lauantai 19. maaliskuuta 2011

REVIEW - WWF WrestleMania (1989)

GENRE(S): Sports / Fighting
RELEASED: January 1989
PUBLISHER(S): Acclaim Entertainment

It's been 20 years since I watched my first wrestling match. It was between Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VI. Though I thought it was cool and all, professional wrestling amounted to nothing in my culture, and you could only watch it regularly on expensive cable, so it took about a decade before I really got into wrestling - thanks to a local network acquiring regular broadcast rights to both SmackDown! and Raw. I REALLY got into wrestling - I even trained for a while to mount up to a cruiserweight myself after returning from the army, and saved some money for a wrestling school in Helsinki. Everything related to professional wrestling was sacred in my books... except video games. I used to like Pro Wrestling on the NES, but the last wrestling game I had actually played before 2003's Here Comes the Pain came and blew me away, was 1991's WWF WrestleMania on the Commodore Amiga. Man, the game sucked. It left a mark on me, a mark that had forbidden me to play another wrestling game again up until the point I went out and bought Here Comes the Pain. Well, WrestleMania was Ocean Software's game, so I guess that was some sort of warning sign in itself. The first wrestling game based on actual programming, ever, was actually released two years prior to Ocean's game. It was also called WWF WrestleMania. This NES exclusive was developed by Rare, and therefore composed by none other than David Wise. It was published by Acclaim, who went on to work with the World Wrestling Federation for ten more years, almost just as long as THQ has co-opped with the WWE at this point - so this game should be some sort of a landmark, am I correct?


First off, the graphics of the game are quite decent. The game's not exactly a sight for sore eyes, but at least the wrestlers and their portraits look unique and realistic on an NES scale. There's no audience at all, not even the mass of pixels that was already present in Nintendo's Pro Wrestling a couple of years back. The wrestlers' movement is just as stiff as it is to control. The music might be by David Wise, but this game proves that even he has had a slump or two back in the day. While not exactly bad, it's more than repetitive and unimaginative as the same tune keeps playing at a loop 90% of the time. The wrestlers' theme songs, or some awkward MIDI versions of them anyway, offer up some sanctuary from time to time. They play in the middle of matches though, on really awkward occasions, like they would be some sort of cues or something... which they aren't. The developers were just on dope, it's as simple as that.

OYE! Don't you run away from the Maaaachow
Some people would say that modern wrestling games, from the successful Nintendo 64 series of games forward, are way too technical and too real to be games at all, they're more like wrestling simulations. They actually miss the days when wrestling games were measures of how hard and fast you could just bash buttons and when you broke incredible amounts of sweat while doing it, never really getting any substantial rewards for your "hard work". Well, if you're one of these people, WWF WrestleMania might be just the game for you. It's very simple. After entering your name, you have a choice between a standard match and a five-match tournament. Of course, you get to choose your wrestler too. Not a lot of choices there. More than in Ocean's version, though. Double the amount, actually.

Ocean's game had only three playable wrestlers: Hogan, Warrior and the British Bulldog. Although Acclaim's game came out earlier, it already has a respectable amount of six wrestlers to choose from. Most of them are high-profile superstars that had competed in WrestleMania main events up until that point: Hogan, Randy Savage, The Million Dollar Man, and of course, the late and great Andre the Giant. Then we strangely have a couple of mid-carders to complete the line-up in the Honky Tonk Man and Bam Bam Bigelow. Where's the Warrior? Where's Jake "The Snake" Roberts? Why Bam Bam of all choices? All respects to another late legend in the business, but he never was even close to being in the same league as the other dudes here. After all, he's the only wrestler in the bunch who never held one major WWE Championship belt. ...But you know what? He's the one to use if you want to beat this game quickly. Seriously.

