Continuing with tradition, I purchased WWE 2K19 on day one, and I'm enjoying it thus far. Anything that includes Metallica's best song since Unforgiven (thanks, Triple H) on the soundtrack is going to get bonus points from me, anyway. But it's been a fun release in just the few weeks that I've puttered around with it, and will provide me some necessary indoor diversion as the days and months grow colder.
For a little fun, I'll take a look back on what I personally feel were WWE's top video games throughout their lifetime. Certainly, I'm setting myself up for reprisal from gamers more immersed than I am in minute particulars, but this will be a subjective list, mostly just my personal feelings used as a guideline. So don't get too wound up if you disagree - they're just games, after all.
10. WWE All-Stars (2011)
Generally, I like for my wrestling games to strike a balance - realistic, but not *too* realistic, and arcade-like, but not *too* arcade-like. I like to simulate the wrestling that I enjoy watching, with a little more of the overstimulation that comes from the light and sound patterns that spill out of a dimly-lit mall arcade. I wasn't too interested in All-Stars' model of unrealistic, surreal wrestling (I wasn't the biggest fan of WrestleMania: The Arcade Game, to be fair), but playing the game changed my mind.
While All-Stars is like W:TAG in the sense of gravity defiance (wrestling moves that require a masters' degree in sorcery), the overall presentation was a vast improvement from the earlier generation's game. The roster was quite diverse (an even balance of then-regulars and legendary figures), and the matches weren't too quick, like in a Mortal Kombat-style strike-fest. Though this game veers more to one side of my desired balance, I found it to be quite fun, something nice off of the beaten rasslin' path.
9. SmackDown Vs. Raw 2010 (2009)
Speaking personally, this was the game the broke up the monotonous run. After the first couple of SVR's, I'd kinda lost interest in the games on an annual basis, mostly because there didn't seem to be too much different from prior releases. Couple that with a diminished interest in the product at the time, and by the late-aughts, I was buying games more out of habit than anything. But SVR2010, with a stern-looking John Cena front and centre on the cover, changed that.
The creative touches would see a considerable revamp here, as not only could you create your own storylines (complete with visual representations from a comprehensive in-game editor), but one of my favourite gimmick matches received a major punch-up: the Royal Rumble. Going from static, lifeless eliminations to mini-game struggles, rope eliminations, corner eliminations, etc, added a lot more oomph to a mode that had been taken for granted for a long time. A little equity from THQ went a long way.
8. WWE '13 (2012)
While the prior entry was my favourite game in some time, WWE '13 gets credit for completely invigorating my love of wrestling games once more. While WWE's releases of the previous decade or so had been apt to include a handful of unlockable legends and recent Hall of Famers, WWE '13 based an entire mode around the past: Attitude Era mode. And it was more addictive than caffeine.
The depth of the mode, spanning more than three years of one of my favourite timeframes in wrestling, transformed many 20 and 30-somethings into teenagers again, essentially giving them War Zone/Attitude with more user-friendly controls. The ability to fill in the blanks through Community Creations (Owen Hart, Kurt Angle, The Hardyz, the missing arenas) basically gave you the definitive Attitude Era video game, without Acclaim spray puke all over the works.
7. SmackDown 2: Know Your Role (2000)
If you could merge the best parts of the original SmackDown and this game, you'd have one hell of a product. The original gets credit for quicker loading times, addictive background music (better than SD2's), and maybe even a better overall presentation, but the sequel gives you ladder matches, TLC matches, the first video game of appearance of the bastardized version of Hell in a Cell, a deeper roster, and a deeper Create-a-Wrestler suite.
While N64 players may have had slightly-better toys to play with than their PlayStation-gamer counterparts (more on that soon), Know Your Role was hardly something to sneeze at. As the Attitude Era wound down at the dawn of 2001, this was a perfectly-acceptable companion piece to the exciting goings-on in WWE at the time. Plus, you can choke toss guys out of the ring in the Royal Rumble. If you ever wanted to get your friend to throw his controller at you, catch him with one of those when he thinks he's doing good.
6. Raw (1994)
While not as deep as the entries that have come before it, ask a wrestling fan of the Hulkamania fallout/New Generation days about this game, and they'll have tons of fond memories. For a 16-bit wrestling game, Raw was a rather ambitious title, improving steadily but noticeably over its predecessors. Super WrestleMania was clunky but acceptable, Royal Rumble was smoother and more enjoyable, while Raw was the perfect "let's meet at ______'s house after school and play this bad boy" game.
