Nothing validates an entertainment product more than a video game, particularly when that product deals with sports. The "Madden" series is obviously the best example of how this has worked out for the NFL. The NBA has both simulation-style series in "NBA Live" and "NBA 2K," and an arcade-style series in "NBA Jam."
Similarly, professional wrestling also has its fair share of video games. Although it took some time for those games to catch up to the sophistication of other sports games, today some of the best overall graphics, features, and gameplay come from games based on professional wrestling.
"WWF Attitude" - In 1999, Acclaim Entertainment released its follow-up to the highly-popular game "WWF War Zone". This game was released during a time when wrestling games were changing from arcade-style button mashers to realistic simulations of live matches, so Attitude is a mix of both. In terms of graphics, Attitude wasn't exactly the greatest. In my opinion, though, Attitude is the deepest American made wrestling game in terms of features. It includes sixteen total match types including WWF signatures like Hardcore, First Blood, Falls Count Anywhere, Steel Cage, and Lumberjack matches that can be customized event further with match options and win modifiers. The Career Mode takes you through all of the WWF-style programs like Raw is War, Sunday Night Heat, and through all the pay-per-views leading up to Wrestlemania. Attitude's Create-A-Player mode set the standard for other American wrestling games that followed it. What still makes it unique today is the organization of moves. Players have ability to select any move as a finisher and a trademark move, which are a character's two strongest moves. From there, you get to pick from a deep selection of moves and organize them from strongest to weakest.
"WCW/NWO Thunder" - This game, along with its predecessor "WCW Nitro," really got a bad reputation as one of the worst wrestling games in the Playstation/Nintendo 64 era. Personally, I think that's unfair. Thunder is an arcade-style game that was a victim of the times. Part of the problem is that the game doesn't have a Create-A-Player, like most of its competitors. I think it made up for that with its ability to change a character's stable. The game has four stables: WCW, NWO Original, NWO Wolfpack, and Raven's Flock. Each stable changes the character's attire. So if you switch Hollywood Hogan to WCW, he'd appear in his Yellow and Red attire. Or if you take Raven and put him in NWO Wolfpack, his outfit would change to red. There was also an underrated Battle Royal mode on the game. This game also has hidden rings where you can have matches at several cool, and sometimes wacky, venues including a parking lot, a garden, a rooftop, a barn yard, and a space station.
"WCW vs. NWO: World Tour" - Exclusively released for the Nintendo 64 in 1997, World Tour set the standard for modern professional wrestling games in terms of gameplay. This game is a modified, Americanized port of a Japanese game called "Virtual Pro Wrestling 64," which uses a groundbreaking grappling system that many of today's games emulate today. Because of this, several dynamic offensive moves were introduced that the American audience had never seen before. The graphics were, at the time, the very best in the business. It's almost like playing with your wrestling action figures on a digital screen. The game modes are limited and there is no Create-A-Player mode. However, the game made up for that by including Japanese wrestlers from fictitious promotions.
"WWF Royal Rumble" - The Sega Dreamcast didn't have very many wrestling games. "Royal Rumble," however, (the one released in 1999, not the one from 1993), is a home run. First off, there is no Create-A-Player feature and virtually no game modes outside of single player modes and the royal rumble match itself. What makes it special is that it's one of the few wrestling games to allow more than four players in the ring at a time. This is a great party game to play with friends because the gameplay is simple, fast-paced, and the graphics are great. It also brings that flavor of a true Royal Rumble match because you can team up with someone, then eliminate them from the match in the same moment.
"Fire Pro Wrestling Returns" - For those of you who aren't familiar with Japanese wrestling games, the "Fire Pro Wrestling" series is a highly successful franchise that set the standard for what a simulation-style wrestling game should look and feel like. Of all the games on this list, "FPW Returns" has the worst graphic presentation. It was released on the Playstation 2, but it looks more like a Super Nintendo game, which is sort of a trademark of the series. What makes this game arguably the best ever is the near infinite ways it can be customized. First, the game features over 100 wrestlers, each with their own unique move sets. Many of these characters are based off wrestlers from the WWE, WCW, ECW, several Japanese promotions, and eve a few Mixed Martial Arts promotions. You can change the names of each character. No game has a deeper Create-A-Player mode than FPW Returns. Over 600 moves, most of which you would rarely see performed in Japan and never see performed in America. You can create your own rings, stables, belts, even pay-per-view events.
"WWF Smackdown: Know Your Role" - Best game in the "Smackdown" series.
"WCW/NWO Revenge" - One of the most popular wrestling games of the 1990s. It's the sequel to "World Tour."
"WWF War Zone" - The predecessor to "WWF Attitude." Limited game modes, but gameplay and graphics were groundbreaking.
Information for this article was taken from the following sources: THQ.com, Acclaim Entertainment, Spike Games, Activision, and GameFAQs.com.
Aaron David Harris, a lifelong professional wrestling fan, covered sports for four years at the Battle Creek Enquirer, where he interviewed several former professional wrestlers including Dan "The Beast" Severn. Learn more about him at AaronDavidHarris.com.