Wrestling Recap: Royal Rumble 1988

The Date: 24 January 1988
The Venue: Copps Coliseum; Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
The Commentary: Vince McMahon and Jesse “The Body” Ventura
The Stipulation: Twenty man over the top rope battle royale
Notable Competitors: “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan (Winner), Bret “Hitman” Hart (#1), The Junkyard Dog (#20), and The One Man Gang (Most Eliminations)

The Build-Up:
Considering how dominating the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has been in the industry, it should be no surprise that the company has been at the forefront of creativity; from their celebrated Superstars, impact on pay-per-view entertainment, to the creation of genre-defining match types. By 1988, the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, as it was known then) had already stepped into the mainstream after taking a massive gamble with their inaugural WrestleMania event and added the annual Survivor Series event to their calendar. To see in the new year, WWF chairman Vince McMahon produced the first edition of another annual event, the Royal Rumble, which was headlined by the titular over-the-top-rope battle royale. The match concept was the creation of the legendary Pat Patterson and has since become a trademark event of the organisation, with winners now going on to challenge for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania, though this aspect wouldn’t be introduced until the 1993 event. After trialling the concept at an untelevised house show, which was won by the Junkyard Dog, there was little rhyme or reason for the match’s debut beyond producing another pay-per-view and showcasing a bunch of WWF’s superstars in one big brawl and, as such, no real storylines leading into the titular match.

The Match:
Generally speaking, I quite enjoy a good Royal Rumble match; it’s a great excuse to debut or bring back wrestlers and can be a lot of fun with the right people in there. They can be difficult to book, however, and often the middle part can get bogged down with tag teams of B- or even C-list lower-card wrestlers who no one’s ever going to believe will win the match. For me, winning the Royal Rumble should be an accolade reserved for the company’s biggest star, preferably their biggest fan favourite; the event itself marks the first step on the Road to WrestleMania and should therefore represent a significant step up in quality. That’s not always the case, of course, and sometimes it feels like the event just takes place because it’s January and that’s what’s supposed to happen. Consequently, I was intrigued to go back to the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling era and see what the inaugural Royal Rumble was like considering this period of wrestling can be a bit hit and miss in terms of match and wrestler quality and that the event didn’t have the WrestleMania stipulation tied to it. Legendary ring announcer Howard Finkel ran down the rules of the match (competitors enter the ring in two minute intervals, are eliminated after being thrown over the top rope, and the last man standing is the winner) while Bret Hart and Tito Santana were in the ring, who were introduced as though it was a one-on-one match rather than simply running to the ring and getting into it like these days.

Bret, Neidhart, Santana, and the Snake all got the match off to a pretty hot start.

Additionally, when the bell rang, the two went at it like it was a single match, pulling off actual wrestling moves as though wearing each other down for the pin fall rather than trying to heave each other over the ropes. Butch Reed came in at number three and initially targeted Bret before teaming up with him to put a beating on Santana; at least, until Butch accidentally nailed Bret. Luckily for him, fellow Hart Foundation member Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart came in next and the three of them desperately tried to force Santana out of the ring but he maintained a death grip on the ropes and refused to go over. Thankfully, Jake “The Snake” Roberts came out at number five to even the odds, dumping Butch for the first elimination of the match and attacking both Bret and Neidhart with a flurry of punches to the absolute delight of the crowd. Neidhart was able to interrupt a double DDT attempt on Bret by Jake and Santana and the former took the brunt of the Hart Foundation’s retribution thanks to a jumping piledriver from Bret. Harley Race was in next and also got in on the action against Jake, dropping a couple of elbows while Neidhart held the Snake helpless on the mat. Jim Brunzell was out next as Neidhart sold a beard pull from Jake (!); things slowed down a little as the guys tried to heff their opponents out of the ring but picked up considerably when Sam Houston sprinted to the ring and went right for the Hart Foundation but, unfortunately, Santana’s time in the match came to an end with the boys in pink tossing him out.

Things slowed and became less exciting as the ring filled up, despite Bret’s stand-out performance.

