With the latest iteration of WWE’s annual wresting titles being something of a bust, which wrestling games should you actually play?
One of the bigger stories in gaming right now is just how exceptionally broken WWE 2K20, the latest iteration in the long-running series of WWE/WWF games that started all the way back with WWF Smackdown! for the PS One really is.
Seriously, go look at the #FixWWE2K20 hashtag if you don’t believe me. Or watch this:
It’s not looking good, to put it politely. Sure, in this day and age games get patched and improved, but it looks like WWE 2K20 is going to need a lot of patching. The reality for annual sports titles as I understand it is that most of the sales happen when they’re brand new — and right now, it’s looking like a rather damaged brand.
Here’s the thing: You have plenty of choice when it comes to wrestling games. They’re something of a passion of mine in both a current and retro sense, so I can go back in time quite a bit to make suggestions.
Heck, why don’t I do just that?
8-Bit generation: Tecmo World Wrestling (NES)
Look, the 8-bit era isn’t terribly kind to pro wrestling games, even if they did give us Strong Bad. There’s more terrible games than there are good ones by a wide margin, but Tecmo World Wrestling is one of the good ones, and the first sports game (I think?) with play by play commentary.
Honourable mentions: Exciting Hour (Arcade) WWF Superstars (Arcade)/ Rock ‘N Wrestling (C64)
Exciting Hour (AKA “Mat Mania”) was the first wrestling game I ever played in the arcade, and it’s still a mystery to me why it never saw any kind of home conversion.
The same no-conversion woes hit WWF Superstars, a very silly, very coin-hungry game that I honestly do prefer to its successor, WWF Royal Rumble. It’s still fun, if a little limited, and it’s best not to think about how few of the roster of that game are still actually with us.
Rock ‘N Wrestling was the first home wrestling game I ever played, and it was made right here in Australia by Melbourne House.
Hey, it’s my list. I can wax nostalgic if I want to!
16-Bit generation: Super Fire Pro Wrestling Premium X (Super Famicom)
Here in the west, we got a parade of truly awful LJN published WWF games, including Wrestlemania, Royal Rumble and RAW. They were button mashy, they had tiny rosters, and they weren’t much fun at all. Don’t even get me started on the SNES WCW game.
Meanwhile, in Japan there were plenty of games covering All Japan, New Japan and even FCW, although that’s a pretty awful game, to be honest. But the undeniable king of this generation is Human/Spike’s Fire Pro Wrestling series.
There are a lot of games under the Fire Pro banner for the Super Famicom, including women’s wrestling titles, and they’re pretty much all on my games shelf as I write this.
The one I turn to most of the time is the last SFC series, the incredibly named Super Fire Pro Wrestling Premium X. Astonishingly, it lives up to the title with a wide (and sometimes copyright dodging) roster, smooth timing-based gameplay and a game model that works well to present a competitive and yet exciting wrestling game.
Honourable mention: WWF Royal Rumble (Pinball)
Wrestling games in the west sucked in the 16-bit era, but Data East’s WWF-themed pinball table is OK. Not great — there’s plenty of tables from that era that are better — but it says something profound that the best western-produced “wrestling” game of the era casts you in the role of a silver ball.
32/64-Bit generation: WWF No Mercy (N64)
Yeah, like I wasn’t going to pick the game that many wrestling fans (I’m amongst them) generally pick as the gold standard of wrestling games.
No Mercy sits on the shoulders of the equally exceptional WWF Wrestlemania 2000, WCW/NWO Revenge and WCW/NWO World Tour, all of which are also worth playing. There’s even a case for WCW vs The World, the PSONe iteration, although that’s far more clunky than the smooth game that AKI got out of its engine by the time it switched to the N64.
And yes, I know that Virtua Pro Wrestling 2 is a thing. It’s a great thing, to be clear, and one of my personal favourites too. Play that as well.
Honourable mentions: WWF Smackdown 2 (PSOne). It’s much faster and looks a little sharper than No Mercy, if you like your wrestling arcade-style.
Equally, Fire Pro proved it could still stand its ground with Fire Pro Returns for the PS2. It never got a release here in Australia, although it was up on PSN in the US for a while if you didn’t want to import a Japanese copy.
Yeah, I imported a Japanese copy. Of course I did.
128-Bit generation: WWE Day of Reckoning 2 (Gamecube)/Def Jam: Fight For NY (PS2)
OK, things get silly in naming terms here, but I just don’t like the whole “1st/2nd/3rd gen” thing either.
It’s also a generation where I’m really split on the best choice, because there’s quite a few. Still, the Gamecube benefitted from having a run of good to great wrestling titles, and Day of Reckoning 2 is the best of them.
Don’t have a Gamecube? If you’re a PS2 owner, the game to buy would be Def Jam: Fight for New York. Which, if you’re not being that observant, isn’t a WWE, ROH, WCW, ECW or AEW game. At least partly because most of them didn’t exist at that point!
However, what it is is what happens when EA creates some truly ordinary WCW games, then shifts to getting AKI to use the same engine as those N64 games with a mix of hip-hop style. I mean, what other video game features DANNY TREJO?
That same engine’s also used for a couple of Ultimate Muscle games out of Japan if Def Jam isn’t your style.
If all you had or have is an OG Xbox… yeah, I got nothing. RAW/RAW2/Wrestlemania were all terrible.
Honourable mention: WWE Smackdown: Here Comes The Pain
Officially licensed WWF/WWE games became an annual tradition around this time, which meant that they started on the run of offering up mostly-the-same-game-with-roster-changes. Here Comes The Pain is still quite a playable title, although if you do load it up you’ll be surprised to realise who’s on the roster at that time — and who isn’t.
360/PS3/Wii generation: WWE All-Stars
I can blame a friend of mine — let’s call him Al, because that’s his name — for my interest in professional wrestling. As regular Vertical Hold listeners will know, sports isn’t really my thing. But Pro Wrestling is theatrical, often ludicrous, acrobatic, pre-determined and above all, larger than life.
This is precisely what WWE All-Stars captures, with a mix of then-current WWE Superstars taking on a roster of classic superstars with an over-the-top arcade style. This era’s Smackdown vs Raw games come across as rather too serious by comparison.
Honourable mention: WWE Legends of Wrestlemania
If you’re a fan primarily of 80’s era WWF, Legends of Wrestlemania is also worth a look.
Current generation: Fire Pro Wrestling World (PC/PS4)
The dominance of WWE in the wrestling world led to a real dearth of new, competitive titles against the annual WWE 2KInsertYearHere were few and far between.
Impact and AAA came and went in the previous generation, and while some years Yukes/THQ/2K turned out some neat nostalgia in the career modes, there’s no real doubting that the WWE games hit a slump. This year’s effort, the first without Yukes on board seems to be particularly poor — and to be upfront and clear I’ve not played it as yet. Based on the early reactions and reviews, I don’t know that I will.
However, this generation has also seen the first real new Fire Pro game since Fire Pro Returns on the PS2, in the form of Fire Pro Wrestling World for Steam and PS4.
Yes, it’s very old school, with sprites, specific timing for moves and matches that build up from weak moves to strong ones, plenty of match types and a great creation mode to generate just about anybody you’d care to name.
I reviewed it over on Finder a couple of years ago, and it’s still a go-to game when I want my grappling fix.