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WCW/nWo Revenge

revenge

Released October 26, 1999

The late 90s was a great time to be a fan of pro wrestling and especially pro wrestling video games. World Championship Wrestling had been riding high with its New World Order stable, a collection of heels (bad guys) largely culled from the roster of competitor the World Wrestling Federation. It was a meta angle as it blurred the lines for fans between what was real and what was fake. When performers Scott Hall and Kevin Nash arrived for Monday Nitro it was unclear if they were still employed by the WWF. Of course they were not, but it was a surreal moment in wrestling history.

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If you saw this before your wrestling game you knew you were in for a good time.

1998 was the apex of the Monday Night Wars. WWF’s Raw is War had been on television for years before it was challenged by WCW’s Monday Nitro. Eager to be the king in the ratings war, WCW went all out to topple WWF by signing major stars away from the brand and occupying the same timeslot as Raw. Eventually, WCW added a third hour to its broadcast making it start a full hour before Raw. Fans would tune into Nitro at 8 EST, and if the product was good enough they might just hang around until 11 ignoring Raw all together. This was the era before DVR and on demand viewing so wrestling fans had to make a choice each week and stick with it, or tape one of the programs.

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The intro to this game is some bonkers stuff.

1997 was the nadir for WWF. The stars Vince McMahon was able to hang onto and invest in were failing him. Shawn Michaels had injuries and substance abuse problems which kept him off television for long stretches. He also didn’t get along with Vince’s chosen top guy, Brett Hart. So paranoid was McMahon that he would lose Hart to WCW like he had so many others that he signed him to a massive 20 year deal. Vince then had to back out of the deal, either because he couldn’t afford it or felt he had made a mistake, leading to the infamous Montreal Screwjob and another WCW defection.

Basically saving WWF was the unexpected rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin. Cast aside by WCW, Austin took his talents to Extreme Championship Wrestling where he did enough on the mic to get WWF’s attention. He initially was wasted on the roster as The Ringmaster, but when times got dark and things desperate, WWF basically turned to its talent and told them to “go to work.” Having creative freedom allowed performers to show off their real talents. Some got over, some did not, but certainly the biggest benefactor was Austin. Unfortunately, his ascension was put on pause when an accident at Summerslam 97 caused him to miss time with a serious neck injury. By early 1998 though, Austin was the new champ and WWF was back in the ratings lead.

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Late 90s wrestling was all about sex appeal, even in polygons.

WCW’s counter to the rise of Austin was another fresh face. Bill Goldberg somewhat looked the part of Stone Cold:  black trunks, black boots, goatee, though his character was quite different. Goldberg was a no nonsense battering ram who took down all challengers usually in less than 2 minutes. He basically had two moves, but they were two moves that looked pretty nice on TV. Crowds went nuts for him, and so desperate was WCW to maintain its hold on the ratings crown that it pit Goldberg vs Hollywood Hogan on cable television for the World Heavyweight Championship rather than using that match to sell a Pay-Per-View.

That was basically WCW’s last hurrah. After that it was mostly all downhill, but arriving at retail during Goldberg-mania was WCW/nWo Revenge. The sequel to WCW vs nWo – World Tour, Revenge was a much anticipated wrestling simulation for the Nintendo 64. The video game landscape had become just as competitive as the television one and WCW was the clear front-runner, until 1999, much like the shows. THQ was the license holder for WCW and while the games it produced for Sony’s PlayStation were pretty lackluster, the N64 games were much celebrated. By comparison, Acclaim had held the WWF license for the better part of a decade and was struggling to remain relevant. The games of the 16 bit era had been okay, but were extremely similar to each other and had grown quite stale. Acclaim would try to revamp its process with WWF Warzone, but most felt that WWF had the inferior game when compared with WCW.

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This was the video game debut for Goldberg, who has looked better.

