The biggest sports entertainment company in the world has a long history of video games, many of which saw releases on pretty much every console that you can think of, but it had to start somewhere.
Part two of our ongoing Press R2! series takes a look at the very first licensed WWE video game for home consoles; WWF Wrestlemania.
Released on the NES in January 1989, and developed by Rare, WWF Wrestlemania was intended to help build up hype in the leadup to Wrestlemania V; an event that saw the “Mega Powers”, Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage, face off against each other for the WWF Championship. The game’s tagline – “Bigger. Better. Badder” – was taken directly from the tagline of Wrestlemania III.
Players can choose to have a single exhibition match against an opponent, or set up a tournament for up to 8 players. It’s standard fare for a wrestling game of this generation, but still welcome nonetheless.
WWF Wrestlemania features a playable roster of six wrestlers (along with their stats and respective managers from the era);
- “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase
- Bam Bam Bigelow
- Hulk Hogan
- Andre The Giant
- “Macho Man” Randy Savage
- Honky Tonk Man
Each wrestler possesses a limited range of moves, including basic punches and kicks, headbutts, running attacks, moves from the top turnbuckle and bodyslams. Certain moves are exclusive to specific wrestlers though; for example, Andre The Giant and Bam Bam Bigelow can’t use the turnbuckle move, while Honky Tonk Man can’t perform a bodyslam. Each wrestler can also use a “back attack”, which can be used against opponents that are situated behind players, though this attack is more than likely just a backwards punch.
In some cases, the movesets are somewhat tailored to the wrestling style of each wrestler. For example, Randy Savage uses elbow smashes instead of regular punch attacks, and the “Beast Of The East” Bam Bam Bigelow can use two running attacks instead of just the one. In true “Wrestlemania Moment” fashion, Hulk Hogan is the only character in the game that has the ability to bodyslam Andre The Giant, replicating the iconic match from Wrestlemania III.
Powerups also appear sporadically, with icons that are unique to specific wrestlers. Honky Tonk Man’s powerup is represented by a guitar, for example. These items replenish a wrestler’s health, but only work for the specific wrestlers, so they’re often pretty useless.
This rather impressive list of features for an NES game is all rendered slightly pointless by just how bad the game is to actually play. Hitting your opponent with any move is tricky to pull off, and the AI is completely laughable. Oh, and good luck if you’re actually winning and try to go for the pin on your opponent, as the game neglects to tell you how to pull this essential move off, forcing you to frantically button-mash once again in the hopes of covering your opponent for the three count.
There are a number of limitations that come into effect once players start a match. The first of these is the inability to leave the ring, but that shouldn’t come as much of a surpise when you consider that there is no arena floor (and no arena!) surrounding the ring. The second of these limitations is the fact that turnbuckle attacks can only be executed on the bottom corners of the ring, which is somewhat annoying to discover after button-mashing at the opposite corners of the squared circle.
The game’s graphics are an admirable attempt at digitally recreating the likenesses of these famous superstars, with varying degrees of success. The portraits players see when selecting a wrestler are pretty hit or miss for the most part (Bam Bam & Randy Savage look decent, but what is going on with Andre the Giant?!). The character sprites, on the other hand, are quite charming and do a decent job of looking like who they’re supposed to look like.
The game’s music is also worth a mention too. As you fight, the entrance music associated with each wrestler in the match plays in the background (albeit in simple MIDI form). These renditions of the iconic songs were composed by David Wise, best known for his work on the Donkey Kong Country soundtrack, so it was inevitable that I was going to praise this aspect of the game.
Overall, WWF Wrestlemania seems like it had the potential to be a decent wrestling game, but is ultimately let down by poor controls, terrible AI and a complete lack of explanation of how players can pin their opponents. While the character sprites do a good enough job of representing the wrestlers, and the music that plays throughout the game is instantly recognisable, they’re simply not enough to save WWF Wrestlemania from being a frustratingly disappointing game.
Have you played WWF Wrestlemania for the NES? Let us know in the comment below, or send a tweet our way!