December 2, 2022

In Half 1 of our deep dive into the historical past of wrestling video games, we explored how the meteoric rise of professional wrestling within the Eighties coincided with the Golden Age of arcade video games, and the way WWE’s dominance was threatened within the Nineties by WCW’s success, each on TV and within the gaming sphere. Now, let’s discover how the world of wrestling video games continued to evolve on the flip of the century.

The 2000s

Because the Millennium hit, issues bought taken to the acute for wrestling video games. Regardless of being in its last yr of operation, Excessive Championship Wrestling (ECW) would be part of the fold and launch two video games of its personal in 2000. ECW Hardcore Revolution and ECW Anarchy Rulz have been developed by WWE’s former companion, Acclaim, and featured equivalent gameplay to WWE’s 1999 recreation Perspective, however with a cruder really feel that matched ECW’s punkish, underground fashion. 

The warfare between wrestling corporations had spawned its personal warfare between gaming corporations. WWE ended their long-standing relationship with Acclaim to start out working with WCW’s former bedfellows, THQ, Yuke’s, and AKI Company. In the meantime, WCW had began working with Digital Arts.

WCW Backstage Assault Goldberg vs Scott Steiner
WCW Backstage Assault (2000)

After a slew of profitable releases, WCW – additionally in its last years – would department out with what was simply one of the vital distinctive wrestling video games on the time, Backstage Assault in 2000.  Right here, WCW took the motion outdoors the ring – with 14 totally different behind-the-curtain settings to brawl in. Regardless of being poorly obtained, Backstage Assault was a predecessor for a number of non-traditional wrestling video games that will comply with all through the last decade – like 2001’s The Simpsons Wrestling.

WWF No Mercy wrestling games
WWF No Mercy (2000)

WWE wasn’t slowing down both. Actually, in 2000 they’d launch what many would name the best professional wrestling recreation of all time, No Mercy, for Nintendo 64. No Mercy would develop a cult following through the years, turning into maybe one of the vital modded wrestling video games of all time – many nonetheless select it as their wrestling recreation of option to this present day.

WWF Smackdown! 2 Know Your Role fatal 4-way match
WWF Smackdown! 2 Know Your Position (2000)

WWE would additionally launch their final arcade recreation thus far on the high of the last decade, WWF Royal Rumble, earlier than setting their sights on the way forward for gaming with the launch of WWE’s gargantuan Smackdown! sequence on PlayStation. Developed by Yukes and printed by THQ, Smackdown! and its sequels fashioned probably the most profitable and beloved wrestling recreation franchise in historical past.

Season modes, unlockables, and maybe probably the most complete (and enjoyable) create-a-player modes in gaming historical past helped deliver the sequence widespread attraction, far past wrestling followers. Annually, the Smackdown! sequence, which might be rebranded as Smackdown! vs. Uncooked in 2004, would deliver heightened graphics, new in-depth storylines, groundbreaking recreation modes, and elevated gameplay. 

By 2001, the warfare was over. WWE bought each WCW and ECW in 2000, monopolising the wrestling trade, and in flip, monopolising the wrestling video games trade. After all, there have been indie franchises like Hearth Professional Wrestling on PC which appealed to the extra area of interest wrestling fan, however when it comes to main releases, the Smackdown! sequence held it down for a couple of years. That’s till AKI Company returned with a wrestling recreation like no different…

Def Jam Vendetta DMX vs Ludacris
Def Jam Vendetta (2003)

Teaming with EA, who hadn’t launched any wrestling video games since Backstage Assault, AKI Company, and Yuke’s launched Def Jam Vendetta in 2003. Hip hop and wrestling have lengthy been intertwined, with early wrestling legends like Ric Aptitude and Dusty Rhodes having a serious affect on the bravado and machismo that will change into quintessential in rap.

Def Jam Vendetta tightened the hole – a hip hop-themed wrestling recreation that featured a number of main rappers, together with DMX, Ludacris, Ghostface Killah, Funkmaster Flex, Methodology Man, Scarface, and extra. It appealed to wrestling followers, hip hop heads, and all factors in between, turning into one of many highest-selling video video games within the first half of the last decade and spawning a sequel in 2004.

Backyard Wrestling: Don't Try This At Home gameplay
Yard Wrestling: Don’t Strive This At Residence (2003)

Yard Wrestling: Don’t Strive This at Residence was one other unusual launch from 2003. It too featured a couple of rappers – members of the Insane Clown Posse, to be actual – and so far as we all know, it’s the one wrestling recreation to function a Jerry Springer-inspired ‘Discuss Present Mode’. 

WWE Crush Hour character selection
WWE Crush Hour (2003)

That very same yr, WWE launched its weirdest, most outrageous recreation ever – WWE Crush Hour. It’s laborious to name this one a wrestling recreation, actually. Positive, it has wrestlers, and ‘matches’, however this was much more demolition derby than it was suplexes and superkicks. The sport was vastly panned, however we commend WWE for no less than attempting to step outdoors the field, or ring.

MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch Mr T vs Carrot Top
MTV’s Superstar Deathmatch (2003)

In case 2003 wasn’t a bizarre sufficient yr for wrestling video games, MTV would additionally launch Superstar Deathmatch, primarily based on the infamous claymation sequence, on PlayStation 2. The sport featured the likes of Busta Rhymes, Carmen Electra, Justin Timberlake, Jerry Springer, Mr. T, Tommy Lee, and extra. 

Outdoors of these surprising outliers, the 2000s have been dominated by the Smackdown! sequence, and with none main competitors, the world of wrestling video games began to change into somewhat stagnant – very similar to WWE had itself, arguably. 

The 2010s

WWE Immortals fight
WWE Immortals (2015)

Whereas the Smackdown! sequence saved trucking alongside, the 2010s noticed the fast rise of cell gaming, and that created an unlimited area for wrestling corporations to develop their providing and convey much more selection to the wrestling video games panorama. All through the last decade, we bought supervisor apps, turn-based card accumulating video games, on line casino video games, puzzle-fighter hybrids, arcade-style video games, and extra. 

WWE had extra freedom to discover extra distinctive, genre-bending codecs outdoors of their flagship console sequence. From zombie fighter video games like WWE Immortals to the puzzle RPG WWE Champions, wrestling video games have been extra diversified and accessible than ever.

Wrestling Games of the 2010s included ones such as Total Extreme Wrestling 2010
Complete Excessive Wrestling 2010 (2010)

Fantasy reserving video games like Complete Excessive Wrestling put you answerable for your personal wrestling federation, and the regular rise of Steam, in addition to cell gaming, created area for extra of those management-style video games to emerge all through the 2010s.

In 2011, the beloved Smackdown! vs. Uncooked sequence was rebranded once more, merely turning into the WWE sequence. The brand new sequence wouldn’t final lengthy although; after the discharge of WWE ’12 and WWE ’13, THQ went into liquidation in 2012. Whereas many vied for the spot, it was 2K Sports activities that will purchase the license to publish WWE’s console video games, and the connection has continued to this present day.

WWE 2K mobile game
WWE 2K cell recreation (2015)

The 2K sequence has had a rocky journey. The preliminary hype rapidly subsided as 2K would put out a sequence of what many thought of to be sub-par wrestling video games. Whereas nonetheless working with Yuke’s because the developer, the 2K sequence was run-of-the-mill, missing the innovation and freshness of the sooner Smackdown! sequence. 

Players lamented the continued use of an outdated engine and seemingly worsening graphics, in addition to the disappearance of a number of beloved recreation modes and options. In the meantime, the gameplay of WWE 2K video games was equally unpopular; the fight turned too sophisticated, with too much-misguided give attention to realism taking away from what actually mattered, the enjoyable. 2K have been by no means in a position to maintain the ball rolling as THQ had accomplished with the Smackdown! sequence and all of it got here crashing down with the discharge of WWE 2K20.

Most of the points with the 2K franchise stemmed from tensions between 2K Sports activities and Yuke’s, and in 2019, 2K changed the builders with Visible Ideas, builders of the NBA 2K franchise. Visible Ideas solely had a couple of months to piece collectively one thing playable – and sadly, they failed. Horrible graphics, physics and gameplay, and infinite glitches created an entire mess of a recreation, which rapidly turned often called the worst recreation of the yr, and the worst wrestling recreation ever.

The 2020s

WWE 2K Battlegrounds mobile game
WWE 2K Battlegrounds (2020)

After the infamous blunder that was 2K20, the principle WWE 2K sequence was pressured right into a 2-year hiatus with the intention to rebuild from the bottom up, whereas WWE and 2K shifted some focus again in direction of straightforward wins by way of their cell output and the arcade-style combating recreation, WWE 2K Battlegrounds

In the meantime, AEW had emerged as WWE’s strongest competitor since WCW and introduced its intentions to enter the gaming sphere. The brand new firm would make its identify identified within the gaming world by teaming with Alex Jebailey’s Neighborhood Effort Orlando (CEO) combating recreation conference to co-host their Fyter Fest pay per view.

UpUpDownDown YouTube crew playing wrestling games

This coincides with maybe probably the most noteworthy growth on the planet of wrestling video games lately; the rise of wrestlers as well-liked gaming personalities. WWE’s Xavier Woods (aka Austin Creed) has had large success together with his gaming channel UpUpDownDown, Kenny Omega has change into one thing of a Road Fighter movie star, wrestling stars like Paige and Miro gained large followings on Twitch within the early months of the pandemic, and it looks like the connection between the wrestling world and gaming world is stronger than ever.

In Development: AEW's untitled console game
In Growth: AEW’s untitled console recreation

At present, each are booming industries at their monetary peak, and there’s virtually as a lot selection and selection throughout the wrestling trade as there may be in gaming. We’re seeing an growing variety of indie wrestling video games in growth, providing extra inventive gameplay and design away from the WWE machine, whereas AEW seems to be to strengthen their rise to the highest as they enter the console recreation area with wrestling recreation legends, Yuke’s. 

Wrestling video games have come an extended, great distance of their virtually 40-year historical past, but it surely’s clear that we’re solely simply getting began.

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