In this regular column, JT Rozzero and Jen Engle usually exchange emails reminiscing about the greatest decade in history: the 1990s. JT & Jen have been friends since 1997 and have been trading emails and instant messages about 90s nostalgia since the day they met. However, with Ms. Engle on sabbatical, Cowboy Morrissette and Andrew Flanagan have stepped up to take over the reigns! But they then got busy with their own respective duties, so in stepped Chris Jordan! If you have suggestions for future topics, please email us at the addresses below!
JT: Hey Jen… I mean Andy… Or Cowboy? Wait who the hell are you? Regardless you look like someone that played a lot of wrestling video games in the early 90s, so you want to hang around and chat it up with me?
Chris: Who the hell am I? Let me introduce myself.
Now that introductions are out of the way, I would be glad to hang out and talk about wrestling games. It’s probably the only genre of gaming that I’m familiar with. It wasn’t uncommon to find a young me, unshowered and surrounded by empty containers of Cup O’Noodles, trying to land a Macho Man elbow on an evil, beaten Hulk Hogan. I can’t recall how many games I played back in the day. It probably goes back to the Nintendo era.
JT: Hey Chris! Unshowered is the best way to game, I would assume. That’s what I am told anyway.
I certainly dove into wrestling video games through Nintendo first and foremost. I have one game we we will start with and then I am going to pull one out the NAHSTALGIA BIN in a moment.
First up… WrestleMania Challenge! I remember this game very vividly. I remember renting it and sitting in my basement and playing on a very old, barely working TV. But I remember loving it.
It had some great theme music, a solid roster and… Rick Rude with short hair! It also had my personal favorite of the day, Brutus Beefcake. The game was interesting because it was centered mainly around the Ultimate Warrior instead of Hulk Hogan (1990, natch).
You remember this gem? Was it a gem?
Chris: A gem?? WrestleMania Challenge? I don’t think so, dude. I will admit, though, that it was a step up from the previous WrestleMania game. The roster was pretty stacked with eight whole Superstars. Guys like Hogan, Warrior, Boss Man, Andre the Giant, Jim Duggan, Brutus Beefcake, Randy Savage and Rick Rude.
However, I remember being disappointed in some aspects of this game. The theme music was there, but it was more like 8-bit versions of elevator renditions of their theme music.
JT: Yes it was terrible. I lied.
But… I was a theme music junkie and it wasn’t as readily available then as it is now, so you took whatever you could get. I loved theme songs so much that I made my mother call WWF headquarters to see if they would sell a cassette of them for me. She did. They didn’t. I was crestfallen. Crest. Fallen.
However… Let us switch promotions briefly to discuss WORLD. CHAMPIONSHIP. WRESTLING.
My favorite game of the very early part of the decade. It was unique and had some different stuff from what the WWF games offered, mainly that you chose your moveset before every match. Plus the roster was loaded… Sting! Flair! Steamboat! Rick Steiner! Road Warriors! THE GAMESMASTER!
I rented this one over and over and over…
Ever have the experience here? If not what was next in your canon?
Chris: I remember the WCW game very well. I also rented the hell out of that one. Not only could you select the wrestlers’ moveset, but they also had finishers, which was the first time I played a game that grasped that concept. The WWF games at that point, from what I remember, didn’t really incorporate finishers and yes the roster was also pretty cool at the time. DR. DEATH(!!), Eddie Gilbert. It had Rick Steiner, but not Scott Steiner which I found disappointing at the time, because I was hoping to pull off a Frankensteiner, the coolest move in wrestling back then.
Interesting thing is that the Road Warriors were on the cover, but they were on the WWF roster by the time I got my hands on this one.
I used to bring this back to the video store where I rented it, and then re-rent it. It got me in trouble with this one older kid at the store one time because I re-rented it in front of him, and he threatened to roll me for it and not return it, jacking up my mom’s rental account with bogus late fees.
JT: Ha! That is an awesome story. And it is a legit threat! That would have sucked man. Did you back down? I hope not…
Yes that was a mindfuck for sure, especially since I didn’t really watch NWA/WCW until 1992, so I was playing with a roster I didn’t have great knowledge of at all. The theme music of the game itself was pretty pimp though.
