WWE's history of video games
With the release of the highly anticipated "WWE 2K19” on Oct. 9, join us on a pixelated journey through the history of sports-entertainment video games from the finest arcade action to the 8-bit glory of Nintendo to the mind-blowing graphics of today in this grapplin' gaming retrospective.
1983: Tag Team Wrestling (Arcade)
Documentation on the early days of squared circle video games is hard to come by, but “Tag Team” is believed to be the first such genre title. Right out of the gate, this grappling game (which also appeared under the name “The Big Pro Wrestling”) featured tag teams and sweet outside-the-ring battles, offering greater playability than other sports and fighting games of the era.
1987: Pro Wrestling (Nintendo Entertainment System home video game, or NES for short)
A beloved classic for every ’80s graps fan, “Pro Wrestling” couldn’t offer the ability to play as ring legends like Ric Flair and Abdullah the Butcher, but it managed to create some 8-bit icons all the same with its memorable cast of characters, including King Slender, Star Man and The Amazon. People still play NES for this title, and nothing gets a controller flung quicker than a spin kick from Kin Com Karn.
1989: WWE WrestleMania (NES)
The first officially licensed WWE video game, this title debuted on NES and featured 8-bit Superstars that somewhat resembled Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan and Honky Tonk Man. In a genre first, players could unlock a “Rage” mode during beatdowns and “Hulk ups.” Most notably, the game featured Superstars’ official entrance music. Sing it with us: When it comes crashing down and it hurts inside!
1989: WWE SuperStars (Arcade)
This game was the first to boast character models that looked and moved like real-life Superstars. WWE Superstars even appeared to conduct interviews for the first time, with memorable cutscenes featuring “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, Virgil, Andre the Giant, “Mean” Gene Okerlund, “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth.
1991: WWE Wrestlefest (Arcade)
One of the most popular and recognizable WWE arcade games ever, “WrestleFest” rocked a Steel Cage Match, awesome graphics, a revolutionary grappling system and the first Royal Rumble mode, which let four players lock horns at once. However, one of the game’s biggest caveats was the need to have quarters ready for players to replenish energy mid-match. In 2012, “WrestleFest” made a return as downloadable app featuring modern WWE Superstars but keeping the same spirit of the original game.
1992: WWE Super WrestleMania (Super Nintendo Entertainment System home video game, or SNES for short, Sega Genesis)
The Sega Genesis version of the game gave each of the eight grapplers special moves, and players could compete in “Championship” mode via a series of one-on-one matches. The Super Nintendo version lacked these features, but added two additional Superstars for players to grapple with – Road Warrior Hawk and Road Warrior Animal!
1994: WWE Raw (SNES, Sega Genesis, Sega 32X, Sega Game Gear, Nintendo Gameboy)
The first Raw-branded video game cranked up the pain by expanding each Superstar’s repertoire to include full-on sets of signature moves. It also differentiated characters according to speed, strength, stamina and weight and the gameplay was balanced accordingly. This, of course, was good news for Yokozuna fans.
1995: WWE WrestleMania: The Arcade Game (Arcade, SNES, Sega Genesis, Sega 32X, Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation 1, PC)
“WWE WrestleMania: The Arcade Game” ripped everyone’s favorite Superstars from the ring and plopped them into a bizarre world modeled after the hugely popular “Mortal Kombat” franchise. Actual wrestling moves took a backseat to “Mortal Kombat”–style distance attacks, like The Undertaker’s flying spirits and Doink the Clown’s shocking buzzer. Despite featuring life-like Superstar models, the experience of competing in a WWE ring was lacking.
1996: Power Move Pro Wrestling (Sony PlayStation 1, Sega Saturn)
As the first 3D wrestling game in the U.S., “Power Move” let players maneuver around foes (not just up, down, left and right). It was also the first grappling game for Western audiences developed by Japan’s Yuke’s, the studio that would soon develop future WWE games, including the WWE 2K games in partnership with Visual Concepts.
1998: WWE War Zone (Sony PlayStation 1, Nintendo 64, Nintendo Gameboy)
Featuring a roster of popular Superstars such as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock and The Undertaker, “WWE War Zone” unleashed a first-ever “Create-A-Wrestler” mode, which let players engineer champions from scratch. The ground-breaking new mode has remained one of the most popular features in WWE video games ever since.
2000: WWE SmackDown (Sony PlayStation 1)
The first WWE game of the new millennium was also the first developed by Yuke’s, then in partnership with THQ. The game’s most notable feature was a “Significant Season” mode, which encouraged gamers to play through WWE storylines to get the full experience of becoming a WWE Superstar.
2000: ECW Hardcore Revolution (Sony PlayStation 1, Nintendo 64, Sega Dreamcast)
For its leadoff at-bat with the ECW license, Acclaim took one of its older and more forgettable wrestling games, “WWE Attitude” – the sequel to “War Zone” – and slapped a new coat of “Extreme” paint on it. The game was not well-received, and it was only notable for its genre-first Mature rating.
2000: WWE SmackDown! 2: Know Your Role (Sony PlayStation 1)
Your dreams of winning the WWE Championship as Weirdo Beardo were finally attainable as custom facial hair was added as a feature of the updated “Create-A-Wrestler” mode. Gamers were also granted the ability to give their Superstar some personality with the brand-new “Create-A-Taunt” system.
Tag team matches benefitted from the invention of double-team moves that can be pulled off by trapping an opponent in your partner’s corner.
