In honor of the upcoming Wrestlemania, I am going to do something so dangerous, so traumatic that I may never recover. I shall relive, and report on, one of the most jarring and scarring elements of my childhood: playing the WrestleMania game by Acclaim for the NES.Yes, thanks to the magic of stealing things on the Internet, emulators have made it possible for us to play Nintendo games from the 1980s here in the 2000s, and remember all over again why all but a few of them were so frustratingly shitty in the first place, causing us endless hours of boredom and/or angst until we forced ourselves to shut the fucking thing off and go play outside until the next shitty game came down the pipe. This process of masochistically recalling our childhood misery is called “nostalgia”.
On the outside of the box of NES WrestleMania, there is a warning label that should tell even a casual gamer to run the fuck away in the opposite direction:
(Above: Acclaim, ruining kids’ lives since 1984.)
You may know Acclaim; they are the company that produced nearly every single crappy, half-thought-out wrestling game of the 80s and 90s; what you may not also know is that their subsidiary company, LJN, presided over nearly every single crappy, half-thought-out Nintendo movie tie-in game of the 80s and 90s, producing such memorable turds as Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? And Gotcha! The Sport. So, basically, for everything popular in culture during that 20 year period that could possibly be reimagined as a game, it was Acclaim’s mission to turn it into a half-assed waste of time and money, by grabbing it around the throat and squeezing anything interesting or cool out of it.
The first screen that greets me is a screenshot of an 8-bit Hulk Hogan tearing off his shirt, followed by the doofy slogan “BIGGER! BETTER! BADDER!” I was about to get mad at Acclaim but then I remembered that this retarded slogan was actually used by the WWF for WrestleMania III. So on the suck scoreboard, it’s Vince -1, Acclaim 0.
I am being asked to select from 6 different wrestlers. There are pixelated but decent-looking digitized portraits of each wrestler, but you can bet that when the game starts they will all be slightly differently-colored blobs of shit that look nothing like who they are supposed to represent, so why quibble. I choose the first guy I am offered which is Ted DiBiase, partly because I don’t want to scroll around and partly because he was my favorite wrestler when I was a kid. And also, since this game takes place before he became a crazy, crazy Christian, I can’t in good conscience hold that particular bit of insanity against him. For his opponent I choose Andre the Giant.
(As a side note, there are 6 wrestlers to choose from and only two of them (Andre and Bam Bam) are currently dead. That’s a pretty good ratio considering how fast wrestlers drop. I was playing WWF WrestleFest, an actual good wrestling video game unlike this mess, not too long ago and I realized that 6 out of the 14 guys in the game have kicked the bucket.)
As the game starts, the first thing that is interesting to me is that while most normal wrestling matches might take place in an arena with spectators observing the action, the ring in this game appears to be situated in a formless black void, from which no light can escape. This is another fun quirky innovation added to the game by Acclaim. In case you have always wanted to know what a wrestling match would look like inside of a black hole, they have provided a reasonable representation of it.
Observing further we see that the ring only has ropes on three sides as the side of the ring closest to the camera is ropeless. Some might assume that this is just really shitty, lazy game design which removes any semblance of realism from the game. But, as students of wrestling history know, this is a “shoutout” to the short period in history when the WWF experimented with a ring that had ropes on only three sides in the mid-1980s. Many lauded this era in WWF history for the added danger to any match, given the possibility of trying to bounce off the ropes on the side of the ring where there are no ropes. This experiment ended sadly when 500-pounder Uncle Elmer fell out of the ring onto an unsuspecting camera man in 1984 at a house show in Topeka, KS, and the WWF decided to go back to fully-enclosed rings.
Fortunately for the safety of the wrestlers in this game, to prevent them from crossing over the ropeless boundary of the ring and floating off into the inky blackness of space that engulfs the arena, you can only run in two directions — left and right! Bigger, better, less-dimensional.
As I predicted, a big three-color blob of shit that vaguely resembles Andre the Giant starts wobbling slowly toward me and throwing punches and kicks over and over. My first thought is that for a game released in the 1980s, the realism of Andre the Giant’s in-ring moveset (punch and kick) is way farther ahead of the curve than I expected. But then I realize that Ted DiBiase (also represented by a slightly different multicolor blob, which looks like a fat blond-haired hobo) has basically the same set of moves: punch and kick. In fact, every single player in the game has the same exact moves, punch and kick. Some of them are technically different moves, for example, Bam Bam Bigelow will head butt you, but the head butt is not an added move — it replaces the fucking PUNCH. And the graphics are so tiny and poorly executed that you can barely tell the difference between a punch, an elbow smash, etc.