The ring really started to fill up as Danny Davis and Boris Zhukov came to the ring; slow, plodding, confused offense was the order of the day here as guys half-heartedly went at it in the corner, against the ropes, or wandered around aimlessly trying to catch their breath. There was a bit of excitement as Don “The Rock” Muraco and Nikolai Volkoff argued at ringside over the number eleven spot; Muraco simply nailed Volkoff and took to the ring to attack the Hart Foundation and, by the time Volkoff was allowed into the ring, his tag team partner, Zhukov, had been muscled out by Jake and Brunzell. Harley Race was next to be dumped and, as he was leaving and the others paired off again, the crowd exploded to life when “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan came to the ring (carrying his trademark 2×4) at number thirteen, having a brief altercation with Race along the way. More miscellaneous brawling, striking, and grappling in the corners and against the ropes followed, however, and the excitement took a nosedive as Ron Bass lumbered to the ring. Brunzell was thrown out shortly after thanks to Volkoff. B. Brian Blair, Hillbilly Jim, and Dino Bravo all joined the fray and, in the process, both Neidhart and Houston were sent packing, with the latter being muscled out by Ron Bass. The Ultimate Warrior raced to the ring and immediately started throwing chops and, in the chaos, Muraco was able to toss Bret from the ring, ending his run at almost twenty-six minutes.

In the end, Duggan outsmarted the lumbering One Man Gang to win the first ever Royal Rumble.

Again, the action slowed down and only got slowed as the One Man Gang plodded his way to the ring; the big man made an immediate impression, however, by tossing out not just Blair but also Jake Roberts with a surprising and disappointing amount of ease. The final entrant in his twenty man version of the match was the Junkyard Dog; shortly after he got into the ring, Volkoff was tossed and then the One Man Gang struck again by getting rid of Hillbilly Jim while Bravo took out the Ultimate Warrior with no fuss or fanfare. The Junkyard Dog didn’t last too long either before he was taken out by Bass, who was himself eliminated by Muraco, meaning the final four were Muraco, Duggan, Bravo, and the One Man Gang, an odd selection considering the likes of Bret Hart, Jake Roberts, and the Ultimate Warrior had been in the match. The Rock and the Gang squared off while Bravo and Duggan fought on the other side of the ring; Brave and the One Man Gang worked together to attack both men, with Muraco desperately using his speed to hold them off but a distraction from Frenchy Martin saw him on the back foot and then nudged over the top rope from a weak-ass One Man Gang clothesline that looked as though it would miss and/or take Bravo out as well, but it didn’t. Left alone in a two-on-one situation, Duggan fought back valiantly but looked to be overwhelmed following a double clothesline; however, as he was held helplessly by Brave, he managed to slip away and cause the One Man Gang to accidentally take out Bravo at the last second. Duggan and the One Man Gang brawled for a bit, with Duggan taking a beating against the ropes but, in the end, brains got the better of brawn as Duggan ducked and yanked on the ring ropes as One Man Gang charged him, sending the big man spilled to the outside and becoming the first-ever Royal Rumble winner to an explosive reaction. It may seem like an odd choice to have Hacksaw win the Royal Rumble considering some of the star power featured in the match, but the crowd were absolutely into his win and it’s not like he ended up headlining WrestleMania for winning so it was just a nice feather in the enthusiastic big man’s cap.

The Aftermath:
The main story heading into The Main Event that came out of this event was the WWF Championship rematch between Hulk Hogan and André the Giant but there was some fallout for Duggan following his big win. He and the One Man Gang went at it in a singles match at the same event, with Duggan coming out on top, though he ended up battling Bad News Brown to a double disqualification by the time WrestleMania V rolled around later that year. The Royal Rumble event ended up setting a record as the highest-viewed wrestling program on cable television and would go on to become a yearly event for the company; by the next year, the match was expanded to include the now traditional thirty men and, by 1993, the WrestleMania championship shot had been added and the match has since become one of the WWE’s most anticipated annual events.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to the inaugural Royal Rumble match? Did you like that Hacksaw Jim Duggan won the match or would you have liked to see someone else take the win? Which of the competitors was your favourite? Were there any competitors you would’ve liked to see included? What’s your favourite Royal Rumble match? Whatever your thoughts on the Royal Rumble, share them below or leave a comment on my social media.