THQ turned to the AKI Corporation and Asmik Ace Entertainment for development of its N64 WCW games. AKI would come up with a tremendously accessible system that it would use for its flagship Virtual Pro Wrestling series in Japan and adapt it for WCW games in the US. The approach to a match was fairly simple. Players controlled their chosen wrestler with the controller’s d-pad, as opposed to the analog stick, and had two primary modes of attack:  strikes and grapples. Both were context-sensitive in that pressing the strike button resulted in a quick strike, while holding it down resulted in a slower, but stronger, attack. With the grapple, wrestlers would enter the classic tie-up position. Whoever initiated the grapple would then select a move. Pressing either the grapple or strike button resulted in a move, as would pressing one in conjunction with a direction on the D-pad allowing for each wrestler to have a wealth of available maneuvers. Reversals were possible with the R button and a key to mastering the game’s CPU. The C-buttons were used for running, opponent selection, and entering/exiting the ring or ascending a turnbuckle. It was easy to learn and pick-up and proved quite addicting.

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AKI really injected some personality into the game giving wrestlers like Scott Hall their signature finishing maneuvers instead of something more generic.

World Tour, released in 1997, was a blast, but its clear shortcoming was the lack of bells and whistles. Revenge largely sought to rectify this with a refreshed roster and an injection of personality. The new arenas were modeled after the actual television arenas and looked pretty good, all things considered. AKI was also able to add-in all of the major championships including minor titles like the Cruiserweight belt and Television title. There was a lengthy intro added to the game, and the whole presentation just screamed WCW.

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The visuals get the job done in that you mostly know who is who just by looking at them, but they’ve certainly aged.

Visually, the game also looks better. Wrestlers are easy to distinguish from one another and if you were at all familiar with the television roster then you knew who each character was. Though it should be pointed out, this was never a great looking game even in 1998. It was functional, as the characters are quite blocky and the faces a bit weird. There was at least a difference in height between the really tall and the not quite as tall, though the cruiserweights in general look a bit too large compared with most. Technological limitations also prevented the game from including entrance music so everyone just enters to a generic theme. Entrances are also largely limited to the talent just doing their taunt on the way to the ring and upon entering. Some enter with a manager or valet, which is a nice a touch. There’s a stable system in place too so there’s nWo red and white as well as Raven’s Flock. Affiliated wrestlers will sometimes receive help from a comrade during a match too without the penalty of a disqualification.

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Allies will sometimes rush to the aid of a buddy, which can get a bit annoying when it happens every match in your opponent’s favor.

In the ring, everyone basically moves at the same speed and with the same weight. Super heavyweights can’t ascend a turnbuckle, but nothing will stop other wrestlers from suplexing them. The whole goal of a match is to ware your opponent down and get the crowd on your side. Once your spirit meter fills you’ll gain access to a Special status for a brief moment of time allowing you to unleash your wrestler’s signature move, or steal your opponent’s. Usually there’s enough time to hit your move twice, unless your wrestler has a long animation for it. Sometimes just hitting this special move is enough to score a pinfall, but most of the time just one won’t do unless your opponent is on the ground and twitching. Repeated blows to the head will also bust your opponent open, no weapons needed, which is a nice badge of honor. Taking the action outside the ring opens up the possibility to yank weapons out of the crowd. They’re not nearly as effective as they would be on TV, but it’s still fun to assault your opponent with a chair or baseball bat.

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Some guys even start matches with weapons. Lucky for them, there’s no DQ.

The in-ring action is all around solid, but does show its age. Collision detection was always a problem for this game. It’s not terrible, but there are moments where characters will partially pass through each other and you’ll have to time your attacks to avoid invulnerable animations your opponent may be in. There are no running grapples, and submission moves aren’t particularly effective making guys like Brett Hart and Chris Jericho a little less fun to use. And as simple and effective this gameplay is, it can be argued it’s not particularly realistic when compared with the televised product. How many matches consist of dozens of collar and elbow tie-ups leading to moves? None, really.

