Wrestling and more specifically the WWF, now WWE always has booms and busts. One of the biggest boom periods for the wrestling company was back in the 80s and it all started in 1985 with the first WrestleMania. It wasn’t the only old company with a fresh new idea that innovated for decades to come. The other was Nintendo with the NES when it came to North America in 1985 . Both the WWF and Nintendo Entertainment system had been surfing a wave of mainstream popularity amongst kids and adults and it was only a matter of time before two trend setters collided in 1988. WWF WrestleMania the game managed to come out the same year as the first Double Dragon was ported to the same system.
I’m only forced to bring up both, because they’re both essentially beat’em ups or brawlers. Sure WWF WrestleMania is portrayed as a wrestling game, but essentially you spent 99% of the time punching, kicking and headbutting opponents to whittle down they’re health. That’s fine. Other games do the same thing, but games like Double Dragon just do them better. I don’t even mean marginally, I’m talking about WWF WrestleMania feels like it could have been a team’s first project.
The roster is a list of six hall-of-famers. You have “the Immortal” Hulk Hogan, “the Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, Bam Bam Bigelow, “the Macho Man” Randy Savage, Andre the Giant and the Honkey Tonk Man. Interesting how the Honkey Tonk Man is the only one not to have a sort of real name attached to him. They all play similar, but still unique. For the most part everyone has three or four attacks. A headbutt, a punch, and a kick. Ted DiBiase has an eye poke. If you get an opponent weak enough, Hulk Hogan can even throw an opponent. Andre the Giant moves forward when he attacks, which is different from all the rest.
Its a dream roster if you had to pick six wrestlers from the 80s. The only problem is they’re not created equal. Ted DiBiase is by far the weakest. Everyone else is near brutal. The game is a struggle even to line up your character to your opponent. You can’t pass through an opponent to get aligned with them, you need to get aligned, then go toward them. Your opponents are always moving around. The soundest strategy I’ve found is to corner them where they can only move down and slowly box them in at the bottom two posts. Its only an issue, because you can’t go through the other wrestler like you can in other beat’em ups.
The controls are stiff if not difficult. You have a ring that takes up the lower half of the screen. There’s no scrolling, its just one ring, one screen. You can move anywhere on the canvas. You attack with your A and or B buttons. All combat is done standing, as if its a boxing match. To run, you hold the direction you want to run and hold the A button. Why is that important? Because to perform a running attack then you need to tap the A button again. It just doesn’t feel right. Oh and not every wrestler has a running maneuver. Hulk Hogan can do a flying ninja kick which we all remember him doing 25 years ago. Ted DiBiase has a flying forward boot and Bam Bam Bigelow can do cartwheels amongst other things.
All of these attacks have their own range and speed. It feels like the first one to land an attack has the upper hand. You can also press A and B simultaneously to perform a back elbow that feels absolutely useless, but the computer can make it devastating. These elbows are lightning quick and take a chunk of your stamina / health each time. The computer can turn away and use this attack quite often. Its got a limited range, but when its close, its devastating. After a few hours of playing the game, it feels like something only the computer can perform.
The object of each match is to wear down your opponent and pin them. The game manages to have a few problems with something as simple as that. First off, the pin seems inconsistent. Like it will work sometimes, but other times it won’t. I thought I could accurately pin someone by pushing Up and A…. until it was Up and B…. then neither one worked. Its just odd. It makes a difficult opponent even tougher when you just can’t pin them.
You and your opponent both regain health, but here’s where it gets interesting, the more moves you do, the more health you lose. So if you keep throwing punches and kicks, your health drains. While I’m happy they have some sort of mechanic like this, it could have been done far better. A weak competitor will always stay weak. Regenerating health also leads to kick outs, although I’ve noticed some wrestlers can seemingly be knocked unconscious. They regain health, but they don’t get back up. I couldn’t consistently do it with anyone other than Ted DiBiase.
If you can’t regain health fast enough, the game will occasionally throw special items to the far side of the ring. Hulk Hogan has a cross, Bam Bam has a flame, Andre has a foot, carrot or ham looking thing. Getting these restores health, but a laughably small amount of health that isn’t worth the effort. Since they only appear at the far side of the ring, you can just hang out there and collect all that you need.
The game only has one-on-one bouts and when you start the game you select a single’s match or a tournament. The tournament is the closest thing to a real campaign. Singles lets you chose your wrestler, then chose an opponent, while tournament just keeps feeding you wrestlers. It also allows for six players to participate in the tournament. I didn’t get into that, so I’m not sure if two players can compete against one another or if its just six players going through their own tournament.
WWF WrestleMania does an admirable job with the look of the characters. They all look like they’re supposed to along with their shapes. Andre is taller and larger than everyone else. Bam Bam is a hefty fellow. The Hulkster and Randy Savage have bigger pecs that the rest. Having them walk toward the near side isn’t that flattering, you’ll see just how wide their bellies are. Outside of the matches, the game is very neon with a lot of color changes. It makes the game feel like an early 80s arcade game. Each wrestler has their height, weight and manager’s name. Selecting a wrestler is pretty inefficient. You only see one wrestler at a time and the wrestler’s title card goes down before another comes up.
The music is good, because its all chip tune versions of the real theme songs. Well some are more recognizable than others. Luckily these themes are good, because you’ll be hearing them a lot during the matches. The music alternates between the two wrestlers going at it.
With all of the issues this game has, there are still a few more. The timer on the clock goes up, which is fine if there wasn’t a time limit on tournament matches. I feel like the clock should be counting down, not up. Entering your name every time you play seems pointless when there is no high score or if its just you playing by your lonesome. I’d assume you’d remember that you were playing as the Macho Man.
I can’t recommend this game, even to fans of WWF nostalgia. Its really rough around the edges and its probably one of the worst wrestling games I’ve ever played. Let alone beat’em ups. There are better WWF wrestling games for the NES, but they’re all known for their bad quality. I’d recommend going up a platform to the SNES for an overall better quality, but if I had to pick a best WWF game from the original Nintendo, I’d go with King of the Ring.