Hey, it’s been a while, but Wrestling Game vs. Wrestling Reality is back! This week we’re nerding it up with an appropriately Rumble-themed title.
A recap of how these articles work — wrestling games were once locked into covering a specific, narrow chunks of whatever promotion they had managed to license. A game that came out around Christmas might, if you were lucky, be based on the characters and storylines from the first three-to-six months of that year. So, rather than simply reviewing old wrestling titles, I’m going back, comparing the wrestling game to the specific time period it was covering, and declaring an ultimate and definitive winner.
Before we begin, make sure to hit those share buttons. Old wrestler and old video game nostalgia in one convenient place! How can you not want to share that?
WWF Royal Rumble (1993, SNES & Genesis)
From the late-80s all the way through to the turn of the millennium, infamous licensed game poop shovellers Acclaim/LJN had a stranglehold on WWF/E home console games, and the results were about what you’d expect. Sure, WWF fared better than many of of Acclaim’s other hapless partners, but that’s hardly high praise. That said, during the 16-bit era Acclaim, or more accurately Salt Lake City-based developer Sculptured Software, briefly, sort of, figured out how to make passable wrestling games. The first 16-bit, Sculptured Software-developed WWF game was WWF Super Wrestlemania, followed by WWF Royal Rumble and then WWF Raw, and each one got progressively a little better. Sure, these home games weren’t as good as the vibrant Technos developed arcade games like WWF WrestleFest, but they were solid enough to please dumb undiscerning kids (and boy howdy, was I dumb and undiscerning as a kid, lemme tell ya).
I AM READY TO WRESTLE AND RUMBLE!!
This game came out on both the SNES and Genesis, with each version getting very similar gameplay, but a somewhat different roster of playable characters. Both versions had Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Undertaker, Razor Ramon, Randy Savage, Crush, and Lex Luger in his dorky Narcissist guise, while Ric Flair, Curt Hennig, Ted DiBiase, Yokozuna and Tatanka were exclusive to the SNES and Hulk Hogan, IRS, Jim Duggan, Rick Martel and Papa Shango were only on Genesis. I was a Sega kid during the 16-bit era, so obviously the Genesis line-up is way better, and don’t even bother to argue about it. Ric Flair, Ric Shlmair, I got to play as THE MODEL. Sigh.
The main reason Acclaim’s 16-bit WWF games rise above most of their wrestling output, is that they actually use a grappling system, as opposed to to the typical crappy wrestling game button mashing. When you grapple an opponent a little tug-of-war meter appears on the screen and you have to have the advantage if you want to successfully pull off a move. All the guys have the same basic moves (which, honestly, was largely of true of most mid-90s WWF guys) but everyone does have a unique finisher, which was more than could be said of Acclaim’s previous wrasslin’ game, WWF Super Wrestlemania. Oh, and a bit of that oh-so-edgy 90s flavor worked its way into the game too, as you could use illegal moves like chokes and eye-rakes, but only after you’d “inadvertently” knocked out the referee. All in all, WWF Royal Rumble provided a solid, if somewhat generic simulation of the solid, if somewhat generic mid-90s WWF in-ring product.
The Model vs. Crush with Papa Shango on the apron — nineteen-ninety-three, everybody!
For match types you got singles, tag and six-man tag matches, as well as, obviously, the Royal Rumble. Interestingly, you had the option to play all the non-Rumble matches under “brawl” rules – basically brawls didn’t require pins and instead played more like a Final Fight-style beat ’em up. I tended to mostly stick to brawl-style matches, because honestly, young me thought real (fake) wrestling shouldn’t bother with all those dumb pins anyways. What can I say? I was a bloodthirsty little bugger.
The Rumble match itself only had 12 participants, which was a tad lame, but the game more than made up for it by having up to six guys in the ring at once, which is a number we’ve rarely seen topped by wrestling games in the decades since. Usually you’d have to wear opponents down before you could toss ’em, but, in a nice touch, the game also allowed for outta nowhere eliminations if you could catch a guy with a hiptoss or knock him off the top rope. Best of all, after the match you got stats showing how long you survived in the match, and who you eliminated, which was kind of mind-blowing back in 1993. A game keeping track of something other than a simple high score! I give Acclaim credit, they delivered just about the best Royal Rumble match they could have, given the limitations of 16-bit tech.
How did they get the real Randy Savage inside my Genesis?!