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Match types aren’t very robust and are limited to singles, tag team, battle royal, and handicap matches.

As far as game modes and match types go, Revenge definitely feels lacking and it always has. World Tour wasn’t robust either, and it’s a shame Revenge didn’t really do anything to rectify that. You basically have your choice of Championship and Exhibition modes. In Championship, you select the title you want to go after and then battle through 9 grapplers and become champion. It’s fine, but can get a little annoying as the CPU often gets outside assistance which lengthens the matches without making them really much harder. The order and grapplers faced are also a bit random as I encountered Sting in the US Title hunt when one would assume he’d be in the World Heavyweight Championship ranks. The opponents get harder as you go along, though what makes an opponent harder than the next is largely just how successful they are at reversing moves. This is something that always annoyed me with AKI games as it’s not something you have any control over, you just have to answer with reversals as well and hope to get lucky that your moves will stop being reversed.

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You can go after basically all of the major titles, but you have to win the minor belts first before the bigger ones open up.

In the exhibition mode, you have the option to compete in single and tag matches and there’s also an option for Special matches. These are just the battle royal and handicap matches. Battle royals are fine and most fun with four human players in a local setting. You can select as many as 40 entrants, but are limited to just 4 in the ring at once. Handicap is just two on one or three on one, if you like a challenge. When it comes to match types, it’s more about what’s missing. It’s kind of weird to have the ability to do a battle royal, but not a triple threat. Cage matches were also becoming a common match type in games so there being none in this game was a disappointment. And on TV, hardcore elements were all the rage so a lack of things like tables was always disappointing, though at this point in time ladder matches had yet to become a thing in games. This game also came before Create-A-Wrestler was a standard feature, but you can at least edit the attires of the existing guys.

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In terms of visuals, the arenas hold up better than expected.

WCW/nWo Revenge is a superior game to its predecessor. It was also better than WWF Warzone even if that game had more match types. It also had a shorter shelf life though since it’s a game that really relies on the gameplay alone. And it’s a good thing that an individual match against the CPU or a friend is quite fun, but there does come a time when you decide you can only topple a champ so many times. Back in 98, it was fun to try and keep up with the TV product so when Kevin Nash beat Goldberg at Starrcade 98 you could go into the game and battle your way with Nash to the title. Of course, game development being what it is, there were plenty of missing wrestlers. In 98, the biggest omissions were Ric Flair and The Warrior. It’s still weird to have a WCW game without Flair, though from a 2020 perspective I can’t say I miss Warrior since his WCW run was terrible. It’s a harder play through now since it’s missing so much of what modern games have. There’s still a lot of nostalgic fun in coming back to this old, flawed, yet beloved gameplay system. And if your nostalgia for wrestling in 1998 is slanted towards WCW, then this is the game for you.

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Over 20 years later, this game is still the best celebration of WCW you’re going to find in video game form.

If your nostalgia is for WWF though, then you’re probably playing either WrestleMania 2000 or No Mercy. Not long after Revenge was released, THQ’s agreement with WCW came to an end and WWF pounced. It was a crazy time as Acclaim still had a game in development in WWF Attitude. That game would arrive on the PlayStation in July 1999 with the N64 version following in August. Just a few months later came the AKI developed WrestleMania 2000 giving Attitude an incredibly short run of just two months as the newest WWF sim on the N64. WWF basically cannibalized one game in favor of another, but that’s how popular these AKI games were. It’s something we’re not likely to ever see again. Hopefully AEW can land a killer licensing agreement with someone so we have more options for wrestling games. For now, we’ll always have 1998-2000.


