featuring over 300 professional wrestlers – essentially every noteworthy professional wrestler in the world at the time – as well as a host of character and match creation options, Fire Pro Wrestling Returns allowed wrestling fans to create matches they would otherwise never get to see. The gameplay is much more complicated than your average professional wrestling game, but what Fire Pro Wrestling Returns lacks in accessibility it makes up for by providing a game that you could spend years truly mastering.
There may be better looking or more amusing wrestling games out there, but no wrestling game will ever come close to matching the pure content provided here.
5. WWE 2K16
To put it gently, WWE 2K15 was a disappointment. By limiting the amount of features and customization options the series had become famous for – as well as increasing the series’ already high amount of bugs and glitches – developer Yuke’s put themselves in a position where they would need to blow everyone away with next year’s game in order to make good with the fanbase.
Thankfully, that’s just what they did. Everything that was missing in the previous game not only came back in 2K16, but Yuke’s actually managed to somehow squeeze in more features than this already feature heavy series had ever seen. Yet, the most impressive improvement in 2K16 is actually the changes to the gameplay as this is the game that perfected many of the controls and concepts that the series had been toying with for some time.
2K16 not only made up for 2K15; it set a bar that the series may not be able to raise for years to come.
Even after all these years, it still feels strange to talk about the Def Jam series as truly great games. Built on the concept of pitting famous rappers against each other in street fight wrestling matches, there were very few people who believed these games would be actually playable much less great.
A big part of what makes this game so special is how it embraces its own absurdity. Much like WWE All-Stars, Def Jam is built around allowing the player to create the most delightfully ridiculous matches possible. Unlike WWE All-Stars, the lack of a proper wrestling license allows this game to really crank the up the intensity and create scenarios that a company like WWE would never allow in their product. That philosophy lends a delightfully heavy feeling to the combat that no other wrestling game enjoys.
This is also the only wrestling game that I’m aware of that allows you to powerbomb Xzibit while playing as Danny Trejo, which I’m fairly certain puts it in the running for the greatest game ever made.
3. WWE Smackdown! Here Comes The Pain
The Smackdown series had been toying with greatness for some time before the release of 2003’s Here Comes The Pain, but found itself falling just short by failing to really capture that “it” factor would turn the games into something special.
Here Comes The Pain would find its “it” factor in the form of a proper career mode. Never before had a wrestling game aimed to recreate the storytelling style of WWE programming so faithfully and never before had one succeeded so clearly in doing so. On top of that, you’ve got an accurate recreation of the greatest roster WWE ever assembled as well as a game that’s equally concerned with cultivating a sense of fun as it is with recreating the product. It’s a delicate balance, but Here Comes The Pain nails it.
Modern day wrestling games have been chasing the accomplishments of Here Comes The Pain since its release and we’re still waiting to see if one will come along to beat it.
2. WWF WrestleFest
You have to be careful with nostalgia sometimes when analyzing an older game. If not, then you run the risk of talking about a game as you’d like to remember it rather than for what it was.
But if you were a wrestling fan in the early 90s that happened upon a WrestleFest arcade machine, it’s impossible to not carry a sense of nostalgia about it. The game’s vibrant and huge character models perfectly captured the cartoonish atmosphere of wrestling at that time and completely dwarfed anything that console’s were capable of achieving at the time. For the first time ever, wrestling fans didn’t have to use their imagination when playing a wrestling game and instead were allowed to bask in a game that so clearly loved wrestling in the same way they did.
No, WrestleFest is not a game about nostalgia. It’s a game that perfectly captured its particular time in history and remains beloved because of it.
Saying that WWF No Mercy is the greatest wrestling video game of all-time is a lot like saying that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all-time. It’s kind of a cliche.
But cliches become cliches for a reason and the reason that No Mercy is held in such high regard is because it is indeed the best wrestling game ever made. While later wrestling games would feature more characters, more moves and better graphics, there is no other wrestling game that has No Mercy’s perfect wrestling controls. They’re similar to the controls that AKI had designed for the previously mentioned WCW/nWo Revenge, but here the developers created a control scheme that you could instantly figure out yet was still capable of leading to matches as intense as a traditional fighting game.
Everything about the era of wrestling that No Mercy was trying to recreate was done so spectacularly, but it is No Mercy’s impossibly smooth mechanics that cement it as a timeless great.
This post was originally written by Matthew Byrd.