Sunday, March 29, 2015

WWF Wrestlemania (NES 1988) Review

Written by Stu Cooper

Today the WWE will be presenting WWE Wrestlemania 31 on PPV and the WWE Network. 31 years of the biggest wrestling show on the planet, but it didn't start that big. Most historians of pro wrestling know that the original Wrestlemania was quite the gamble and the WWE (WWF at the time) didn't really know if it would work or not. It all started with closed circuit TV being aired in local arenas in the New York area. 30 years later, 70,000+ people attend on a yearly basis and the show rivals the Super Bowl in terms of performance and showmanship from entertainers and competitors alike. To celebrate this glorious day I decided to take a look at my NES (Nintendo) collection and pick out the first ever WWF game that was released for a major console. That game was "WWF Wrestlemania" and it was released in 1988.

WWF Wrestlemania marked the first officially licensed game in the WWF universe. The game was developed by RARE, who would go on to make such classics as Donkey Kong Country and Banjo & Kazooie. The game was published by Acclaim, which was actually the start of a near 20 year relationship with the company. The company would go on to publish all of the WWF's games on home consoles for several years, including the NES follow-up "Wrestlemania Challenge". The game was released right before Wrestlemania 4 and was released to hype the event. The game itself carries a Wrestlemania 3 theme tho. It features the tagline from that event "Bigger. Better. Badder." despite the fact that this makes no sense in context of gaming, since this is their first attempt. The game itself bares little resemblance to Wrestlemania 3 other than the cover, which is a photo from that time period, and the fact that in the game Hulk Hogan is the only wrestler that actually possesses the ability to bodyslam Andre The Giant. Kind of a neat design note there.

The game features six unique wrestlers, all of which were quite popular at the time of the game's release. The six wrestlers are Hulk Hogan, Andre The Giant, The Honky Tonk Man, Bam Bam Bigelow, "The Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase, and this year's Hall of Fame inductee "Macho Man" Randy Savage! To quote Macho, they certainly picked the "cream of the crop" for this game. The roster while small is certainly memorable. If you are a wrestling fan and you aren't a fan of at least one of these guys, something is wrong. Each wrestler features a little image and profile on the character select screen. You get to see the basic stats of the wrestler and it even lists the wrestlers manager if they had one. For Bam Bam it lists "Oliver Humperdink" as his Manager, for Million Dollar Man it lists "Virgil", for Honky it lists "Colonel Jimmy Hart". Pretty neat but would have been even better if they had a little 8 bit version of the manager cheering you on in between matches, similar to the coach in Tyson's Punchout.

Each wrestler has a set of pretty basic moves consisting of punches, kicks, bodyslams, elbow drops, leg drops, etc. In terms of unique moves some wrestlers like Macho Man have alternate moves. Macho will use his elbows more and also does his top rope elbow drop. Bam Bam does lots of kicks and even does a little cartwheel. Hogan actually possesses the power to bodyslam Andre and that is a feat that no other player in the game can do. The game lets each wrestler do a top rope move, but Andre and Bam Bam (despite him doing moonsaults) cannot climb the rope. There is no outside ring action or finishers unfortunately. Despite the lack of depth in the game, there are a few little bonus things that make the game interesting. Each wrestler will start to glow red if they are losing, and that can cause the wrestler to be angry which increases the damage of each move. Also some wrestlers have little bonus icons that appear inside the ring throughout the match. Each item that appears is representative of that wrestler. For example Hogan has a crucifix that appears and Honky Tonk man has a guitar that appears!

There isn't many options in terms of gameplay. You can basically either play one on one, fight a friend, or run through the 5 other wrestlers for the title. The atmosphere and venue of the match unfortunately never changes. You can beat the game in a matter of minutes, so longevity and replay value is limited. Given the time the game came out tho, I would have been happy with it if I was under the age of 10. The highlight of the game really comes from the sound. Each wrestler has a nice rendering of their theme song in the game, so you get a chance to jam out to "Pomp and Circumstance" or the "Real American" theme without a problem. The theme song to the game is also quite catchy. Where the game really fails is the level design and lack of depth. You basically wrestle inside of a giant black box the entire game, and if you beat the game with every wrestler, you are left with nothing to do. If you are like me and don't have many friends who actually like wrestling, you would be stuck playing 1 player most of the time.

WWF Wrestlemania for the NES is memorable mostly because of it's licensing and not because of the game itself. It's a fun collectible for wrestling fans, but there are far better NES wrestling games out there. In fact, "Pro Wrestling" for NES predated this game and it's much better. That game actually features tons of moves, but no licensed wrestlers. I wouldn't recommend this one unless you are looking for a quick 80's WWF nostalgia trip. Regardless, it's a decent way to celebrate Wrestlemania and kill some time before the event begins!