So, Genesis comes out and with it we get Super WrestleMania. I stayed loyal to NES but my good buddy Jim had it so I got to sample this game but don’t remember much about it. Eventually it came out for SNES too, but I was behind the curve on that. Did you ever dabble into the land of Sega?
Chris: I actually invited the kid back to my place to give it a whirl, then we ducked into a Woolworths where I ditched him and ran home before he knew what was up. He didn’t know where I lived and I didn’t really want him over anyway.
Yeah, Sega Genesis was awesome. I tried Super WrestleMania for Genesis, and the first thing I noticed was that the wrestlers had finishers, whereas the SNES version did not. One of the reasons why I picked up a Genesis, really. My favorite Genesis wrestling game, however, was Royal Rumble. The theme music was all there, the roster was stacked with guys like Hogan, Savage, Undertaker, IRS, Rick Martel, Razor Ramon, Jim Duggan, Crush. By the time I acquired this game, I was of legal drinking age (19 in Canada). My friend, Craig, and I would get into some beers and play video games on the weekends.
One time we teamed up with myself as Savage and Craig as Hogan, and we would go into tag tournament mode. I found myself knocked out on the mat, with one of the opponents also knocked down next to me. Craig, as Hogan, went to hit a legdrop on the opponent, and he nailed ME with it instead! We have no idea how that happened. Needless to say, as marks, we turned it into an angle and would fight each other the next match. Good times!
JT: Woolworths! We need to do 90s malls and department stores in a future installment of this for sure. And good, screw him. It is your right to renew!
I did like Genesis but I was Nintendo through and through and couldn’t be swayed. Royal Rumble was really awesome and Josh Richer and I would have some real battles. Rumble matches felt like they could go on for hours in that game. It was also frustrating that Genesis and SNES had slightly different rosters:
Genesis had Martel, IRS, Duggan, Shango and Hogan!
SNES had Flair, Perfect, DiBiase, Yokozuna and Tatanka!
I liked having Flair and Perfect but I really wanted Hogan and Shango… Papa Fucking Shango in a video game! Baller. Plus the Model’s theme sounded great in that game.
Also frustrating was that on the box for SNES, Mr. Perfect had on his black tights from Survivor Series 1992 but I could never figure out how to get them to appear in the game. Drove me nuts.
I want to circle back to NES and Steel Cage Challenge. The graphics seemed to take a step back but the cage match gimmick was neat plus it featured The Mountie’s theme in MIDI form. I have a good story about renting this game, but first… Any memories of it?
Chris: About the different rosters for SNES/Genesis Royal Rumble: I was a little miffed that the Genesis version never had Mr. Perfect, as he was my #1 guy at the time. My friend, the aforementioned Craig, had both a SNES and a Sega Genesis because he let his pimp hand do the talking like that. I also enjoyed the Royal Rumble match feature that you, as a player, could come back as another guy if you were eliminated…except when you came back as Duggan.
Anyway, on to Steel Cage Challenge. Yes, I remember this game also. I rented this for the NES console many time in my quest to be champ. One note about my gaming skills: I’m not skilled. Where it would take someone a couple hours to beat a game, there were games that I could never beat. Choosing Bret Hart, I would struggle to barely beat guys after the third match in championship mode. One guy that always beat me was The Undertaker. This was the first WWF game to feature a cage match, so i was pretty stoked for it.
You’re right on The Mountie theme. Classic mark out music.
JT: Yes being able to re-enter the Rumble was pretty clutch. To me that was the first game with a ton of replayability (that a word?) and I squeezed every ounce out of it.
I was so psyched for Steel Cage Challenge when it came out. Having that generation of stars in a game was neat and the cage just added to it all.
The day it came out, as soon as I got to my grandparents’ house after school, I called The Movie Center to ask if it was in stock. When the girl answered she said “The Movie Center, Phoenix”. After she confirmed I asked my mother to stop at the Movie Center on the way home to pick it up. Well, we get there and they don’t have it. Apparently there were two Movie Centers and the one I had called was in the Phoenix section of town. I thought Phoenix was that girl’s name. Of course, being 12 and desperately wanting to play this game, I lost my shit and my poor mom drove back across town so I could get it. And I played the shit out of it and eventually bought it. It was a lot of fun, even if IRS’ theme music was just a typewriter clicking and clacking over and over during the match. Looking back, I know the game sucked hard but whatever it was great the time.
