Oh, wrestling video games — despite being marginalized by sports and fighting game fans alike, they’ll always be there, trundling along under the radar, making a surprising amount of money off a fanatical fanbase that will put up with almost anything. Hmmm, why’s that sound so familiar?
Due of the realities of video game development, most wrestling games (until the advent of DLC) had to be based on a relatively narrow slice of history — typically a wrestling game that came out around Christmas would be based on the characters and storylines from the first three-to-six months of that year (if you were lucky).
Rather than simply reviewing old wrestling titles, I thought it might be interesting to go back and compare the wrestling game to the specific period it was covering, and declare an ultimate and definitive winner. For example, what was better, the awesome WCW vs. NWO: World Tour, or the also mostly awesome first six-months of 1997 in WCW? I’ve got some soul-wrenching decisions ahead of me.
Before we begin — This is the first entry in what I’m hoping will be an ongoing series, so please, be solid dudes and ladies and hit these share buttons.
Thanks! On with the show…
WWF No Mercy (N64)
WWF No Mercy, which took its name from a pay-per-view that, shockingly, existed for 10-years despite never producing a memorable moment, is everybody’s favorite wrestling game. Well, okay, not everybody’s — ol’ Johnny Fire Pro over there thinks you’re an ignorant philistine for liking No Mercy, but for the rest of us, No Mercy is the quantifiable tits. Hell, the tits, ass and balls. The whole shebang.
With their N64 wrestling games developer AKI Corporation hit that sweet spot all combat games should aspire to — they had enough depth that the devoted become “good” at the game, but your little sister could still pick up the controller, mash buttons and beat you 50% of the time. Hardcore fighting fans will tell you the latter is a bad thing, but they’re just sore about losing to their little sisters so often.
“The Rock says, The Rock says, look at my taint…”
All the AKI wrestling games (WCW/NWO Revenge, Wrestlemania 2000, No Mercy) played more or less the same, but No Mercy generally felt the most solid and least glitchy of the bunch. You could do running grapples! There were ladder matches! Tagging in and out was merely annoying, not aneurysm-inducing!
AKI also understood that create-a-wrestler is why wrestling games exist. Every post-N64 wrestling game has had create-a-wrestler, but No Mercy was 100% about it. Everything you did in the game was for the express purpose of collecting more money, to buy more crap at the Smackdown Mall (record scratch) to make more hotpants-wearing obese hobo characters (18-year-old me thought all wrestlers should be Blue Meanie, okay?) The number of options were staggering, and AKI were kind enough to “forget” to delete the moves from their previous WCW and Japanese games, so without the need for any mods, you could make yourself a very passable Goldberg, Dr. Death Steve Williams or Great Muta. I’m pretty sure my character creating to actually playing ratio on No Mercy was a solid 70/30.
No Mercy’s create-a-wrestler has been modded and continues to be put through its paces to this day.
No Mercy’s one flaw worth mentioning (aside from the fact it sometime deleted all your created wrestlers just for laughs) was the Story Mode. In theory it was a major improvement over past AKI games, what with its branching paths and story roughly based on stuff that actually happened in the WWF, but it was a pain in the ass to play. It was full of near-unwinnable handicap matches (turns out overcoming the odds is harder than John Cena makes it look) and, unintuitively, you actually had to throw some matches on purpose to get certain endings and unlockables. Pro-wrestlers don’t throw matches! Did No Holds Barred teach us nothing?
Quibbles aside though, WWF No Mercy remains a high water mark for gamers and wrestling fans alike — one THQ (and now 2K Sports) have spent 15-years trying to recreate. Speaking of trying to recapture lightning in a bottle, let’s take a look at the period No Mercy was based on.
WWF (January – June, 2000)
WWF No Mercy hit shelves November of 2000, and roughly covered the first six months of that year. The Right to Censor and Trish Stratus, both of whom debuted in June are in the game, but guys who returned later in the summer like William Regal and Raven aren’t included, so the timeframe lines up.
By the by, here’s a list of folks who debuted in WWF in the first six months of 2000 — Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit, Perry Saturn, Tazz, Lita and Trish Stratus. Kurt Angle just barely missed 2000, showing up November of 1999. New faces that have debuted in the first six months of 2014 — Adam Rose, Rusev and Paige. Jesus. I like some of those 2014 faces, but Jesus.
On the other hand, early-2000 WWF didn’t have this lady, soooo…
The above paragraph says it all, really. Early 2000 was the most profitable, and quite possibly the most creatively vibrant era in WWE/F history, with a huge influx of legendary talent all hitting the company at once — a company that already had a main event scene that was hot, hot lava. Early-2000 WWF was all about the ascent of Triple H from smirking trickster heel to the toughest, coolest wrestling God king on the planet, and he had the perfectly matched opponent in scrappy, sweatpants-wearing, dude of the people, Mick Foley. Oh, and hey, just to add a little color guys like The Rock, Undertaker and a younger, hair-having Big Show were kicking around.
I still haven’t quite recovered from Triple H coming out on top of this feud. Really, none of us has.
It wasn’t just the main event scene that was on fire, every division was overflowing with talent. Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero (and, uh, Chyna) were in the mix for the Intercontinental Title. The Hardyz, Dudleys, Edge & Christian, APA and New Age Outlaws were chasing the tag titles. The women’s division hadn’t quite got its shit together, but Lita and Trish would make their debuts in the first half of 2000 and a brighter future was on the horizon.
It wouldn’t last long unfortunately — the later-half of 2000 would devolve into multi-man title match mania. Things would briefly pick up again in a big way with the death of WCW and Austin’s big heel turn in early 2001, but then things got, well, sad. I…I’d rather not talk about it.
And Your Winner Is…
Man, I’ve set myself up for a real wrestling nerd’s Sophie’s Choice here. The most beloved wrestling video game of all time, or arguably the best run in WWE/F history?
After wrestling (eh? eh?) with the question for a while, I have to give the nod to Wrestling Reality. Both No Mercy and early-2000 era WWF are as good as wrestling gets in either media, but, I dunno — I feel like a good wrestling game is easier to make than good actual wrestling. That’s what the record seems to show at least. A pretty decent percentage of wrestling games are good, or at least playable, while so much of what WWE does is, objectively speaking, complete dreck. Early-2000 WWF was a special time where the stars aligned to create a thing that may never happen again (at least not in WWE). WWF No Mercy was a great game, but Wrestlemania 2000 and a number of other games are very similar, and almost as good. I wish really great wrestling wasn’t so novel, but it is, and early-2000 WWF wins because of it.
The Undisputed Unified Champion (This Week): WWF (January – June, 2000)
Thanks for reading! Feel free to share your own memories of WWF No Mercy and the golden age 2000-era WWF. And hey, if you have a catchier name for this series, feel free to suggest it, because sometimes I’m not great at titles.