It's simple, but it has everything you need: Royal Rumbles, Survivor Series bouts, tornado street fights, a handful of weapons (including Doink's galvanized bucket), a quality roster, and surreal "megamoves" like Yokozuna's cannonball, which wipes everybody out in Rumble matches. The best part: if you hit the referee 10 times, he just says "F**k it" and leaves. I'm serious. For 1994, this was both high comedy and high concept.
5. WWE 2K14 (2013)
This wasn't a video game - this was a monument to my desire to forever frolic in the past like some retro tour guide. As much as I loved WWE '13, I let it drop to the dance floor when I spotted 2K14 across the room. The first time I loaded up the game that autumn afternoon, I was greeted by Andre the Giant's in-game theme music, an aria that was angelic and volcanic alike. This was the Gates of Heaven for kayfabe-era fans wanting to relive that time.
Through 30 Years of WrestleMania mode, you get all the old 'Mania rings, dozens of stars from yesteryear (Bundy! Flair! Rude! Perfect! Savage in different attires!) and the space for customization would draw the Homer Simpson drooling-growl: 100 save slots for wrestlers, the ability to add more rings, etc. By Christmas, I had the game filled to the gills with every major star and midcarder from 1985-present, and they all got acquainted with the Raw Manhattan Center arena that some graphic artist provided for the world. If the Vault section of WWE Network were a video game, this was it.
4. WrestleMania 2000 (1999)
While us PlayStation kids were stuck with Attitude, watching the sprites walk around like they had a 20 ounce can of Surge lodged in their anus, the peeps with Nintendo 64 got to play something with comparably more flow, and certainly much more fun. Playing this at a friend's house shortly after Christmas that year, I damn near wept - until I remembered how irritating the N64 controller was, and counted my blessings.
The ability to customize parts of the game, particularly the character models of the existing wrestlers, was simply unheard of at the time, and could be a lot of fun unto itself. But WM2000's real thrill was the actual in-ring product, as no WWE video game had ever quite felt like this before. The developer AKI was the video game equivalent of NXT, in that it knew what fans wanted, and then delivered it.
3. WrestleFest (1991)
Let's break away from the home consoles, pony up a pocket full of quarters, and head on down to that oceanside shopping mall video arcade. There, you'll find pinball machines based on a variety of TV shows and movies, a Dance Dance Revolution platform that many clumsy oafs have bruised their hips falling on, and maybe, just maybe, this sweet bastard representing an era passed. For all of its limits (compared to what games would become, anyway), WrestleFest still managed to reach sheer perfection.
There were only two modes: Royal Rumble (the first WWE game to feature such a match) and tag team tournament. But the action, the implementation of finishing moves, the stimulating music, vivid art and animation, and absolute intensity of a close match, could hook you for life. Just watching the game's montage of wrestlers and their signature moves on YouTube has me wanting to blow some cash on a stand-up machine for the house.
2. No Mercy (2000)
Okay, put the torches down. I know, I know, the game is sworn upon more than a courtroom bible, and it's the alpha and the omega of all wrestling games. I know it's great, that's why I put it second. I don't put anything above WrestleFest unless it's fit for The Louvre. The game maintains a cult following to this very day, and it's not hard to see why.
Its most ardent supporters can modify the game to feature rosters and promotions of any era, including the current climate (much like devotees of Tecmo Super Bowl for NES have done for that game). Its user-friendliness, crisp visuals (especially over predecessor WrestleMania 2000), and overall depth could, in fact, represent the peak WWE game. Between the actual wrestling portions and the ability to flex your creative muscles to a wild degree, it's no wonder the game remains so popular in 2018, and likely beyond.
1. SmackDown: Here Comes The Pain (2003)
There aren't many games I would take over No Mercy, but this is an exception. At the dawn of this feature, when discussing WWE All-Stars, I noted how I desire for a balance between realism and arcade-like mayhem in my wrestling games. I don't think any wrestling game has ever pinned that fine line like HCTP, a game that literally got to me play for 14 straight hours (sans time out for eating dinner and taking a shower) the very day I unboxed it.
The bone-crunching hits take hold of you, from Goldberg's rib-crushing Spears to Lesnar's jaw-jacking strikes (whoever this 'Foley artist' was needs a job for life). It also depicts the *real* Hell in a Cell, as well as blood (first WWE game in a few years), unfathomably deep customization capabilities, and catchy background music (adding an arcade-feel to realistic-looking wrestling, see what I mean?). Where I put it over No Mercy is between the visceral aesthetic of the matches feeling like hard-hitting slugfests, as well as an improvement in match types and just general evolution of a game's capabilities. You may not be able to reconfigure Here Comes The Pain until the endtimes, but no worry - they got it right the first time.