Wrestling Recap: Team Hogan vs. Team André (Survivor Series ’87)

The Date: 18 November 2001
The Venue: Greensboro Coliseum Complex; Greensboro, North Carolina
The Commentary: Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse “The Body” Ventura
The Referee: Joey Marella
The Stipulation: Ten-man elimination tag team match
The Competitors: Team Hogan (WWF Champion Hulk Hogan, Bam Bam Bigelow, Don “The Rock” Muraco, Ken Patera, and “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff), Team André (André the Giant, “The Natural” Butch Reed, King Kong Bundy, One Man Gang, and “Ravishing” Rick Rude)

The Build-Up:
Over its many decades as the dominating force in sports entertainment, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has been known for creating some of the industry’s most successful competitors, changing the face of pay-per-view entertainment, and delivering genre-defining match types and wrestling cards. In 1987, the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, as it was known then) had taken their first step towards global domination with the successful gamble that was WrestleMania, a pay-per-view showcase of their greatest talent that brought the organisation into the mainstream with celebrity cameos. With the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) due to broadcast their Starrcade event over the Thanksgiving weekend, WWF chairman Vince McMahon add the Survivor Series event to the WWF’s calendar and strong-armed many cable companies into showing his event instead of Starrcade or risk losing out on WrestleMania IV. The entire event was comprised of four ten-man elimination tag team matches, with the main event pitting WWF Champion Hulk Hogan and his team against bitter rival André the Giant and his team of bad guys (or “heels”). The motivation behind the two forming teams and squaring off came from André’s heel turn earlier that year, which saw him memorably challenge the Hulkster at WrestleMania III only to be planted with an iconic body slam. Since André was managed by one of wrestling’s greatest heel managers, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, it made sense for him to ally with Heenan’s smorgasbord of man-mountain wrestlers, though Hogan wasn’t short on allies either, with the recently debuting Bam Bam Bigelow and the now-righteous (or “babyface”) Ken Patera joining Hogan’s team to get some payback against Heenan and his goons.

The Match:
Honestly, I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with the Survivor Series over my many years as a wrestling fan. When there’s an actual storyline behind it and the teams make sense, it can be a fun concept but, often, the WWE cobble together teams just because the event is coming up and they even stupidly diluted the concept by having a separate Bragging Rights event that really should’ve just been merged with the traditional Survivor Series card. The WWE fluctuates its focus on tag teams at the best of times and large teams (or “stables”) of wrestlers are difficult to come by in the modern WWE landscape, which can make justifying a ten-man elimination match difficult. However, when it works and is used sparingly, it can be a unique concept and, from what I can tell from my research, it made sense to form these two massive teams and extend the Hogan/André rivalry in a way that both protected the latter, whose health was deteriorating rapidly at this point, and build anticipation for their inevitable rematch for the WWF Championship. The match began with Heenan in the ring giving a special introduction to the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, who lumbered to the ring and greeted his teammates. Jesse Venture raised the question of whether Hulk Hogan could truly trust Paul Orndorff who, until recently had been more of a heel, teasing the potential for dissention within Hogan’s team but, when interviewed by “Mean” Gene Okerlund backstage, Team Hogan seemed incredibly fired up for the match. Each man made his way to the ring to an ever-increasing rapture from the crowd, which exploded into a crescendo as the Hulkster came down the aisle way carrying Ol’ Glory, his focus squarely on André (and playing to the audience).

Although Rick Rude took the brunt of the early assault, it was Butch Reed who was the first to be eliminated.

Don Muraco and Rick Rude started the match for their respective teams, with the two exchanging blows in the corner before Rude took advantage with an eye rake. A boot to the gut cut off Rude’s attack, however, and Rude tagged in Paul Orndorff, who came off the top rope with an elbow strike. A shot to the gut and a knee strike saw Rude on the receiving end of more offense before Orndorff rammed him head-first into Hogan’s boot and tagged in the champion. Hogan planted Rude with a clothesline and then dropped three elbows in quick succession before tagging in Bam Bam Bigelow, slamming Rude and setting him up for a big body splash from Bigelow, which he followed with a military press before tagging in Ken Patera. Although Patera attacked right away, Rude was able to collapse in his corner, finally allowing another heel, Butch Reed, to get in the ring. Reed didn’t fare too well, however, easily being taken down and rolled up into the first pin attempt of the match and falling afoul of a dropkick courtesy of Don Muraco. Orndorff then showed up his teammate by tagging in and delivering two dropkicks of his own and even getting a cheap shot in on King Kong Bundy before dodging a Reed elbow shot in the corner and bringing the Hulkster back into the match for a double clothesline. Hogan then hit the Atomic Leg Drop and Reed was eliminated without even throwing a single punch; Hogan was spared from tangling with André after tagging in Patera during his celebration. Since André only wanted Hogan, though, he immediately tagged in Bundy to face the Olympian.

