WWF Wrestlemania Challenge NES Review

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There is something natural and organic about wrestling games over the years. Starting off with the very most basic Pro Wrestling (which has been reviewed here), the games have developed into multi-faceted beasts with such advanced complex controls and game modes that would render the most fussy of wrestling gamers salivating with choice. It wasn’t always like this though, for professional wrestling (or should that be sports entertainment?) video game fans. Sometimes you had to just make do with whatever game mode the game developers gave you. Case in point? Today’s review – WWF Wrestlemania Challenge on the NES.

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WWF Wrestlemania Challenge is a professional rasslin’ (Sorry, Wrestling) game released in 1990 for the NES and features nine of the hottest stars in the WWF at the time: Macho Man Randy Savage, Ultimate Warrior, Ravishing Rick Rude, Brutus Beefcake, Hulk Hogan, Andre The Giant, Big Boss Man, Hacksaw Jim Duggan and finally Yourself! Yes, for the first time in a professional wrestling video game you can play as yourself, but not being able to customise any part of the character. Still, it is a nice feeling that you, the player could go one-on-one in the ring with a wrestler and have a chance of winning. The point of the game, like any sport (sorry, “professional entertainment”) is to beat your opponent and win the match. How, well by mashing buttons and beating seven bells out of your opponent of course and pinning them for the win. Or, you could throw your opponent out of the ring, pummel them there and get back in the ring before the bell counts for 10.

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When you turn on the cartridge you’re treated to a lovely visual of the Ultimate Warrior which to be fair graphics-wise is a good likeness. Yes the game was released in 1990 after such visual treats as Super Mario Bros 3 was released, but up to this point in terms of realism and graphics it wasn’t the strongest point of the NES. When pressing the start button you get treated to the first set of options, whether you want to play 1 player vs the computer, 1 player vs 2 player or 1 AND 2 player vs the computer. It’s great when an NES game allows two players simultaneously on screen but the added bonus of the two of you versus the CPU is an added treat. When you have chosen your option, you get to choose one of the nine wrestlers listed above and then what type of match it will be: Singles match, tag match or survivor series which is three-on-three. There is a variation between you picking Yourself as a character or a named wrestler. If you pick Yourself, one of the game modes you can pick is Super Challenge, consisting of you going against every wrestler one after the other in order to win. This feature is not available if you picked a named wrestler, instead the Super Challenge is replaced with a singles match against an opponent of your choice.

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When playing the match, the camera angle is of an isometric view, favoured by such games as Marble Madness and Snake Rattle N Roll (both of which were Rare games, such as WWF Wrestlemania Challenge – sensing a pattern here…). As a result, when controlling your character pressing the right button on the d-pad makes your character go bottom right, pressing down on the d-pad makes your character go bottom left and so on. Personally, it’s not a favoured control scheme and would like the option of choosing whether you control at a 45 degree angle or 90 degree angle like you can pick on Marble Madness. However, the controls are more advanced than previous wrestling games at this point. The A button does a physical move such as a punch or headbutt and the B button grapples the opponent to a more advanced move. Double tapping left or right makes your character run and then do a running move by pressing A, and pinning the opponent is with the B button. So controls-wise it is a welcome improvement on previous incarnations. As touched upon earlier, graphics wise the game has gone up a belt (every pun intended) and look a lot better than WWF Wrestlemania. The characters have a resemblance to them and even in-ring you can see a likeness which does make you think you are watching Hulk Hogan or the Ultimate Warrior. The crowd do have generic faces but with different coloured hairstyles but it’s nice to feel you are preforming in front a crowd that isn’t faceless. You’ll notice a stamina meter as well on the bottom of the ring – every time you get attacked your stamina meter goes down. However by running around and attacking your opponent your stamina meter can be replenished. In some respects this is good as you have a chance of getting back into the match if you have been attacked but as a result this can lead to matches been longer and more drawn out which some gamers may not enjoy as much. It is difficult as this was one of the first wrestling games that had this feature so the decision had to be made whether the stamina meter goes down and never gets replenished or whether this does go back up over time.

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So overall how does the game fare in the passages of time? To be honest, the fact the moves became more advanced, the graphics became better and the choice of nine characters to pick makes it one of the better wrestling games on the console. At times the game can be tough and challenging with no password option or save feature so it is a game with which you have to sit down in one shot and defeat the other eight wrestlers to become the best in the business. The game is better than WWF Wrestlemania from 1989 but is it as good as Pro Wrestling? That is a difficult choice, it comes down to whether you like playing as made up characters or those you recognise from the TV. It is the same question that football fans had when playing a game such as FIFA with real names compared to games like Sensible Soccer which had made-up names due to licencing. Overall though if you wanted to play a WWF game on the NES then certainly with the different game modes and different characters then this would be the game of choice to pick up compared to it’s previous entry on the console, and coupled with Pro Wrestling makes a great tag team of wrestling games on the NES.