Before we go fully into the next generation games for SNES and Genesis, I wanted to toss two more rare ones out there to see if you ever experienced them:
King of the Ring for NES
Rage in the Cage for Sega CD
CJ: Your mom was pretty cool to drag you to the other side of town for a wrestling game. I come from a small town and my mom would have made me walk or take my bike. She was NOT cool. And Phoenix is a good name for a girl. It limits her career choices down to stripper or porn star, so it should be easier to decide what to do with her life.
King of the Ring for NES is one that I can remember playing. Rage in the Cage for Sega CD however…I have to hearken back to my friend Craig again. This guy had all the cool stuff back then. He had Sega CD and Rage in the Cage was one I can remember playing at his house. I thought it was cool immediately with the Fink doing intros and short videos. Any game with Kamala in it was kick-ass. That loading time, though. I can remember the game freezing a few times. One time, Craig was one win away from the championship and it froze on him. He started going all Ric Flair on us, dropping elbows like a lunatic.
JT: King of the Ring came out very late in 1993 and got lost in the shuffle because most people had moved on to the next generation consoles. It had a cool roster though: Hogan, Savage, Bret Hart, Undertaker, Michaels, Ramon, Bigelow, Yokozuna, Perfect, Luger (as Narcissist!) and YOU! That is right, our first, albeit very rudimentary, CAW! Plus you could do a tournament, which was cool. My buddy Jim had it and I played it out of pity when I went over his house but eventually he stepped up to Genesis and that was that.
I can’t believe you played Rage in the Cage! We would stare at that magazine ad with jealous eyes, unable to process that such an awesome looking game was just impossible for us to ever play. Kamala! The Nasty Boys! CAGES! CDs? Mind blowing.
OK, we can now dive fully into SNES. We need to talk about Raw, which was a kick ass Christmas gift in 1994, but first… did you ever play WCW SuperBrawl? The KB Toys in the Warwick Mall had it in the discount bin for all eternity and I would always stare at it but never pulled the trigger on the $15 or so it would cost to bring it home. You ever get to play that one? And did you have Raw for SNES? Or were you solely Genesis?
Chris: You know something? I cannot recall the SuperBrawl game, which is weird because my friends and I were HUGE wrestling geeks and how this one got past us, I don’t know. I wasn’t too big on SNES, as I was Genesis-centric. You know another genre of game I was fond of was baseball, and I had the Genesis for another reason: World Series Baseball. But aside from the original NES, Genesis was the only other system I owned.
Now Raw was a game that I played. Again, Friday nights at Craig’s were filled with nothing but wrestling games, wrestling tapes, and backyard wrestling. Our mutual friend Leon tried to make me submit with his figure-four leglock, but I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. Anyway, Raw was a kick-ass game, with my favorite character being Doink, because he had that top rope Whoopee Cushion. But this game also had The 1-2-3 Kid, Razor Ramon, Shawn Michaels, Diesel and the late, great Owen Hart! Again, Royal Rumble mode was the best for me, as I had no skill to beat anybody, but could also sneak someone over the top rope if I needed to. That was me: the cheap shot artist.
Did you have a favorite character?
JT: I bet SuperBrawl is still in that bin in front of KB in Heaven.
Yeah Raw had a loaded roster for sure and again the ability to park on the character pages and listen to the themes was big for me. I would dub the themes to cassette and use them for entrance music for my Hasbro figures or my wrestling buddy matches.
The game also had a nice array of finishing moves and stood out for including Luna Vachon, who I believe was the first female competitor involved in one of these games. Was it weird that they had male vs. female violence in a kids’ game in 1994? Doesn’t really fit the profile. Are they saying she isn’t a woman? Michaels and Diesel were my jam in 94, so I definitely favored using them.
Apparently there was a Genesis MegaDrive version that had Gorilla Monsoon (!) and Stephanie Wiand (!!) doing commentary instead of McMahon and Lawler. How bizarre.