Thanks to eye rakes and cheap tactics, the heels scored two eliminations in quick succession.

Patera went on the attack right away, even downing Bundy with a clothesline, but he was too slow to keep the One Man Gang from tagging in to lock up with Orndorff. One Man Gang initially, very briefly, actually got to show some offense but Orndorff fired back with a slew of punches that rocked the big man; a counter in the corner shut Orndorff down, however, and allowed Rude to come back in and start working him over…until Orndorff scored with a clothesline, a body slam, and an elbow drop for a two count. Muraco came back in to hit a stiff clothesline but a thumb to the eye allowed Rude to create some separation and tag in the One Many Gang but Muraco was able to avoid a corner charge, roll over to his corner, and tag in Patera, who survived another eye rake to hit an awkward running crossbody for another near fall. Although Patera hit a running knee to the corner, another thumb to the eye allowed the One Man Gang to put a beating on the Olympian in the heel corner with the assistance of his teammates. A standing front facelock slowed the match to a crawl and then the One Man Gang managed to pin Patera for the three count following an awkward “double clothesline” for an anti-climactic elimination. Hogan immediately went after the One Man Gang, throwing hands, rushing him into a corner, and then bringing in Bam Bam Bigelow for a double Big Boot. Whatever momentum Bam Bam had built up went right out the window, however, when the two big men clumsily bumped heads off a double shoulder block, which saw Rude and Orndorff go at it again. Orndorff panted Rude with a suplex, another elbow drop, and a flapjack before Bundy ran in to interrupt a piledriver attempt; this was enough for Rude to score a roll up with a handful of tights to eliminate Mr. Wonderful from the match.

After twenty-five minutes of plodding action, Hogan and André finally squared off once more.

Rude made the mistake of flexing to rile up the crowd, meaning Muraco planted him with an atomic drop and a clothesline before bringing in Bam Bam to deliver a big side kick. A big suplex set Rude up for a rare running knee strike from Hogan, who then brought Muraco in for a powerslam and that was enough to take Rude out of the match and even the odds at three-on-three. Bundy came in and started beating on Muraco, downing him with a back elbow smash, but he missed a running knee strike; Muraco targeted Bundy’s leg with a series of attacks but Bundy was able to fight him off and bring the One Man Gang back in. The Rock’s attempts to fight off the One Man Gang saw him crushed under the big man’s weight; he was able to kick out at two, however, so the One Man Gang threw him into an inelegant headbutt from André which, when coupled with a body splash, was enough to eliminate the Rock. The One Man Gang switched his focus to Bam Bam Bigelow, crushing his chest when he went for a sunset flip pin and bringing in Bundy to hit a powerful clothesline that turned Bam Bam inside out. Hogan broke up the pin attempt but Bundy stayed in control and brought the One Man Gang back in, who shut down Bam Bam’s counterattack with, what else, but a thumb to the eye before choking him on the ring ropes. Bundy came back in for a knee to the gut and a double axehandle smash before quickly tagging the One Man Gang back in. A back elbow caught Bam Bam right in the eye and Hogan, and the crowd, were absolutely desperate for the big man to make the tag as Bundy came back for some more punishment. Bam Bam managed to avoid the elbow drop, and kick out of a pin attempt, and finally made the tag after rolling to the corner and avoiding a big chop from André. Hogan attacked his rival with a flurry of punches; they exchanged strikes and chops in the corner before Hogan slamming André’s face into the top turnbuckle, but his offense was interrupted when Bundy pulled him from the ring.

Bam Bam fought valiantly but ultimately fell, leading to Hogan to attack André after the match.

