Being a kid in the 80s, I’ve witnessed the simultaneous rise of professional wrestling and video games, and through many of those years, wrestling titles have been a staple of the gaming industry. But the last generation of consoles, while making huge strides for other genres, has left wrestling games to wallow in mediocrity.
The biggest problem for me, is that the industry got wrestling games so right over a decade ago, but let that championship run end, only to be replaced by the shinier, flashier, Smackdown vs. Raw series, which was plagued by numerous flaws and shoddy gameplay – so bad, in fact, that I quit playing the series, and watched time and again as new contenders came along, hoping they could recapture that old magic, only to be disappointed by their failures.
Maybe it’s a symptom or a byproduct, but the decline in wrestling video games has coincided with the fall in popularity of professional wrestling. But something odd has been happening lately – the WWE has been improving greatly over the last couple of years, and with WrestleMania 31 just around the corner, I’ve felt a longing to kick some ass in the ring, and decided to give WWE 2k14’s 30 Years of WrestleMania mode of a try – figuring the nostalgia might be worth the 20 bucks I’ve paid for a used copy of the game.
I’ve been playing wrestling video games for as long as I can remember – from arcade gems like Mat Mania, WWF WrestleFest, and Sega’s The Main Event, to console stinkers like Raw for the Xbox, and the comically terrible M.U.S.C.L.E. title for the classic NES. And while most of the games were fun to play at the time, nothing quite nailed it like the No Mercy-style wrestling games for the Nintendo 64 & GameCube.
One of my all-time favourite periods in gaming kicked off in 1997, during the Monday Night Wars, with the release of WCW vs. nWo: World Tour for the Nintendo 64.
Unlike clunky or expensive multi-player add-on’s like PlayStation’s multi-tap or TurboGrafx-16’s TurboTap, the Nintendo 64’s built-in controller ports allowed up to four players to battle it out in the ring, setting up some nasty tag-team battles, brutal battle royals, and some amazing tournaments. Being able to play multiplayer fights with ease, led to the forming of allegiances, rivalries, and betrayals – as our #1 contender spot was decided by the top four players battling it out in the ring.
As newer versions of the game came out, they would improve upon an already great game, with nice controls, and amazing gameplay. Never would I feel out of control of my character, or that some flaw in the game lead to my victory or defeat. Simple things like not being able to stop a taunt, or interrupt two other players during a move, were not a problem with the No Mercy system.
No Mercy was a great game, but my personal favourite, which still used the same gameplay foundation, was Day of Reckoning for the Nintendo GameCube. The sequel, Day of Reckoning 2, was pretty good as well, but having the stamina system slowed things down a bit awkwardly for me, after so many years without it.
If you haven’t checked these games out, and you are a wrestling video game fan, you really should. It is odd to say, considering how far games have come, but a wrestling game released in 2004, has better gameplay than pretty much everything that has come in the decade since.
I used to hope that a good wrestling game would come along that would match the fun and gameplay of those glory days, but so far, no luck. But at least there has been some attempts.
Games like Rumble Roses, Lucha Libre AAA: Héroes del Ring, and TNA Impact, all had certain aspects that were good, but ultimately, they weren’t even contenders. And WWE All Stars, which had so many good things going for it – turned out to be more of a fighting game.
Which left me to play Smackdown vs. Raw, as none of those others games could produce a sequel.
Compared to the No Mercy games, Smackdown vs. Raw just felt sub-par. I always had the feeling that I was just setting up a spot, rather than out wrestling my opponent. To me, it seemed as if all the progress went towards the presentation – trying to exactly recreate a superstar’s entrance and signature moves, rather than creating good gameplay mechanics.
One year, and this was on my Xbox 360, I couldn’t even tag my partner. I can’t remember the exact problem of why it didn’t work, but the next year they made a big deal about the improved tag-team mode.
Collision detection was pretty bad, and not being able to break up a suplex or a headlock to save your partner was pretty pathetic, considering that it is still an issue multiple generations down the line with this series.
Not to mention the simple things like not being able to defend yourself during a taunt. Crazy, considering that this is still a problem in WWE 2k14, yet it worked fine over 15 years ago.
But I didn’t try out WWE 2k14 for its gameplay. Like I said, I had given up on this series – the last one I played was in 2011. Aside from one match of WWE ‘13 with a college classmate, before we went old school and plugged in the GameCube for some Day of Reckoning.
I was actually looking for another game and noticed a used copy of WWE 2k14 on sale for 5 dollars.
Having just watched the last couple PPVs, and with WrestleMania 31 coming up, I figured I’d hype myself up with the 30 Years of WrestleMania mode.
I had really enjoyed the old footage and hype that was part of WWE All Stars, and I’d heard plenty of praise for Attitude Era mode on WWE ‘13.
I still hope that a No Mercy-style wrestling game gets released, but I was very impressed with WWE 2k14’s 30 Years of WrestleMania – and if you’ve given up on this series as well, maybe it’s time to grab a cheap copy and try it out.
The showcase mode does a good job of showing off the evolution of wrestling, from the simple moves of the earlier years, to the craziness of the Attitude Era, and by this, acts as a good tutorial. For example, Hogan’s big move against Andre is a one-button body slam, whereas later on you’ll be setting up ladders, wedging chairs into the turnbuckles, and smashing wrestlers through the barricades.
The control system is pretty easy to get the hang of, and I found it worked well. At least for single player, as the strategy involved in pulling off moves and reversals is much different than the No Mercy-style system.
