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The Transformation of Wrestling Games: The Early Years

Wrestling is probably one of the oldest forms of combat in human history. Cave drawings were found in France dating 15,000 years ago, and ancient Babylonian and Egyptian symbols showcase individuals fighting each-other using some of the most known techniques of modern-day wrestling. In ancient Greece, wrestling had a place in legend and literature, and during the Middle Ages it remained a popular sport that was enjoyed by noble families from France, Japan and England. In our 4 part series, we will examine wrestling games through the years and how they’ve adapted to new audiences.

Vince McMahon, a visionary mind and entrepreneur, bought the original Capitol Wrestling Corporation from his father in 1982. His father, Vincent Kennedy McMahon, didn’t live to see how the territorial growth of his company expanded into a worldwide organization. He died 2 years after this sale of pancreatic cancer. Vince split wrestling into two major parts: the real thing and the awesome spectacle that we now recognize as pro wrestling.

Wrestling Games
Find out more about the 8-bit wrestling video games near and dear to our hearts!

It was the perfect time for goofy looking muscular men to stage choreographed fights, form alliances, and betray one another. Much of the success of wrestling is owed to the burgeoning video-game industry and its first decisive steps.

The World Wrestling Federation, otherwise known as the WWF, was really a perfect pair for video-games. This company, along with its biggest rival, provided the material for all of those WWE wrestling games we have since come to know and love. Before we delve into the later gems on the N64, we have to examine the roots of this sub-genre

The 8-bit Era of Wrestling Games

During gaming’s 8-bit era, we witnessed some of the worst games ever created (along with some excellent classics). Wrestling definitely played a part in this shameful history. One of the first wrestling 8-bit video-games to mark the 80’s and the console era was Tag Team Pro Wrestling. It was made for the NES/Famicom gaming system. This game certainly didn’t follow Vincent’s dream and is widely considered one of the worst wrestling video games for the NES of all time. The controls were pretty shoddy and the move set very limited. Also, developers limited the character selection. Fun fact: TTPW is the birthplace of the Strong Bad character. It really took developers a long time to properly figure out the perfect recipe for a great wrestling game.

A year later, in 1984, Sega was tasked with improving Tag Team Pro Wrestling. It slightly improved some of the two-frame animations. The Japan-only release featured world renowned greats such as Hulk Hogan and André the Giant.

WWF Games
WWF WrestleMania in its 8-bit glory

The first NES wrestling games were decent as long as you could tailor your expectations. Some developers strayed too far from the genre by adding Dragonball game mechanics and characters. Those games didn’t translate well to western audiences and really only managed to frustrated gamers.

You must remember, the 80’s were a strange era for both gamers and wrestling fans alike. The wrestling enthusiast community religiously followed the WWF. And, fans were just not that interested in these poorly made video games such TTPW and the original Pro Wrestling for the NES/Sega Master System.

Everything changed with the release of the first WWF licensed game for the NES. It was released by Rare, and its name was WWF WrestleMania. WestleMania featured all licensed WWF superstars like Hulk Hogan, André the Giant, Macho Man Randy Savage, and Ted DiBiase. A behemoth of a franchise was born. Although this game still boasted horrendous controls, the authentic roster and WWF license proved to be a big hit with video gamers of the time (although the core game kinda sucked).

WWF Superstars
The brilliant WWF Superstars and WWF WrestleFest were so far ahead of their time.

Technos re-entered this now increasingly competitive market with two new wrestling gamesWWF SuperStars in 1989 and WWF WrestleFest in 1991. These two games turned out to be colossal hits and future classics down the line. They surpassed the popular NES wrestling game WWF WrestleMania. Superstars featured a much bigger roster, more stages, and of course more fight moves like grapples into throws, ring throws, headlocks, slams, turn buckle attacks, running attacks and other cool moves that immediately attracted youngsters. More importantly, these games boasted INCREDIBLE graphics for the time that wowed audiences. These games looked darn good. It’s no wonder Technos couldn’t port his to the NES.

In 1996, Technos left the WWF games scene. It was a sad day when Technos announced their untimely departure from the wrestling genre. Million purchased the company’s intellectual properties in 2001. This period of wrestling games was marked by the hassle of legal paperwork and stumped initiatives that never seemed to fully take off or reach full potential. Eventually, these issues led to a slump in this video game niche. Still, the 8-bit era of wrestling games shouldn’t only be noted for its shortcomings. Much good did manage to came out of it considering the following success of the next three eras (which we’ll cover in the near future).

By the early 90’s, 8-bit was quickly growing outdated. Wrestling fans yearned for games which showcased their favorite superstars in much higher (and lifelike) quality. WWF games were moving to more powerful gaming systems such as the SNES and Sega Genesis. But, we will always remember the WWF and WCW video games that started everything. These pioneering games made way for the widely succesful WWF and WCW video games which came afterwards in the 16-bit era.

Our story doesn’t end here. As we previously mentioned, developers continued producing more wrestling video games on 16-bit machines. Stay tuned for my take on the next era!

  • WWF WrestleMania – Cheap Stuff! You may even be able to score a cart for $.99! If you’re a serious wrestling collector, pick one up.
  • Tag Team Pro Wrestling – Your chance to own one of ‘the worst games on the NES’ Oh joy! Same as wrestlemania. Carts go anywhere from $1 up to $10.
  • Pro Wrestling Sega Master – These are a tiny bit more pricey. They typically sell just over $10.
  • WWF WrestleFest – This is a complete arcade unit. Be prepared to fork over some dough for shipping (or transport it yourself)
  • WWF SuperStars – Same as above.
  • WWF SuperStars GameBoy – Instead of an arcade, you can opt for the transportable (albeit inferior) GameBoy version.


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