Rating – 4 out of 5

WWF Wrestlemania NES Review

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On a Saturday afternoon there was nothing better than devouring a big bag of Skittles whilst tuning in the latest wrestling action from across the pond. Despite numerous warnings and messages not to repeat the moves you see on TV, impressionable children still tried to piledrive and suplex each other on the parents bed much to the disdain of parents all over the country. So thank goodness when Acclaim and the WWF linked together to create video games based off the heroes that were seen on screen each Saturday. Although there were other wrestling games at the time, the chance to play as our favourite heroes was an opportunity not to miss. The first licenced game released was WWF Wrestlemania, back in 1989, so after 24 years does this game deserve a gold belt or to be beaten into submission?

Certainly beats the MGM lion, or does it...

Certainly beats the MGM lion, or does it…

WWF Wrestlemania is, as common sense may dictate, a wrestling game giving the player the opportunity to play as 6 licenced characters from the most famous wrestling organisation out there (and not the WWF charity, a confusion made clear years later) and fight till the death. Or rather the 3 count bell rings. You can choose to play one off matches or compete in a tournament facing off against the other 5 opponents in order to be crowned the champion. The characters to select from are: The Million Dollar Man TedDiBaise, Bam Bam Bigelow, Honky Tonk Man, Randy “Macho Man Savage”, Andre The Giant and Hulk Hogan. Certainly makes a difference than playing as King Slender or as Star Man.

Turning on the game your greeted with the option to select the number of players you wish to have participate in the game. If you are by yourself or with a friend, for 2 players you can choose to play one-off matches or compete in a tournament. If you have 3 or more players you can only compete in the tournament. There is no tag teaming games or steel cage matches, just mano y mano in the ring. You then get the chance to enter your name, which is quite useful unless your name was Gertrude or something longer than 6 letters but you could abbreviate to Gertie right? Who wouldn’t want to play with a Dirty Gertie?… Anywho deviating slightly, after entering your name you then choose your wrestler from the 6 listed and your then ready to fight.

Ted looks really annoyed at something, I can't quite figure out what

Ted looks really annoyed at something, I can’t quite figure out what

Usually at this point is where I would say the A button does this and the B button does that, however bearing in mind it’s a wrestling game the best way to experience the game is to mash buttons, in different combinations in order to win. There is something satisfying in just mashing the buttons without thinking, and having to worry about strong grapples and weak grapples and pressing a million different combinations to inflict damage. Bearing in mind the limited number of buttons on the controller, moves are restricted to basics however the developers did try to do the best with the limited options you have. Characters have their standard punching, kicking and headbutt moves, but as well each character can perform a “back attack”, kind of similar in Double Dragon where you can attack where your back is turned. It’s also worth noting that characters can perform an aerial move from the bottom turnbuckles only, and some characters perform moves unique to them, for example Randy Savage can perform elbow smashes rather than normal punches which is a nice touch customising the characters rather than just colouring in different pixels, calling them different but having the same move set. In the game as well you may stumble across icons that go from left-to-right across the screen so do collect them as it improves your health bar on the screen helping you last longer. The icons differ for the differing characters, again Bam Bam Bigalow has a fire icon go across the screen, and these icons can only be used by the specific wrestler, so Hulk Hogan cannot collect the item for Bam Bam.

Graphically, the game is set upon a black background so there’s no crowd cheering you on, and does seem quite simple. They did do well trying to recreate the faces of the wrestlers which are displayed on screen but the colours are very simple and do not inspire. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as there’s always a debate that gameplay should outweigh graphics but as mentioned the graphics won’t tantalise or tittilate. The music although upbeat doesn’t seem to quite fit the gameplay, in menus it’s fine but in game the noise of the crowd and the sound effects of fighting should outweigh, but no the music repeats on a loop in game. Due to limitations the character’s theme music isn’t heard at any point in the game which is a shame but is understandable but it would have been nice if there was some effort put into the music. As well the sound effects do sound as if they were ported directly from the Atari which given this was in the last year of the Eighties, more effort could have been made.

It's almost as if Andre himself was playing this game...

It’s almost as if Andre himself was playing this game…

So overall, WWF Wrestlemania was a forgettable debut for WWF games on the NES console. It’s a shame as kids growing up on the WWF would have rushed the stores parting their parents cash so quick knowing they could fight as the heroes they see on TV, but aside from button mashing there’s no grace or elegance in the game. Yes it’s nice that 6 people can play on the one cartridge but the developers could have put more effort into this game to make it more memorable. Given that 2 years prior to this game being released, Pro Wrestling was released in Europe and was a much better effort without the usage of the characters, so that could have been a benchmark to improve on but sadly it wasn’t. Wrestling fans may want to add this to the collection for nostalgia sake, to see how the genre has moved on from the beginning here to what is on offer now but for the casual fan, my advice is to pick up Pro Wrestling instead, and pretend its the WWF superstars instead.

