Time to head to the squared circle for some old school retro gaming and old school retro wrestling action. But there’s a problem.
Time once agian for me to assess one of the TV games being sold in Australia this Christmas by K-Mart, in this case combining my love of video games with my passion for professional wrestling.
Wrestlemania Steel Cage Challenge
Folks who are regular listeners to Vertical Hold — you are a regular listener to Vertical Hold right? — will be aware that I’m not much of a sports fan.
Sports are an Australian obsession, but they’re not my obsession. They’ve essentially never tickled my fancy, with one notable exception.
That exception is Professional Wrestling, an art that many folks I know would argue isn’t a sport at all. I can blame two defining factors for my interest.
Firstly is a man I’ll call Al (because it’s his name), a friend of mine from my university who was very keen on professional wrestling. I wasn’t at the time, but it’s from this era that Wrestlemania Steel Cage Challenge draws its inspiration. I can’t help but think of Al whenever I see the WWF — it was still the WWF at the time — roster of this era.
The second is video games, and WCW/NWO World Tour, the first of the AKI games to hit the Nintendo 64.
I played a lot of World Tour, and its successors right at the time that professional wrestling and pop culture combined, whether one was a fan of the NWO angle in WCW, or the Attitude Era in what was then the WWF. For the record, I was more in the latter camp, but moreso for the lower and mid-card, especially the cruiserweights.
So a game that combines both should be a natural fit, right?
Well… not so much.
It’s not the fact that it shares the exact same build as Space Invaders, Frogger and Double Dragon, the 3 games I’ve already reviewed:
Sure, that means it has the same weirdly huge joystick ball, the same cheap and light plastic construction and of course a total lack of HDMI connectivity.
You’ll need to find your TV’s composite inputs to get any kind of signal at all, and if that’s a modern TV, it’s not going to look great. Frankly, even on an old school Sony Trinitron CRT it’s not too flash.
It’s not even the weird roster in the game, although it is a little different to when the game first debuted.
This version of Wrestlemania Steel Cage Challenge — which was WWF Wrestlemania Steel Cage Challenge back in the day — lets you play in single or tag matches with the choice of the Ultimate Warrior, Bret “Hitman” Hart, The Undertaker, Irwin R Shyster, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Razor Ramon, Sid Justice or The Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase.
Now, in wrestling terms that’s a fabulous retro roster of some of the all-time greats, whether you like your wrestlers smaller and technical or huge and lumbering.
However, it’s not particularly accurate to the Wrestlemania roster of the time. Yes, I’m being picky here.
Depending on when you figure this game is meant to be the “25th anniversary” of, that would place it at either Wrestlemania IX, or Wrestlemania X. Five of the 10 competitors in this game were on the Wrestlemania IX card, and only 4 at Wrestlemania X… maybe 5 if you count Roddy Piper’s refereeing turn in the main event.
Jake Roberts, Sid Justice and the Ultimate Warrior had nothing to do with either card at all but it’s actually even weirder than that.
The original NES game didn’t have The Ultimate Warrior or Razor Ramon at all; instead you got The Mountie and Hulk Hogan.
Hogan isn’t there presumably because the licensing rights around the Hulkster are all kinds of complicated.
The Mountie is missing is because… yeah, I’ve got no real idea either, but at a guess I’d say that he’s not in the the WWE Hall of Fame so they don’t own likeness rights, whereas Scott “Razor Ramon” Hall is.
But OK, maybe you can work past the roster oddities because you’re a huge fan of Razor Ramon and Shawn Michaels’ ladder match classic at Wrestlemania X. A match which you totally can’t recreate in this game. No Shawn Michaels, you see.
So you fire up Wrestlemania Steel Cage Challenge, and you’re presented with choices. A lot of choices, actually, because you can opt for singles or tag team matches, or to go for singles or tag team belts.
Just like with Double Dragon, though, you can wipe out any thoughts of two player action; in tag matches you’re always in control of the legal man and your partner does… nothing. They’re so bereft of activity, in fact that they appear in monochrome when they’re not in action.
Which in some ways is better than actually playing Wrestlemania Steel Cage Challenge, because this is one of the truly terrible LJN games of the era.
I wrote about this a little in my piece on the wrestling games you should play rather than WWE 2K20, but in essence, any licensed game of this era was — and sadly is — trash.
Every single wrestler in the game has the exact same moveset, which means no “old school” ropewalk for Undertaker, no five moves of doom for Bret Hart, no sleeper for Roddy Piper, no Million Dollar Dream for Ted Dibiase, no DDT for Jake Roberts and no.. umm… energetic grunting and random homophobic ranting from the Ultimate Warrior, either.
OK, that last one is probably a blessing in disguise.
Still, combine the fact that everyone plays the exact same with some truly uninspired colour swaps and you’re already in dull territory. Then add in a slow and plodding combat engine with awful animation and a set of choices that have been cut down even from the NES original and you’re in even worse territory.
I’ll give you just one example. The name of the game is Wrestlemania Steel Cage Challenge, right?
So there’s a steel cage match in there, right?
Well… yes. But you can’t choose a steel cage match. They happen as part of the title bout path, but that’s it. You could select them in the original game, but not here. Maybe cutting out the big WWF logo from this new version ate up all the memory that could have been used to keep that option in the game?
Should you buy it?
Really, even if you are a serious wrestling fan with a need for nostalgia, you can and should do better than this.
Tecmo World Wrestling is by far the superior NES era game, and of course if they’d actually included either of the WWF arcade games from this era it would be a very different story.
But this is a cut-down version of a game which was frankly awful even back in the day, and it hasn’t aged well at all.
While I’m still torn on whether I’d suggest you pick up Frogger or Double Dragon, I’m in no doubt that Wrestlemania Steel Cage Challenge is one you can safely leave on the shelf.
Next time: I must defeat Sheng Long to stand a chance.
Wrestling fan? I’ve had the opportunity to interview a number of WWE superstars over the years: