Pro wrestling is one of the biggest forms of mainstream entertainment out there right now. The storylines, heavy trash-talk, and gleaming buff bodies of men and women alike are big business, with millions of fans all over the world lapping it up.
Obviously, with such larger-than-life characters unleashing all manner of physical punishment upon each other for spectators’ amusement, pro wrestling’s a perfect fit for video games. Over the years, we’ve had some cracking tie-ins that deserve to be celebrated, so whether you’re old enough to remember watching the Ultimate Warrior or you’re a fresh-faced newcomer, strap your boots on for a wander down memory lane …
WWF Royal Rumble
Back when the WWE was still the WWF, this game brought the era’s biggest, shiniest stars to the Sega Genesis / Mega Drive and SNES. It featured a tough grappling system (with a frustrating on-screen meter), and steel chairs could be grabbed for some hands-off brutality. Even better, you could even knock the ref out cold and indulge in some unsanctioned moves while he caught some shut-eye.
The big attraction of the game, though, is the Royal Rumble itself. Starting with two wrestlers in the ring, the match brings in new contenders as it goes on, until six huge, grown men are tearing chunks out of each other. Some of the animations might be a tad jerky today, but the sprites are nicely detailed, and the Royal Rumble itself is a blast.
This 1987 NES release is a classic, though it doesn’t feature any real wrestlers. Instead, you get to choose the likes of Star Man and Giant Panther to engage in fast-paced brawls with a limited move-set.
Okay, so this might look rough today, and the soundtrack is absolutely unbearable (seriously, just mute it immediately) but it’s still a great achievement for its time. Even now, the gameplay’s fairly fluid, and the visuals have more than a hint of Punch Out!! about them.
Released waaay back in 1989, this gorgeous arcade game remains a beautiful thing. The music, graphics, and sound effects are all awesomely muscular, nailing the OTT feel of the era’s pro wrestling perfectly.
Hulk Hogan, Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage, Ultimate Warrior, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, and more all appear, and their sprites are rendered with such detail and flair they still impress today. Watch how the Hulkster’s hair flows as he runs and goes in for a pin!
It’s fast, it’s ferocious, and it’s so easy to love.
Saturday Night Slam Masters
Biff Slamkovich, ‘The Rocking Ruskie’ is just one of the deliciously-named wrestlers created especially for Saturday Night Slam Masters, and it sets the tone for the entire ridiculous affair.
Though this was released in 1993, its visuals and score still impress, while its gameplay puts a different spin on the wrestling game altogether. You can see Capcom of the 90s in the character designs, hear it in the sound effects & the music, and read it in the post-match character quotes. You can also play as Final Fight’s Mike Haggar, just because.
It plays like a mash-up of Street Fighter II and a WWF game – and it’s as awesome as it sounds.
WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain
This game saw the virtual debut of Batista, John Cena, and Rey Mysterio, and it’s a bone-crunchingly fast-paced affair that gets things right. The sprites fill the screen with their chunky builds and detailed physiques, while their reactions are pretty realistic.
The story mode and slick controls helped to make this a winner with fans too – not to mention the massive roster.
Everything about WWF Wrestlefest oozes bigness. From the sheer size of the sprites to the bouncing crowd and the rocky music, this is pretty much everything you could want in a wrestling-themed arcade game.
Released in 1991, this lets you pick two wrestlers from a decent roster to form a tag-team, before working your way through to the Legion of Doom. There’s also a Royal Rumble match to try, and each wrestler has their own specific moves, with many position-dependent.
Some of the weighty body-slamming sound effects and moves are brutal enough to make anyone wince, though.
WWF No Mercy
Not too many N64 games have aged so well, but WWF No Mercy actually looks pretty good so many years on.
Fans loved the deep story mode, and the branching routes through it were a novel addition, with paths varying according to the results of your matches. This game also lets you fight backstage, and the wrestler-creation mode is pretty comprehensive (females are available too).
Even if this doesn’t quite have the dynamism or bounce of something like, say, WWF Wrestlefest, No Mercy’s still an undisputed classic.
WWE All Stars
WWE All Stars has more in common with massive, OTT wrestling games of the late 80s / early 90s than the more simulation-styled releases of recent times.
The gameplay’s fast, the graphics are bright and bold, and it’s designed to be as accessible as possible. Some moves are exaggerated and play around with the laws of physics, and you can pit classic wrestlers against contemporary figures in the Fantasy Warfare mode.
The follow-up to WWF War Zone, Attitude used much of the same mechanics and features. However, it introduced an extensive career mode, and the new Create-A-Stable & Pay-Per-View modes let you build your own events from the ground up.
WWF Attitude’s customisable arenas give you plenty of scope to put your own unique stamp on the game, and the audience sounds capture the sport’s buzzing atmospheres brilliantly.
First and foremost, let’s focus on one highlight: this game lets you play as Doink the Clown, who never looked more terrifying than he does here, resembling some kind of Beetlejuice tribute act.
Alongside this, the graphics and animations work nicely, and the game has a real sense of fun. Along with Doink, you also get to play as the Undertaker, Bret Hart, Bam Bam Bigelow, and a few others (depending on the console you’re using).
There’s also plenty of modes, too, including Royal Rumble and Survivor Series (with as many as four wrestlers in a single team).
It’s fast, cool, arcade-infused wrestling done right.
What are your favourite wrestling video games? Let us know!