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A Brief History of WWE Video Games

by: Finn Orfano ; edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom ; updated: 4/17/2012 • Leave a comment

Over the years, the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) have released several classic video game titles. We take a quick look back at the history of the company's gaming legacy.

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    World Wrestling Entertainment, better known to fans as the WWE, is the most popular professional wrestling or sports entertainment company in the world today. With three weekly television shows, numerous pay-per-view telecasts throughout the year and a reported net profit of more than $50 million in 2007, the publicly-traded company formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation has also had a major impact on the world of video games. Over the past two decades, there have been dozens of WWE video games of varying quality, and today they reign supreme in the genre, with their WWE Smackdown vs. Raw series reaching Platinum Hits sales status on the Xbox 360 and Greatest Hits status on the PlayStation 2 and PSP for each of the past two years.

    The first video game to bear the then-WWF license was, believe it or not, developed by Rare for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was called WWF WrestleMania and was published by Acclaim in January 1989. The game features six characters, including Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase and the Honky Tonk Man. Players could choose between a single one-on-one exhibition match or a six-man round-robin tournament. The actual fighting engine in the game was pretty limited, focusing mostly on kicks and punches, and also included character-specific healthy power-ups. Needless to say, it wasn't the deepest wrestling title on the planet, but it did mark the WWE's first venture into the interactive world of video games.

    Later that same year, in May of 1989, the first WWF arcade game was released. Entitled WWF Superstars, this game allowed for one or two players to select a tag team out of such WWF stars as Hogan, Savage, "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan, the Big Boss Man, and the Ultimate Warrior. They would then go on to fight three other teams, eventually earning a crack at the DiBiase and Andre, who essentially served as the game's final bosses. The arcade title was much more enjoyable than its console counterpart, and would go on to spawn a 1991 sequel, WrestleFest. WrestleFest improved upon its predecessor's formula by adding more characters, letting up four players participate at the same time, allowing them to add quarters to buy extra health, and including the popular Royal Rumble match.

    During the 1990s, the WWF continued releasing games that captured the hearts of their fans. 1993's Royal Rumble for the Super NES and Sega Genesis improved upon its earlier console offerings by adding more moves to each wrestler's repertoire, including backbreakers, atomic drops, and even illegal moves such as a choke and a rake of the eyes. It allowed players to enter and exit the ring for the first time and also features trademark finishing moves for each competitor. WWF Raw continued these improvements by including the popular DDT move for the first time, creating unique movesets for each combatant, and included for the first time the Survivor Series elimination match as well as an Endurance match.

    As the 16-bit era and the decade of the 1990s came to an end, however, WWE wrestling games moved forward in a big way. The next generation of video games saw the release of the Sony PlayStation and the Nintendo 64, both of which became home to incredible wrestling games. After several subpar titles from Acclaim, THQ acquired the rights to publish WWF games, and delivered in a big way. In February 2000, they launched the Yukes-developed WWF Smackdown series for the PlayStation, which included numerous innovations, most notably the first ever full-featured Season Mode in a wrestling video game. Meanwhile, in November of 2000, THQ put out an Aki-created title called WWF No Mercy for the N64. The game received solid critical reviews and was praised by a large number of fans who preferred its slower, more methodical gameplay to Smackdown's more arcade-style approach.

    Unfortunately, there just isn't space to discuss every single WWE video game ever released, but there have been dozens -- and not all of them are wrestling games, either (see WWE Crush Hour, a racing game for PS2 and GameCube). Some titles have been well received; others, not so much (again, see WWE Crush Hour). Nonetheless, the company continues to move forward. In November 2008, the most recent installment of the Smackdown series, WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2009, was released for Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PSP, Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS. The company is also said to be working on an online entry in the franchise for the PC, as well as WWE Legends of WrestleMania for PS3 and Xbox 360. The latter title will feature wrestling legends and will allow gamers to recreate some of their favorite classic wrestling matches from previous WrestleMania wrestling events.