For example, in No Mercy, the reason I am choosing a quick or a strong punch, or going for a quick or strong grapple, is to change up my attack and defensive timing. Essentially, different moves required different timing and button presses to defend. Whereas with WWE 2k14, I found that the reverse window for moves happened at the grapple animation, so choosing to perform a specific move had no strategic advantage other than limb-specific damage.
Because the matches are scripted, the commentary is great, and makes it feel as if you’re playing at a big time PPV. The sound of the crowd is pretty good, and they typically get more excited as the match goes along, and pop when they are supposed to, adding to the excitement. Though, oddly at some points, they quiet down when they should be going nuts, but I figure that is an oversight, rather than by design. For example – I land a big finisher, the crowd goes wild, but if I climb the ropes to drop a big elbow immediately after, it’s like the crowd has gotten momentarily bored.
Though, if you stick to the scripted events, you’ll earn unlockables and witness some of the biggest moments in WrestleMania history.
Having been away from the series for years, I missed the improvements the game has made along the way, but got to experience them while going through this mode, and many times my jaw would drop, I would laugh, or be impressed by a “holy shit” moment.
Flaws still exist with this game, and still the collision detection could use work, the taunting problem is still there, but overall, I enjoyed playing the game, and the wrestler I was controlling felt like he or she was actually under my control.
As an added bonus, once I was finished with 30 Years of WrestleMania, I set up some dream matches and a King of the Ring tournament with all the unlockable classic wrestlers, and found it was sublime to just watch the matches play out COM vs. COM.
Won’t spoil the characters you get, except one – the Ultimate Warrior. Which looks cut directly out of the main game, as every other match, you end up unlocking the participants – except this match. The reward screens pops up, but it is empty. He was a pre-order bonus, or you can buy him.
I also played a few months with the Universe mode, but quickly found that I could waste way too much time there, and forced myself to eject the game.
That said, I went and got a copy of WWE ‘13 to play through the Attitude Era after being impressed with the 30 Years of WrestleMania, and to me, it was even better – event wise. Game wise, aside from the option to check your characters special moves, I didn’t notice any difference between the two versions.
WWE 2k14 does a better job of letting you know what your character’s special moves are, and spells out the historical objectives of the match clearly, whereas WWE ‘13, you can’t check your moves mid-match, and some of the historical objectives are trial and error if you don’t check online or beforehand.
Overall, if your like me and have missed wrestling games since their glory days on the Nintendo 64 and GameCube – give WWE 2k14’s 30 Years of WrestleMania a shot. It is the best thing this series has produced in years and it actually was quite a bit of fun to play through.
However, I did not play online, or versus a human opponent, and I suspect that the strategy, gameplay, and nuances that made the No Mercy games so great, and are not present with this series, would become more and more noticeable over time.
Another problem with the game stems from one of its best features – and that is the showcase modes themselves.
Yes, it was fun to play through some amazing WrestleMania and Attitude Era moments, but I’m in no big hurry to replay them anytime soon, after playing some of the biggest ones twice, as some of the Attitude Era matches are also featured in the WrestleMania mode.
Sticking to what is in the real-world WWE Universe, somewhat limits what the game can offer in some ways. I’d prefer a game to offer me a good number of wrestlers with equal amount of skills, and let me test those abilities in whatever type of match I want, and let me truly create.
As is, I’m always going to have the skill sets of whatever the current roster is, and whatever the legends they offer me, that aren’t DLC. So unless I’m a huge fan of every wrestler, lower rated stars like Kofi Kingston rarely get used by me, and the top-rated guys are basically the same in every version.
Plus I’m tired of this series games create-a-wrestler. Day of Reckoning had a great one, complete with a really good entrance creator.
Nowadays, since outfits and wrestlers are scanned, you get great looking tights and accessories – so in comparison, my character always looks budget, and you offer me so much useless attire like 20 shirts that all make the character look like he’s gained 100 pounds, and robes that fit like your wrestler is wearing a dress.
And with the scanning, it always seems like they get it 90%, and the last bits stick out that much more, like oddly formed hair or facial feature.
I’d prefer they go with a stylized look similar to WWE All Stars, and have a create-a-wrestler similar to Rock Band. So that if you buy “The Beefcake Barber” complete with ripped, leopard-striped tights and armbands – you’ll actually look like one half of the Dream Team.
Just make the gameplay great, that’s the most important aspect. All the bells and whistles don’t mean all that much if they aren’t back by substance. The AKI control scheme allowed for more strategic depth but this game controlled really well and matches were fun to play.
5 Star Wrestling finally looks close to release and is going to be shown at PAX East. Those developers, Serious Parody, have modeled their game after No Mercy, and I hope they can deliver. Since, if you can mix fun, and balanced gameplay, with some decent strategic depth, you can build a bit of a community and have some great matches. With WWE 2k14, I don’t think the one-button reversal system is able to offer that.
However, as a single-player experience, and as a wrestling game fan, the specialty modes were a blast. Over the last 30 years, I still remembered a bunch of the matches, but not all of them, and not the specifics of how they played out. And I was fully entertained during my time with these games. As a bonus, they were cheap to buy. So if you haven’t, go pick them up and get your wrestling game fix, just in time for WrestleMania.
Thanks for reading, feel free to leave me a comment or come follow me on Twitter for some ramblings and recommendations from the world of pop culture.