Let's start with a standard match, we have to get some sort of grip on the controls before heading to the big thing, right? There's no time limit to the standard matches, you just have to beat the opponent until he isn't able to respond to the three-count. Well, beating is exactly what you need to do. All of the wrestlers have their unique style of fist- (or head-) fighting, which is quite cool, but they play out exactly the same. Their special moves help out a bit in deciding who to play with. No, you can't do the Hogan Leg Drop. Nor can you make your opponent tap out to the Million Dollar Dream, but everyone has some sort of special move, be it a bodyslam, a dive, or in Bam Bam's case, a cartwheel attack with good range. That's exactly what makes Bam Bam so essential. Guys who have the dive ability, like Savage, are extremely tough to handle since climbing the turnbuckle is damn hard. The CPU makes it look easy, naturally. So, you'll be spending most of the 20 minutes you'll probably be willing to spare on the behalf of this game at most, punching and kicking the hell out of your opponent and trying to pin him. When you are finally able to land a pinfall attempt in this game (it's quite hard, too), you've pretty much won the match. Your reward for winning a standard match? Another look at the title screen of the game, and a new name entry. Not even the slightest bit of congratulations? Well, thanks a lot!

Payback time.
The whole tournament thingy is somewhat based on the event of WrestleMania IV, although the game's tagline "Bigger. Badder. Better." was actually WrestleMania III's. All of the wrestlers in the game competed in WrestleMania IV, in which a tournament to crown a new WWF Champion was held - Honky Tonk didn't take part in the tournament, though, as he was set to defend the Intercontinental Championship at the time. "Macho Man" Randy Savage won the title that night in a single match that involved four of the wrestlers in the game. Enough with the old school wrestling fanboy trivia, but somehow, I'm compelled to play as Randy Savage in the tournament. The scheme's very similar to Pro Wrestling: you face off against every other wrestler on "the roster", and after the final match, you're crowned the WWF Champion. I guess... since the game doesn't really capitalize your awesomeness. It's a bit weird that Million Dollar Man is your first opponent - if you're not playing as him yourself, of course - while he was Savage's opponent in the title bout at WrestleMania IV.

The tournament's like the hard mode of the game. The time limit is set to three minutes, and pinning the opponent is even harder than it is during exhibition, especially since they keep running away from you all the time - and not only the heels (= villains). Even if his health is completely drained, you might not be able to even attempt a pin. Kind of an opposite to Pro Wrestling, in which one kick to the head might've meant defeat. Even if you have the opponent locked up against the ropes for the total of three minutes, and you bash him with a flurry of Savage's flying kicks, and he's been blinking red for the last 20 seconds, you still might not be able to pin him. It's completely random. I know I say that often, but that's just how it is. On top of all, I can't climb the ropes and do what Macho does best. Not easily enough for me to care, anyway. It's just a boring punchfest all the way. Thankfully you need only five wins to beat the whole thing. But, if you fail to meet the time limit, you'll have to restart the match. Mash those buttons, and be quick about it. You can forget about any WrestleMania moments, welcome to HassleMania.

What I do like about the game, even remotely, is the way Rare tried to make the most out of the wrestlers' personalities in an 8-bit capacity. Each wrestler has a special item - thrown to the ring by the invisible hand of a manager - which needs to be collected at the right time to gain some perk like a health or strength bonus. The Million Dollar Man has a dollar sign, Honky Tonk has his beloved guitar, and so on. Each wrestler has a unique move, like I said, and ONLY Hulk Hogan is able to bodyslam Andre the Giant, in perhaps the ultimate tribute to wrestling history this game has in store.

Uh... did you ever see Honky Tonk Man do
anything even remotely like this? Neither did I.
The only difficult thing about the tournament is sticking to the time limit, and since most of the time it's totally random whether you can pin the opponent or not, the limit might really make winning the tournament much, much harder than it actually is... as well as the fact that most of your opponents keep running away from you instead of getting it on like men. It's kind of funny to see "the immortal" Hulk Hogan running away from any challenge, as much as I personally dislike the guy myself.

It's got horrible controls and some real ill logic in it - like a devastating bodyslam that does no real damage to the opponent whereas simple punches and kicks almost kill him - but WWF WrestleMania is not a really horrible game in the core sense of the word. Sure, it's bad, but it has some very slim, but cool legendary aura about it, and a real retro wrestling feel enough to give it a fiver... and it was the first licensed professional game in history, so I find it hard not to cut it some slack.

SOUND : 5.5


In the movie The Wrestler, Randy "The Ram" Robinson (played by Mickey Rourke) and a little boy are playing a wrestling game on the NES that features The Ram. The game in question is actually a fully functional demo based on WWF WrestleMania, created exclusively for the movie.

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