The two brawled at ringside, with Hogan slamming both Bundy and the One Man Gang on the outside, but he took so long messing about with the two that he got counted out! The crowd was incensed as Hogan was forced from the ring, leaving Bam Bam all alone in a three-on-one situation, much to Hogan’s disgust. Showing no fear, Bam Bam went right for Bundy, planting him with a clothesline and scoring a two count off an elbow drop and a falling headbutt. After dodging a Bundy charge in the corner, Bam Bam finally eliminated the big man with an impressive slingshot splash from the ring apron but he was too fatigued to fend off the One Man Gang, who immediately choked and beat him on the ropes. Still, Bam Bam easily kicked out of a clothesline (that looked to give the One Man Gang a heart attack) and had the wherewithal to dodge a splash off the top rope. This one mistake cost the One Man Gang and meant the match boiled down to Bam Bam and the lumbering André, who wasted no time smacking Bam Bam around with big chops and headbutts. Bam Bam used the ropes and his comparative quickness to avoid André’s plodding attacks but a missed splash in the corner saw him taking some shoulder blocks to the spine and being easily pinned following a half-underhook, facelock slam…suplex…thing. As André was announced the winner, Hogan stormed the ring and attacked the Giant with the WWF Championship, stealing the spotlight and entertaining the raucous crowd with his trademark flexing while André seethed on the outside. I don’t really like to rag on this era of wrestling too much; things were obviously very different back then, but this was a bit of a let-down considering some of the star power and storylines featured in it. Obviously, André couldn’t really do a lot and needed to be protected but we barely got to see him and Hogan go at it again, much less really see the Giant in any kind of action. It works on the one hand to show him as this unbeatable “final boss” but…we know he can be beaten as we saw Hogan pin him at WrestleMania III so I think I would’ve preferred to see him and Hogan as the final two and them brawl to a double count out. Interestingly, this ended up primarily being a showcase for Bam Bam; he was the last man on Team Hogan and impressed the most with his athleticism for such a big man but, on the flip side, there was way too much boring, plodding offense from the One Man Gang and King Kong Bundy was barely a factor in it as well. As a first go-around for the concept, the WWF definitely put some of their biggest names into it but it’s clear a lot of them were limited in their mobility and having Hogan get counted out only to run in for the cheap heat at the end made this a pretty mediocre affair.

The Aftermath:
Naturally, the issues between Hulk Hogan and André the Giant continued to be a focal point of the WWF’s programming; André joined forces with “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase and the two continued to harass Hogan until he agreed to another championship match at The Main Event. This time, André came out on top, though he immediately sold the belt to DiBiase at it was subsequently held up for grabs in a tournament at WrestleMania IV. Don Muraco, Butch Reed, the One Man Gang, Bam Bam Bigelow, and Rick Rude all made it onto the WrestleMania IV card as well, participating in the same tournament, but they would all fall short. Even Hogan and André lost the chance to regain the belt thanks to a double disqualification, so the vacant belt went to “Macho Man” Randy Savage for the first time after he defeated DiBiase in the main event. As for the Survivor Series, the event continued to be an annual part of the WWF/WWE calendar, with multi-man and woman matches taking place regularly every year. The event would be shaken up somewhat by being used as the staging ground for the final clash between the WWF and the alliance of World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) and also saw the first appearance of the Elimination Chamber match and clashes between the WWE’s flagship shows, Raw and SmackDown!

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to the inaugural Survivor Series match? Were you excited to see Hulk Hogan and André the Giant across the ring from each other and thus disappointed that they barely interacted in the match? Who was the stand-out performer for you in this clash? Do you think André winning was the right decision? Were you also annoyed that Hogan got counted out? Which Survivor Series match or event is your favourite? How was your Thanksgiving this year? Whatever your thoughts on Survivor Series, feel free to leave them below or drop a comment on my social media.

