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WWF Wrestlemania (NES) artwork

WWF Wrestlemania (NES) review

"WWF Wrestlemania is about as painful to witness as Sid Vicious' compound leg fracture."

WWF Wrestlemania (NES) image
They got the "bad" part right, anyway.

"Wrestling games tend to age poorly."

I utter the above incantation whenever I fire up an old wrestling title that I haven't played in ages. I find it quiets my groans while I attempt to ignore dated content. Unfortunately, when I recently played WWE's official video game debut, WWF Wrestlemania on NES, the hymn proved powerless. To say the game "hasn't aged well" would be putting it lightly. Rather, it's more like Wrestlemania deteriorated, collapsed and caught fire.

At first, Wrestlemania merely underwhelms you, as its main menu features a whopping two play modes: one-on-one and tournament. It would be foolish of me to slate the dearth of match types, because WWE didn't sport a wide enough variety of gimmick matches in the late '80s to warrant a laundry list of play modes. However, the absence of tag team and steel cage matches stings, even with a paltry roster consisting of six wrestlers.

The only positive remark I can offer crops up as you enter the ring. Wrestlemania features primitive, albeit charming background music that consists of a looping mashup of the two competing wrestlers' themes. Although the game doesn't present any of the entry tracks in their complete forms, composer David Wise did a terrific job of capturing each song's definitive segments with upbeat, 8-bit melodies.

WWF Wrestlemania (NES) imageWWF Wrestlemania (NES) image

It doesn't matter if you select Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant or Bam Bam Bigelow as your combatant. Most of Wrestlemania's move sets are not only nearly identical, but minimalist. Gone are grapples and slams of any kind, replaced by basic strikes such as uppercuts, headbutts and a few aerial maneuvers. Rather than wearing down your opponent with a humble array of throws and submission holds, you end up engaging your opponents in kicking contests, often trading blows as you might in a stilted brawler title.

Make no mistake, beginners will lose often. Thanks to picky hit detection, rookies will likely miss a fair portion of their punches, leaving them susceptible to counterattack. Sometimes your enemy will use this opportunity to string together a killer combo that floors you. Rather than collapsing where you stand when getting knocked over, you fly a third of the way across the ring. To make matters worse, your performer returns to his feet with his back to his opponent. You can try to turn around, but altering direction results in a stiff animation that delays your movement just enough for your adversary to score a few more hits and repeat the process. Eventually, your Honky Tonk Man ends up in the corner, where the computer's Ted DiBiase pummels you and pins you.

You might get lucky, though. Sometimes, the computer relents and wanders around the ring instead of taking initiative. You can then chase after him as ably as Wrestlemania's stiff control response allows, before launching an all out assault. Sadly, the majority of your thumps won't connect because Andre the Giant won't hold still. Meanwhile, the massive one occasionally mashes your face with his boot and sometimes manages to drop you. Eventually, you notice that he hasn't lost many hit points at all and you're almost empty. It's at this point you make a decision: stay the course you're on and end up pinned, or fight fire with fire.

Spoiler: you might occasionally win using the latter strategy, but you still won't have any fun.

WWF Wrestlemania (NES) imageWWF Wrestlemania (NES) image

The soundest bit of advice I can give you is to spam. For instance, play as Macho Man, climb to the top rope as often as possible and elbow the opposition to death. Or pick Bigelow and cartwheel your enemy into the corner, then kick and headbutt him into oblivion. Being aggressive and underhanded is corny and cheap, but then again, Wrestlemania's limited move set doesn't allow for much more than that.

Even after you soften up your opponent, there's still the matter of getting the pin function to work. Just figuring out how to cover a fallen wrestler is frustrating enough. Honestly, I wouldn't fault anyone for rage quitting before discovering that B plus Up or Down gets the job done. Unfortunately, you practically have to beat your foe into the grave before attempting a pin, as he often recuperates before you can cover him. Once you've depleted a competitor's energy, you still need to bash him into oblivion or he'll kick out. On the flip side, he can easily pin you before your health gauge is empty.

Imagine undertaking this struggle for five consecutive timed matches and you have Tournament mode. I can think of no greater way to both exacerbate and highlight WWF Wrestlemania's flaws than to toss you into a frustrating series of battles, each made harsher by a progressively escalating challenge factor. It's here that you learn for certain that Wrestlemania is a horribly experimental first attempt at capturing the excitement that made professional wrestling the phenomenon it was in the '80s. With the exception of its music, the game fails to deliver not only an authentic wrestling experience, but a balanced, enjoyable action title to boot.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (July 23, 2016)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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EmP posted July 24, 2016:

Sid broke his leg in WCW, you hack!
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JoeTheDestroyer posted July 24, 2016:

And who owns WCW these days?

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