Rating – 2 out of 5

 

Pro Wrestling NES Review

One of the gripes about modern gaming is the lack of originality in mainstream games, with limited innovations in gameplay and mechanics, seemingly just updated teams and the same brands churned out. Football fans have FIFA, golf fans have Tiger Woods, and for a number of years, wrestling fans have had to contend with the WWE to experience wrestling on their consoles. Although there is nothing wrong in emulating WWE superstars, it’s nice to look back before licensed names and brands, to a time where the imagination was king and wrestling fans didn’t have the brawn and might of the biggest name in wrestling. Gamers had to contend with whatever characters the big N threw their way. One of the earlist wrestling games for the console was Pro Wrestling, and although technically it was the second wrestling game in the NES library after M.U.S.C.L.E, so is this game down for a 1-2-3 count or is it one to beat violently with the back of a chair?

Pro Wrestling was released in Europe in 1987 and rather than control the Hulk Hogan’s and the Ultimate Warriors’ of this world you get to control one of 6 original dashing characters:

Fighter Hayabusa, Star Man, Kin Corn Karn, Giant Panther, The Amazon, King Slender.

There’s a star man, waiting in the sky… Is this who David Bowie imagined of?

At this stage, without knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each character, at the start it’s a question of picking who you like the look of. Maybe your taken by the All-American-Hero looking King Slender, or part piranha (supposedly) part man The Amazon. So you pick your character and away you go, ready to start your journey towards becoming the VWA (Video Wrestling Association, obviously) champion and becoming a legend amongst NES gamers.

So as you start the match, you’ll notice that for a NES game, the settings in-match look quite detailed. You have the crowd cheering you on fist pumping in the background, and within that crown in the middle you’ll notice the two commentators dressed in black. You have the cameraman at the bottom following all the action and inside the ring you have the ref making sure it’s a fair fight. He will lay down next to you counting upwards when one character is being pinned, and will run over to you rather than just lay down on his stomach the moment you pin.

The idea, either by skillfully pressing the buttons in a rhythmic way at the right time (or by button mashing like a true hero Track and Field style) is to wear down your opponent enough so that when you pin them, the ref counts to 3 and the match is over . You can even venture out of the ring to brawl like some street hoodlum but be careful, if the ref counts to 20 and your still out there you lose whereas both of you are out there, well, you both lose.  However when you win, your treated to your man, arms aloft proclaiming “WINNER IS YOU”, not the worst example of Engrish but nevertheless one of those who love poorly translated Japanese. So with your trusted fighter you climb up the proverbial wrestling ladder fighting each character until you reach our friend King Slender, for a shot at the title. To get this far you’ll need to have been good, but now you’ll need the reflexes of a bumblebee with a dodgy stomach finding the nearest lay-by to relieve himself in.

Kudos to whoever put pink and green into a wrestling ring

So for a NES game the game is colourful, and the characters are drawn well enough to distinguish them between each other, making it easy to relate to the wrestler you’ve chosen and have a favourite. When you turn on the game your treated (as most of the early NES games) to a jaunty opening music before you choose your character. In game the music is the same 4 seconds looped but does throw something different every now and then. The sound effects, well it’s the same sound effect should you kick or punch your opponent, or body slamming them onto the mat. There are slight variations in the sound effects and it’s good enough that you won’t need to mute the TV to put on your latest One Direction LP or whatever the youth of today listen to.

For those not in the know about wrestling video games or for the NES system having simple controls such as one button to run and the other button to jump, the controls are quite advanced and set the precedence for other wrestling games in how the matches are fought. The A button kicks and the B Button does a punch, though with Kin Corn Karn he’s unique in performing a vertical kick like nothing you’ve ever seen before and B does a jumping chop, which is as close as I’d get to explaining it. But where the beauty of the controls lies is when you grapple your opponent (by walking in to them), when pressing a direction and either the A or B button, it performs a different move. For example, in a grapple holding up on the d-pad and pressing will do a suplex, or down and A will do a pile-driver, but only if you’ve worn your opponent down enough – if you haven’t then your character will struggle, and your opponent will reverse the move. So it’s fun to change your character and mixing up the combinations seeing what moves the characters perform. Each character has their own special move too so get to work on those combinations. And finally, as per all good wrestling games should let you to, you can climb onto the top turnbuckle to perform an aerial attack, but don’t miss your opponent otherwise it’ll leave you worse for wear to say the least, like quaffing those Jaegerbombs I hear the youth consuming these days.

Me, the winner? Oh no, not me – the winner is YOU!

So all in all, Pro Wrestling is a damn good addition to your NES library. What makes this game even better is the little things, things that nowadays may be taken for granted and standard in WWE games, however for it’s time and given the limitations of making games on the console was innovative. Having an in-ring referee, cameraman and ring announcers present is a nice touch, as well having the referee come over to you when one character pins the other, which if he is the other side of the ring it does give you valuable seconds to try and recover. There is a 2 player option, in which you and a friend go mano-y-mano to slug it out in a best-of-3 match, and as well you cannot both choose the same character, in case both of you wanted to be King Slender, in all his fabulous quiff-haired glory. Copies of the game are not cheap in the wild but if you get the opportunity to, then do pick up a copy, and live in the resplendent glory of a time before the McMahon’s, and the legacy of the Walls of Jericho, I mean where else can you fight as a half piranha? The kids of today, tsk…

Rating – 4 out of 5