In my lifetime I’ve played almost every wrestling video game. I remember vividly the Commodore 64 sessions where a team that looked like Demolition in black fought a team in white called Ricky’s Fighters. The drop kicks were ridiculously horizontal, as the wrestler would soar unrealistically across the screen until he’d land in the jaw of his opponent.
An early WWF game for computers came along in 1986. Micro League featured stills from actual matches, and players would vie for their respective moves; i.e. elbow smash vs. suplex. If you got the move, you’d see your character execute the maneuver in slow release, as three stills of the sequence would play out in a long drawn-out download sequence.
Move ahead from 1986 to the present and marvel at the updated version of WWF Magazine‘s regular column, “Fantasy Warfare,” and you just about have the synopsis for their new game, WWE All Stars. Finally you can pit Hulk Hogan against Bret Hart, John Cena against The Rock, Randy Savage against Randy Orton, Rey Mysterio against Andre The Giant, and dozens of other impossible matches that will never happen in anyone’s lifetime.
The graphics pop; the drama unfolds as your favorite mat maniac struts down the aisle. The moves are quick and hyperbolic (when did Randy Savage ever do a swift kick off the top rope?) but the historical value and inter-generational appeal will keep groups of different ages fans debating and playing for hours on end.
What’s interesting to note is, with the exception of a few stars from the 1990s — Bret Hart and, to a lesser degree, Randy Savage, who was more of a 1980s icon — the 1990s are not really represented, and appear to be glossed over in favor of Andre The Giant, Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan, and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. Does the WWE think the buying power of nostalgia lies in the Hulkamania-Reaganomic era of Generation X?
The biggest and smartest aspect of this game is pushing unknown (to a certain crop of wrestling fans) WWE stars (super new or super old stars) and pitting them against opponents they’ll never ever have. Another great aspect for the super wrestling nerd is to live-out “real life” wrestling debates over what would have happened if Andre The Giant fought Triple H, The Big Show, or Bret Hart in both wrestlers’ primes.
For example, if relatively new WWE high-flyer Kofi Kingston faced off against the innovative martial arts and aerial expert of the 1980s Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat in a match, it would steal the show at any pay-per-view spectacular — if time travel were, in fact, possible.
And time travel is clearly not possible, not even for a company as rich as TNQ. They’ve managed to get Randy “Macho Man” Savage to come out of hiding and do some campy and even (for some) sentimental promos for the product. It’s amazing to see our heroes grow old and turn into Santa Claus clones isn’t it?
Of course, there have been 50, perhaps a hundred different archetypes of the classic wrestling video game in between Micro League‘s 1986 fossilized attempt at action, but it’s remarkable how the product has evolved over the last near-three decades considering it’s the same space (a ring) over and over again. WWE All-Stars comes out in late March worldwide. -Nathaniel G. Moore
Nathaniel G. Moore is the author of the sports humor book Bowlbrawl (Conundrum, 2005) and contributes to Shooting Star Wrestling Review (www.shootingstarreview.blogspot.com)