A year later we radically take a left turn and are gifted WrestleMania: The Arcade Game. With games like NBA Jam and Mortal Kombat all the rage, WMTAG was much more in your face and…zany? I guess zany. There were exaggerated movements and crazy finishers (Doink’s hand buzzer says hi!) and Vince McMahon screaming (THAT’S GOTTA HURT!) and… it was surprisingly a ton of fun to play. The moves were crisp and the action was non stop. Plus the graphics were pretty great and the details were super sharp. Even though it had a limited roster and even less match options it had great playability and I wasted many hours on it. Did you enjoy this game as much as I did? Or am I in a silo here?
Chris: Recording the themes from the video game for your action figures just shows proof of your hardcore wrestling love. That sounds awesome **coughnerdcough** Oh, who am I kidding? I used to put on weekly shows and PPV cards with my younger brother’s action figures all he time.
Now that you mention it, I totally forgot about the inclusion of Luna in the Raw game. Of course, I would never pick her because I was sexist. I had no issue with hitting her over the head with a weapon, with equal rights and all that. That was definitely the first selectable female character, however. Also, this was the first game where some characters could win with a roll-up. No recollection of a rival’s theme music playing just before said roll-up, though. While we’re on it, I seem to remember that the Sega 32X version included Kwang. I only remember this because my hardcore console-collecting friend Craig informed me of this over the phone one day, which made me do a spit take, literally. YooHoo everywhere. Never got a visual confirmation of that Kwang, however (he really was).
Now Wrestlemanial The Arcade Game is legendary among me and my friends because I ABSOLUTELY HATED IT!! I refused to play it. It had taken my love of wrestling and turned it into an over-the-top, cartoonish display of comic proportions. It was still real to me, dammit, before that was even a phrase to coin! You had Doink pull out a HUGE mallet to hit over the opponent’s head, Bam Bam Bigelow’s fists actually WERE fists of fire! I couldn’t stand it because I wanted realism out of my fake sport. Was that too much to ask for?
JT: Kwang is such a random inclusion. There was nobody else left on the 1994 roster they could have swapped in? Jeff Jarrett even? Sparky Plugg? Bob Backlund! Weird.
It breaks my heart that you hate WMTAG so much! It was nutty but super fun and those graphics? Straight fire.
Ok, so I am thinking we can draw the line in the sand here and spin off a second part that covers the back end of the decade and the next gen consoles like PlayStation and Nintendo 64. Before we go, I have two asks:
– Give me your closing thoughts on the first half of the decade in wrestling video games
– Rank all the ones we discussed based on your love and memories, not based on their actual quality as a game
And… one more… who was your favorite character to be out of all these games?
Chris: So for me, looking back at the early part of the 90s, I can say that the games for the most part were not that great, but they were AT THE TIME! It was easy to get stoked for certain wrestlers appearing in the games, the gradual improvement of the theme music and the improvement of the graphics with each console. The downside early on basically came down to moveset and the lack of finishers. We tend to get nostalgic, but really, would any of us go back and play them now on any kind of serious gaming level?
Ranking the games, for me, begins with my #1: Royal Rumble for Sega Genesis.
2. WWF Raw for Sega Genesis
3. WCW Wrestling for NES
4. WWF Steel Cage Challenge for NES
5. WWF Rage in the Cage for Sega CD
6. WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game
This is just the games I played and my enjoyment level of them. My favorite character was Randy Savage all the way. I just wish that Mr. Perfect was in the Genesis version of Royal Rumble, or I would have gone in that direction.
JT: Agreed. Looking back, these games were sort of a hot mess, but at the time they were so cutting edge and amazing to play. The themes and variety of characters are what always sucked me in. They really did make the leap with those next gen games, especially Royal Rumble.
My list is as follows, and is pretty similar to yours:
1) WWF Royal Rumble for SNES
2) WWF Raw for SNES
3) WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game for SNES
4) WCW Wrestling for NES
5) WWF Super WrestleMania for SNES
6) WWF WrestleMania Challenge for NES
7) WWF Steel Cage Challenge for NES (TAKE THAT MOM!)
Looks like Royal Rumble reigns supreme!
OK, we shall part ways for now and soon return to look at the new wave of games for the next set of consoles. We will be back even sooner with a whole new topic. Until then…REJECTED! THAT’S GOTTA HURT! PIN HIM! PIN HIM! PIN HIM! YOU HAVE TO GIVE CREDIT TO… CHRIS JORDAN!