2000: WWE No Mercy (Nintendo 64)
A dorm room classic in the pantheon of WWE video games, “No Mercy” added the ability to create female Superstars as part of the “Create-A-Wrestler” mode. “No Mercy” further distinguished itself with weaponry, allowing players to exchange foreign objects with the crowd and inflict damage with projectiles. What really set this game apart, though, was its revolutionary “Story” mode, which varied depending on the outcome of matches.
2002: WWE SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth (Sony PlayStation 2)
SmackDown and Raw collided in “Shut Your Mouth.” Its most significant change was a shift from the over-the-top, arcade-style fisticuffs to a slowed-down, more realistic and strategic approach to WWE action.
2003: WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain (Sony PlayStation 2)
Featuring Brock Lesnar on the cover, beatdowns were accordingly revolutionized with “Here Comes the Pain’s” innovative approach to character damage. The ground-breaking new feature required players to punish specific body parts to inflict maximum injury. What’s more, Legends such as “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Sgt. Slaughter re-entered the pixilated fold as playable characters.
2004: WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw (Sony PlayStation 2)
The first WWE game to go online with a multiplayer mode, “SmackDown! vs. Raw” permitted players around the globe to compete in singles competition. Also, “Career” mode finally ditched the annoying subtitles in favor of full-on Superstar voiceovers.
2007: WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007 (Sony PlayStation 2, Sony PlayStation Portable, Microsoft Xbox 360)
The first grappler to appear on seventh-generation video game hardware, specifically the Xbox 360, “SvR2007” boasted an unprecedented helping of eye candy along with an evolved grappling system, which tied moves to the right analog stick instead of the buttons. The game also sounded the death knell for console-specific titles — “SmackDown vs. Raw 2007” became the sole WWE video game property across all platforms.
2008: WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2008 (Sony PlayStation 3, Sony PlayStation 2, Sony PlayStation Portable, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, Microsoft Xbox 360)
Building off the previous year, the 2008 edition of the franchise took the analog system even further. The addition of the ECW locker room to the Raw and SmackDown rosters brought forth new faces and a gaggle of new weapons to wield in the ring. Plus, the “WWE 24/7” mode aimed to immerse gamers like never before in the lives of Superstars.
2009: WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009 (Sony PlayStation 3, Sony PlayStation 2, Sony PlayStation Portable, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, Microsoft Xbox 360)
For gamers, 2009 was the year of the tag team. Prominently overhauling the tag match and introducing the first-ever co-op story mode, “SvR2009” brought back a little bit of that old arcade flavor, making it once again fun to play video games with friends. If you preferred to fly solo, however, the game’s new “Road To WrestleMania” mode scratched that particular itch. Also making its first appearance in a video game was the Inferno Match, a fiery addition to the best-selling franchise, and the “Create-A-Finisher” feature.
2010: WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2010 (Sony PlayStation 3, Sony PlayStation 2, Sony PlayStation Portable, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, Microsoft Xbox 360)
Video game Superstar creators, rejoice! “SvR2010” ushered in a whole new creation system, completely updating and refining one of the franchise’s biggest selling points. “WWE Story Designer” mode allowed gamers to script their own storylines for Raw and SmackDown, a virtual dream come true for WWE Universe members. Throw in the debut of the “Training Facility” tutorial mode and a new grappling system, and 2010 was a good year for gamers.
2011: WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 (Sony PlayStation 3, Sony PlayStation 2, Sony PlayStation Portable, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, Microsoft Xbox 360)
In addition to the inclusion of more than 70 Superstars on a deep roster, the 2011 edition introduced a new physics system that ensured the realistic use of foreign objects in matches. Hell in a Cell Matches also received a facelift, as grappling gamers could now utilize weapons hidden under the ring and competitors could be thrown through the Cell wall.
2011: WWE All Stars (Sony PlayStation 3, Sony PlayStation 2, Sony PlayStation Portable, Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Xbox 360)
In addition to “SvR2011”, THQ release the arcade-inspired brawler “WWE All Stars” to console. Presenting players with a highly stylized, animated look and feel to go with all the in-ring action, the game offered a much different experience than the core franchise. Bringing to the WWE ring what “NBA Jam” brought to the basketball court, the trash-talking, move-flaunting “All Stars” was a big hit with fans of all ages.
2012: WWE ’12 (PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Xbox 360)
Promising to deliver a bigger, badder and better gameplay experience than ever before, “WWE ’12” exploded onto the scene, reinventing the iconic “SmackDown vs. Raw” series. “WWE ’12” boasted all-new “Predator Technology,” which made for the most fluid and realistic animations ever seen in a WWE video game, improved artificial intelligence and an innovative “Breaking Point” submission system.
“WWE ’12” also featured an amped up “WWE Universe” mode, empowering players to determine the destiny of WWE‘s Superstars with storylines, matches, alliances and rivalries shaped by their decisions.
WWE 2K series (2014 – present)
Following the development of “WWE ’13,” 2K Games took over production and distribution for future WWE video games as former publisher THQ went bankrupt. New developer Visual Concepts teamed up with longtime WWE video game developer Yuke’s to create “WWE 2K14,” heralding a new generation for WWE video games. The WWE 2K series has featured annual updates to gameplay and graphics, new game modes, exclusive Superstars and downloadable content. 2K Games also continues to expand and improve the Creation Suite, that gives players full control of their own customizable WWE Universe.
Each year, the roster of WWE and NXT Superstars, as well as WWE Legends and Hall of Famers gets bigger and better. Additionally, a different Superstar is chosen for the cover, ultimately setting the tone for the game. The latest installment features WWE Champion AJ Styles on the cover and features Rey Mysterio and Ronda Rousey as playable characters if you pre-order the game.
WWE2K19 is on sale Oct. 9.