Visually WWF Royal Rumble was nice enough looking in a conservative, western-developed sort of way. It wasn’t nearly as visually stimulating as the colorful, pumped up, slightly anime-flavored WWF arcade games by Technos, but everyone looked accurate enough and some of the guys even had their signature tics and taunts. Oh, and the menus had digitized photos of the wrestlers, which was pretty thrilling stuff in the early 90s. Eventually Acclaim would go full Mortal Kombat with their WWF games, and the results were, dare I say, fatal, but there’s only so much damage a digitized Tatanka can do when he’s confined to a character selection screen.
All in all, WWF Royal Rumble was a good, dependable pro-grappling game, which was more than you could say for previous WWF home console titles. When you’re dealing with an Acclaim published game, competence is about all you have any right hoping for, and Royal Rumble delivered that at least.
WWF (January – April, 1993)
The SNES version of WWF Royal Rumble came out in June of 1993, and the Genesis version hit shelves a few months later in September, which probably accounts for the different rosters. The SNES version of the game is clearly drawing inspiration from the ’93 Rumble and maybe the month or two leading into it – hence Ric Flair (who left after the Rumble) still being in the game. The Genesis game, on the other hand, seems to be basing its roster on Wrestlemania IX its aftermath – Hogan is back, and Yokozuna, who Hogan made look like a complete goob at ‘Mania is cut. Yoko won the title back only a couple months later a King of the Ring, so the cut-off date for the Genesis version must have been very shortly after ‘Mania. Why they randomly put Papa Shango in the Genesis version is anybody’s guess.
As I mentioned in a previous Wrestling Game vs. Wrestling Reality article, the early 90s is when my pure, unspoiled childhood wrestling fandom began to fade. I was starting to suspect the bald, bloated guy with the walrus mustache wasn’t actually the coolest guy on the planet, and was seriously unimpressed by Hogan challengers like Earthquake and Sgt. Slaughter. By ’91 my wrestling fandom had pretty much totally lapsed, but sometime in late ’92 this kind of cool-looking guy from my backyard won the title – sure, he wore too much pink for manly 12-year-old tastes, but still, maybe I’d give this wrestling thing another try. I probably should have stuck to Pogs.
Yokozuna’s lumpy midsection is a good metaphor for 1993 WWF.
Early 1993 wasn’t without its noteworthy developments – WWF Raw debuted for one, which led to the rise of guys like Shawn Michaels, who could entertain on a consistent, week-to-week basis, as opposed to guys with big, showy, but ultimately limited acts like Hogan. Still, while the seeds of better things to come were being planted, the engine that had driven WWE throughout the 80s was up on blocks and rusting in the yard.
The title was on Bret Hart, who was obviously rock solid in the ring, but a massive departure from the flashy leading men like Hogan and Savage WWF fans were used to, and the big challenger coming down the pipe was Yokozuna, who I absolutely hated. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but young me was super judgy about guys’ bodies, and Yoko just straight grossed me the f*ck out. This guy was Earthquake all over again, except even worse. In the interim between the Rumble and Wrestlemania Hogan would return from a federal investigation mandated sabbatical, but he seemed older than ever, and I had no interest in his re-heated feud with Ted DiBiase and Money Inc.
This all of course culminated in the epic trousers dump that was Wrestlemania IX – Bret Hart lost the title to Yokozuna via salt in the eyes in a short, lousy match, then Hogan, who had just failed to win the tag titles earlier in the night, showed up, beat Yoko in 20-seconds like it was nothing, then disappeared with the title like an orange, even more sociopathic Brock Lesnar. Hogan and the belt would be a total no-show for the next two-months plus, until he resurfaced at King of the Ring, lost to Yoko in another bad match, then promptly disappeared again.
Eat your vitamins and my balls Hulkamaniacs!
Early 1993 was when the original, non-nostalgia based version of Hulkamania definitively bit the dust, and it really felt like WWF brand was probably done for too. After all, up until that point the two brands were pretty much inseparable – as Hulkamania goes, so goes the WWF. Of course, WWF and Hulk Hogan would separate in a big way soon, and WWF wouldn’t just survive the split, but eventually come out the other end thriving, but we couldn’t have known that at the time. Back in early 1993, it seemed like the WWF three-ring circus may soon be closing its tent for good.
And Your Winner Is…
Not to hard to call a winner this week. We have a pretty solid wrestling game in WWF Royal Rumble vs. one of the most depressing eras in WWF/E history. So, your winner is…
The Undisputed Unified Champion (This Week): WWF Royal Rumble (SNES & Genesis)
Feel free to chat about Acclaim’s 16-bit wrestling games or how much Yokozuna sucked in the comments below. Liked this article and want to read more like it? Here’s some past Wrestling Game vs. Wrestling Reality installments…
I swear, I’m going to do a WCW one next!