What Happened to Wrestling Games?

WWE 2K20 is bad.

I don’t wanna smell what he’s cooking.

Really bad.

I don’t want none.

Hilariously bad.

Honestly, not even sure I’m allowed to show this one. Might be getting a call from my editor…

Besides the fact that nothing too interesting has happened with WWE 2K franchise in several years, this game came with missing features, glitchy gameplay, and laughable graphics. The developer knows they dropped the ball in a big way, and at least at the time of this writing, they’re scrambling to fix their mistakes. But the fact that this game was allowed to hit the shelves is another example of how WWE doesn’t actually care about delivering quality material to their fansit’s just another quick money grab. 

Pro Wrestling is about suspending disbelief, and the games should reflect that. WWE needs to remember that if people don’t like watching the same two people square off on RAW every week, then playing as the same two people for hours on end isn’t going to be much fun either. What has gone wrong with wrestling games? I posed that question to my fellow Geekaders and I got an interesting response from Matt Raimo of the Waveback Podcast

You’re a winner, Matt. Never forget that.

Matt Raimo: My honest opinion is that wrestling games have lost something for me. Wrestling fans are notoriously fickle people and I’m no different. So the last games I really spent time player were the No Mercy/Wrestlemania 2000 & Def Jam games. Anything that came after it really didn’t grab me or hold me. I think it’s because the spectacle of wrestling is very hard to capture in video game form, for me. I think the actual event of wrestling is a video game/comic book in itself so if it’s captured correctly it comes across flat. Many games have done a ton of things well but for everything done right there are just as many done wrong. I may not be a wrestling game’s target audience but I don’t mind picking one up and playing for a bit, but I doubt I’ll sink a lot of time into them because I just don’t have that time anymore.

I’d have to agree. Even when I wasn’t actively watching any wrestling, I used to be able to pick up a wrestling game as a casual fan and enjoy myself. But if WWE is just going to mail it in every year, what’s the point? The controls aren’t getting better, the graphics aren’t getting better, and the most recent game is even having trouble with polygons in 2019! The 80’s gave us better screenshots!

I’m gonna keep posting this meme. At lease one more is coming.

I know, technically, it’s a sports game; there isn’t a lot you can do from year to year. But somehow, Madden is a best seller every year. How? Football hasn’t changed much. Outside of a few rule changes, rookie players, and sad Baker Mayfield, the NFL is pretty static. 

The FIFA series has done impressive numbers for EA. Soccer is still soccer, right? They didn’t add nunchucks and chainsaws, did they? They didn’t? Okay then, FIFA isn’t going through massive changes every year. But EA makes enough improvements every year that people keep buying. Also, how many more people would watch soccer if it had nunchucks and chainsaws? A lot, I’d bet. Not enough people are talking about adding nunchucks and chainsaws to soccer, and that’s a shame.

2K, the people who make the WWE games ALREADY HAVE ANOTHER SPORTS FRANCHISE. Somehow they are able to scramble up new modes and new features into every yearly entry for the NBA 2K series. But when it comes to WWE, it’s the same crap in a mostly same package.

So where did it go wrong? Well, in my opinion, the WWE 2K series has basically just stood on the shoulders of giants since it’s inception.  Don’t get me wrong, the CAW (Create a Wrestler) feature, online sharing, and custom work was always cool, but it would have never existed without the AKI engine that was used for wrestling games back in the late 90’s/early 2000’s. All 2K had to do was maintain the status quo and make some modest improvements, but they haven’t even done that. 

The last game I played was WWE 2K17. The loading times were downright oppressive and being in Career Mode felt like being an actual WWE wrestler: Constantly stuck in neverending feuds with wrestlers no one likes, randomly losing for no reason, and fighting for meaningless “brownie points”. After playing through two years of midcard feuds that I would win, only to be sucked back into another midcard feud (usually with the same wrestler), I gave up on WWE 2K, and wrestling games as a whole. The only thing I have to show for it is the fact that I can recite the lyrics to “Ride” by 21 Pilots. I despise that song, but I know the whole thingit had to play at least one and a half times before the load screens would go away! But I wanted a second opinion, so I asked Matt if he ever got into any of the 2K games:

Matt: Honestly I’ve never played really any of them. I think XboX offered 18 or 19 for free and I downloaded just because. I think I played one match and it just wasn’t there for me. But I think that has more to do with me as a fan (or lack thereof) of the WWE overall product. Sadly, with Undertaker “retired” and a lot of the guys I’ve grown up with elsewhere, there weren’t many new wrestlers for me to grab on to. The product evolved into something that wasn’t geared towards my age group and that’s okay. NXT held my interest for a while with guys like Dream, Black, D.I.Y, and of course Undisputed Era, but when they started moving them up to the main roster I lost interest again.