THQ Wrestling Games: End of an Era

200px-THQ_logo_2011.svgJust last week an auction took place in which all of the assets held by video game publisher/developer THQ were sold off as part of a bankruptcy filing.  Several games the company was known for will either cease to be or exist in a new form and smaller developers now find themselves being assimilated into much larger publishers.  Not to be forgotten are all the jobs that will be lost either by THQ no longer existing or by layoffs from the purchasing parties.  As someone who has been part of an acquisition I can say it’s not a fun experience and there’s lots of uncertainty for those involved.

What’s is certain is that THQ will no longer be in business, and as such, it’s partnership with World Wrestling Entertainment has come to an end.  THQ’s involvement with wrestling games predates the WWE license acquisition and fans have been enjoying THQ branded wrestling games for well over a decade at this point.  For the WWE, its license is now in the hands of Take-Two and 2K Sports who will only be the third publisher to hold the much coveted property.  What remains uncertain, is if developer Yukes will have any involvement with future games.  It’s entirely possible that Take-Two won’t want to ruin a profitable arrangement and hire Yukes to develop the successor to WWE ’13.

Such questions will be answered eventually, most likely at E3 if not sooner, but now is a time for reflection.  THQ’s wrestling games provided hours upon hours of enjoyment for myself and other gamers out there, but which games will THQ be remembered most for?  And also, which were the best and most ground-breaking titles?  The following is one man’s opinion on the five best wrestling games released by THQ:

WCW_vs._nWo_-_World_Tour_Coverart5. WCW vs nWo: World Tour (1997)

For most gamers, myself included, this was the first wrestling game any of us experienced that made us feel like we were part of the action.  Developed by Asmik Ace Entertainment and AKI, World Tour introduced to American audiences a whole new way to experience a wrestling game.  Prior games were little more than brawlers with a few noticeable moves and contemporary games like WCW Nitro and WWF Warzone were overly complicated and seemed inauthentic.  World Tour sacrificed some realism for entertaining gameplay and made use of a grapple system that allowed players to access various moves.  The whole system was rather simple and each wrestler essentially controlled the same, but the experience was truly captivating and horribly addicting.  I never owned this game for I didn’t own a Nintendo 64 at the time, but I rented it several times and always had a blast with it.  The sequel, WCW vs nWo:  Revenge is basically the same game just with a fresher coat of paint, so World Tour gets the nod on this list for being the originator.  This was the start of a very profitable relationship for AKI and THQ.

4. WWF Smackdown:  Here Comes the Pain (2003)

The console wars of the 32 bit era never approached the fever pitch that was the 16 bit era, but Playstation vs N64 was still a pretty solid rivalry.  Playstation tended to have the more mature games while the N64 had the classic Nintendo franchises to keep people happy.  One thing N64 gamers had over PSX gamers was wrestling games as the ones put out by THQ easily trumped the best Acclaim had to offer.  This rivalry extended into the wrestling word as it pitted WCW vs WWF who were in a dogfight to establish supremacy over television thru the now famous Monday Night Wars.  Eventually, WWF would overtake WCW and soon THQ would jump ship and partner with WWF to bring the WWF experience to console gamers.  THQ handed the license over to AKI and basically told them to turn Revenge into a WWF game, while Playstation gamers were asked to trust in a mostly unknown developer called Yukes.  Yukes was popular in Japan for its wrestling games over there, and soon their fast-paced brand of wrestling action was available state-side as WWF Smackdown.  Smackdown was an instant success and offered an almost completely different experience from the slower-paced AKI games.  The first game was rather bare bones while the second introduced a robust single player game and create-a-wrestler.  The series really cemented itself though with the Playstation 2 title Here Comes the Pain.

Previous Smackdown titles eschewed the grapple mechanics of the AKI games and opted to allow players to skip the grapple and initiate moves from a standing position.  Here Comes the Pain slowed things down just a touch and brought in a linking grapple system that helped lend a new level of authenticity to the matches and open up the move-sets.  This major addition to the gameplay combined with a wide selection of match type makes Here Comes the Pain the best of the original Smackdown series.

In Day of Reckoning 2, submission holds did more than just inflict pain.