Each character has one (1) other move that he can do, and all of them are variations on punches and kicks. A total of 3 moves and none of them are wrestling moves. If you bought this game with a strong urge to hiptoss, suplex or enziguiri somebody, you’re going to be sorely disappointed — you’re going to have to learn to punch your opponent about 45,000 times per match and fucking love it, goddammit.
Of course, even though each wrestler has only three fucking moves, you can goddamn well bet that Acclaim figured out a way to complicate shit. Each wrestler has the ability to pin someone, but unlike every other wrestling game ever made, the way to pin someone isn’t the same for everybody. There is even a ridiculous chart included in the instruction manual which I found a picture of online.
But wait, there’s more. For added realism, Acclaim decided it would be a good idea to make it impossible to climb up onto the top rope. But don’t worry — you can still execute top rope moves! How you ask? Well, you just run horizontally, along the top of the ring (not the bottom, that’s the side where the lack of ropes puts you in danger of flying off into the vacuum of space), and then JUMP UP ONTO THE TURNBUCKLE. Yes, even Hulk Hogan can do this from standing in the ring. Then, once up there, you have no control over when the stupid fucker leaps off the turnbuckle, he just goes immediately as soon as you get up there. The only character who cannot do this is Andre the Giant. I assume this is because ANDRE standing flatfooted and jumping up to the turnbuckle with no leverage would be SILLY! But it makes perfect sense for everyone else to do it.
Did you think there would be a referee in this match? Fat chance, as this game is from the golden era of gaming when more than two objects moving on a screen would cause smoke to pour out of your console. So, the pixelated blobs will have to slapfight on the ropeless periphery of a spacetime rip with no one to warn them or control the action. But don’t worry! None of the wrestlers have any submission moves, or any wrestling moves at all, or any ability to do anything that could possibly get them disqualified by a referee anyway. So unless he is there to count the thousands of punches and kicks in each match, a referee would be useless.
It took me about 45 seconds to remember the best approach to beating this game: basically the strategy is to spazz out on the buttons and just punch and kick over and over, until someone is stupid enough to walk into you, then keep on spazzing out on the buttons until he falls down. Granted, this doesn’t have the feel of a wrestling game so much as an epileptic fit. But luckily, while I am enjoying myself by simulating a seizure, I can listen to a MIDI version of Ted DiBiase’s theme song, which for some reason Acclaim has decided is “Girls in Cars” by Strike Force.
Apparently hitting your opponent makes him turn pink, then red. You might think this is a good development for you. But you are sadly mistaken! In this game, when you beat the shit out of your opponent and he turns red, it means he is angry at you and his hits do more damage — thereby rewarding him for getting the shit kicked out of him. This is kind of like what would happen if you were playing a car racing game, and the game decided that crashing into a telephone pole made your car go faster. If you did not assume this naturally to be the case, that getting a severe beating would improve your standing in the match, then you must be thinking of some other wrestling game not made by Acclaim, that takes place in another dimension and timeline, where the ring has four sets of ropes and people can attend the arena without being crushed to death by the immense gravitational pull of a black hole.
UFOs (UNUSABLE FLOATING OBJECTS)
Did I mention the floating objects? I didn’t? Oh good, this is the best part, the part that everyone seems to remember about this shitty game. Each one of the six blobs of shit that vaguely resembles a wrestler has one item which periodically bounces into the ring. For Randy Savage, it is sunglasses. For Ted DiBiase, it is a dollar sign (not actual money, which is an actual thing that might actually appear in the real world — no, a symbolic representation of money physically comes bouncing into the ring). When your blob touches his item, he doesn’t use it. Ted DiBiase doesn’t use his “$” to bribe the other wrestler into laying down and jobbing. They just get some energy back, as if it is a tasty barbecue chicken found in a trash can in Final Fight.
You would think that maybe the game designers might want to include a chair or a sledgehammer to float into the ring; you know, something that might actually be useful to bludgeon your opponent with. But the only one of these items which even comes close to that is the Honky guitar, and unfortunately it is a tiny guitar the size of his foot (maybe a ukulele) and wouldn’t even knock out Little Beaver.
This is a shitty, half-formed game, only a fraction more entertaining than Pong, and graphically worse than Pong (I would rather look at stick paddles and a square ball, than fat ass pixelated blobs with asscracks showing). Anyone in their right mind playing this piece of smegma for more than ten minutes would think that the NES was a cosmic joke delivered unto the universe by a vengeful creator.
I was about to write a recap where, having eaten my brain like a voracious worm, NES WrestleMania got a ridiculous score like negative 9,571,289 monsoons. But now that I think about it, with horrible punch and kick movesets, game elements that make no fucking sense, and gameplay that will put you to sleep, Acclaim has truly succeeded in producing a game that replicates the atmosphere of WrestleMania! I can only assume they were trying to replicate the shittiness of the WWF and succeeded in droves. Bravo Acclaim!