That’s a valid pointthe WWE product as a whole is at least part of the problem. And I could crank out page after page concerning the futility of the NXT system, but that’s a story for another time. But that’s also what drives me crazy. We know for a fact that good wrestling games exist! Does anybody remember No Mercy? Pepperidge Farms remembers. But also, seriously, Matt and I remember:

Watts’ Thoughts: I’ve heard more than one person say that No Mercy is WWE’s last good game. I don’t know if I’ll go that far, but it’s not far fetched. The AKI engine, which was also used for the WCW games, came through again on No Mercy and it made for an excellent gameplay experience for it’s time. It was the first deep wrestling experience for players. You could re-skin wrestlers, participate in storylines, and really get into customization. Everything 2K did with WWE was built on No Mercy, and in many ways, it still holds up.

Matt’s Thoughts: I think one of my favorite parts of the No Mercy game was that I could essentially re-skin all the roster to reflect my own wrestling federation, FTW (Foodtown Wrestling). At the time I was working at a supermarket and thought it would be funny to make all my coworkers into the stars of FTW. The create-a-wrestler has always been a staple of wrestling games because who doesn’t want to go toe-to-toe with the Undertaker? Or tag with him for that matter?

Obviously, there’s a problem in wrestling games. So rather than say anything more about how much WWE 2K sucks, here’s some wrestling games that are actually good. You may need an emulator, but it’s worth it. 

WCW/nWo: Revenge

WCW/nWo World Tour was already a good game, even though it was a bit restricted in its roster and modes. Revenge was a huge improvement and a fantastic game for it’s time. It gave us entrances (only two, but come on! It was 1997!) and an awesome roster featuring legends like Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Hollywood Hogan, and Sting. It even had a ref that would come in from the side and count for the pinfall! I used to love going under the ring and trying to find chairs and kendo sticks. Why are there always kendo sticks under wrestling rings? Hmm… That’s a question for another month. 

WWF Royal Rumble

This was an arcade game (though it did get ported to Dreamcast), but it had some serious replayability. It was made by THQ and Yukes, which was responsible for a ton of WWE, UFC, and even NJPW games. Playing Royal Rumble mode was stressful, exciting, and also very stressful.

Matt’s Thoughts: I thought they had some of the best sprites ever produced. Incredibly hard, like… unfair hard, but incredibly enjoyable.

Fire Pro Wrestling

There is a massive community devoted to this game. Matt and I have not had the chance to play it ourselves, but I’ve been very entertained by the custom modes and movesets shown off on YouTube. I strongly suggest checking this out and I promise to devote a real article to it at some point.

Honorable Mention: Pro Wrestling for NES

This isn’t an actual suggestion. This game is incredibly hard. But it was one of the first wrestling titles for the NES. And who wouldn’t want to play the game that Computer Gaming World called “The Best Sports Game of 1988”??

Matts Thoughts: I can remember attempting to play Pro Wrestling for NES as a child and thinking it the hardest game imaginable. Then getting a raspberry Pi and playing it a few weeks ago and knowing it was the hardest game imaginable!

We’re in total agreement on that one. I really only included it to justify ending the article with this meme.

Told you I’d get one more.

Big thanks to Matt Raimo for helping me out this month! See you next month for the Watts on Wrestling Year in Review!

Alex Watts

Alex is a lifelong sports fan and writer that has (against the better judgement of several producers and program directors) appeared on ESPN Radio and CBS Sports Radio. He lives in Washington D.C. with his wife, 1 child, 1 cat and an unhealthy amount of video game consoles.

Alex Watts

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