In Day of Reckoning 2, submission holds did more than just inflict pain.

3.  WWE Day of Reckoning 2 (2005)

Into the era of the Playstation 2, Xbox, and Gamecube, THQ continued to opt for a different WWE themed franchise for each console.  While the Playstation brand held onto the Smackdown series, new ones were created for Xbox and Gamecube.  Xbox was given the lackluster Raw games while Gamecube got a new Wrestlemania themed one.  It wasn’t much better, but eventually it would be scrapped and Yukes would be called upon to create a new themed franchise which was dubbed Day of Reckoning.  Day of Reckoning was sort of the spiritual successor to the popular AKI games from the N64 days.  DoR put the emphasis on grapples and introduced a new system where submission moves took on new meaning.  This was the result of the inclusion of a stamina meter and limb-targeting.  The single player was also the most involved of any to date and even carried over (in a narrative sense) from the first game.  The game also looked excellent and sported an excellent create-a-wrestler mode.  If it was lacking in anything it was a defining match type.  Still, this one is a dark horse candidate for best of all time.

2.  WWF No Mercy (2001)

Some fans, to this day, still proclaim WWF No Mercy the best wrestling game ever created.  That’s high praise, especially if one steps outside the WWF/WWE/WCW games and includes the excellent Fire Pro series.  Undeniably, a huge reason for such claims is nostalgia and the good memories many have of the game.  No Mercy was the sequel to the first WWF/THQ game Wrestlemania 2000, which was basically WCW vs nWo: Revenge with a palette swap.  No Mercy brought a more robust single player game, new match types, and still retained the same tried and true gameplay that just wouldn’t get old.  There was also a nice rivalry between this game and Smackdown 2.  Fans of Smackdown pointed out how their game had Hell in a Cell and TLC match types while No Mercy fans held fast to the simulation cred the AKI games had garnered.  Whatever side you were on, you had a great game and No Mercy is still a fun experience today.  If you want more thoughts from me on No Mercy, check out this entry I made last year on the subject.

1.  WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2006 (2005)

The Buried Alive match was something fans had been asking for for a long time.

The Buried Alive match was something fans had been asking for for a long time.

The Smackdown vs Raw games were part of a new directive from THQ.  Someone wisely figured out that THQ was only competing against itself by putting out multiple WWE games a year.  While hardcore fans loved it and may have bought multiple games, most picked a series and stuck with it and the development costs just didn’t make it worthwhile.  So it was a sad day when franchises like Day of Reckoning came to an end with the Smackdown vs Raw series taking over.  It was basically a continuation of the standard Smackdown series, but overtime that game became more sophisticated, more varied, to the point where it resembled the original titles in the series in name only.  The gameplay was still quicker than the sluggish AKI games, but not cartoonishly so.  Each wrestler had various different grapples they could initiate which was just the starting point for unleashing pain upon the opposition.  Now games truly started to emulate the television product.  Yukes found a way to make a realistic wrestling sim while also keeping it fun to play.  A bunch of new takes on old matches, and new additions like the Buried Alive match, also enhanced the fun factor.  The GM Mode, while never truly realized, was also a fun diversion and the create-a-belt feature is superior to the current one in WWE ’13.

So have all of the games to follow these been inferior?  Not necessarily.  If I lined them all up and played them for an hour each I’m not sure which game I’d enjoy the most, it’s just that the current games have done little to advance the genre.  In that respect, maybe it’s a good thing for gamers that the WWE license is changing hands.  It might be nice to see what a developer new to the franchise could come up with.  If Take-Two intends on releasing a WWE themed game this year, it may opt to reach an agreement with Yukes for at least one more game since development on WWE ’14 was likely already underway.  And in turn, Take-Two could hand the license off to one of its development teams to get cracking on a game for 2014.  Time will tell, but Take-Two has its hands full if it wants to make fans forget about the glory days of THQ.


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