Game Corner: THQ/AKI Wrestling Retrospective

GameCorner
THQAKITitle

With WWE 2K18 (Yuke’s/Visual Concepts/2K Sports, 2017) due to be released in a couple of weeks, I thought I’d take the time to revisit some classic wrestling titles on everyone’s favourite polygonal home console, the Nintendo 64. Inevitably, with every new WWE videogame released, debates reignite, resurface, and rage on about why (oh, why, just…why?) can we not get a new videogame in the style of WWF No Mercy (Asmik Ace Entertainment/AKI Corporation/THQ, 2000)? Granted, these debates usually occur on extremely adolescent and unruly forums, such as those on GameFAQs, but there is, nevertheless, a good reason for this. Well, actually, there’s two: nostalgia and the fact that AKI and THQ produced some simplistic and yet incredibly deep and addictive wrestling videogames back in the day. The partnership between Asmik Ace Entertainment and the AKI Corporation began way back in 1996, with Virtual Pro-Wrestling on Sony’s PlayStation, which was later published in North America by THQ as WCW vs. The World in 1997. Following this, AKI and THQ’s wrestling titles would be exclusive to the Nintendo 64 for the foreseeable future and the first instance of this collaboration came with the Japan-exclusive Nintendo 64 title Virtual Pro 64.

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Virtual Pro-Wrestling was the precursor to greatness.

I’m not going to delve too deep into the Virtual Pro series as I never played these videogames; instead, with my young mind only grasping the simplest concepts of the pro wrestling world, my first exposure to the series came with the release of WCW vs. nWo: World Tour (Asmik Ace Entertainment/AKI Corporation/THQ, 1997). When I was a kid, this was the wrestling videogame everyone had and everyone played, to the point where I vividly remember finally getting a copy and playing it all through the night during a sleepover with some friends of mine and driving them to near boredom as I worked to unlock and complete everything as they had done weeks and months before. WCW vs. nWo: World Tour’s roster is split into various factions including the titular WCW and nWo but also some fictional wrestling promotions featuring renamed Japanese wrestlers to dance around tricky copyright issues. Each wrestler has four different attires, allowing you to play as Sting in his surfer persona and Hollywood Hogan in the good old fashioned red and yellow. An interesting twist of irony here is that, these days, people will lose their shit about 2K including five separate versions of Sting, yet players of World Tour should be more than used to this given that you can play as Sting and the imposter Sting recruited by the nWo back in the day.

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TWO Stings!? Blasphemy!!

World Tour introduced many of the gameplay mechanics that would become staples of this videogame series over the coming years; up to four players can play at once in a variety of matches, though only a single player can take on the league challenge to win championship belts and unlock hidden wrestlers. The core gameplay is built around a simple and yet intricately challenging grapple, strike, and reversal system: players perform a light grapple by tapping the A button and a strong grapple by holding the same button. Pressing a direction on the D-pad in conjunction with either the A or B button will see their wrestler perform one of ten different grappling moves, while light or strong presses of the B button alone (or A and B together) will strike the opponent with a kick or a punch. Players can block incoming strikes with the R trigger and counter grapples with the L trigger. Players can also perform submission holds on a downed opponent, dash at their opponents to land running attacks or dodge around them, drag their prone opponent’s body around the ring, climb the corner turnbuckles, exit the ring and grab weapons from the crowd, or taunt by wiggling the analogue stick. Taunting, and successfully countering and landing moves, raises your wrestler’s Spirit meter; once it is full and flashes “SPECIAL!”, players can perform a strong grapple and wiggle the analogue stick to perform their wrestler’s finishing move and attempt a pin fall.

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Nearly every wrestler has a Powerbomb as a Special move.

And good luck with that; World Tour has a steep difficulty curve, even on the easier settings, that can make some matches last nearly ten minutes at a time as you trade counters and moves with your opponent, constantly egged on by the rising and falling cheers and jeers of the crowd and the thumping bass of the in-game music. However, playing through each challenge and winning championships allows you to fight against, and unlock, a number of hidden characters to add to the already-substantial rosters (even Muhammad Ali shows up…as “Joe Bruiser”, whose entire moveset consists of punches!) Sporting a distinct cel-shaded appearance, WCW vs. nWo: World Tour is easily the simplest and least technically-impressive of the AKI/THQ wrestling videogames; there is no create-a-wrestler function (though you can alter the colours of the wrestlers’ attires) and very little options outside of the single and multi-player aspects. However, AKI/THQ took a significant step in the right direction with the subsequent release of WCW/nWo Revenge in 1998.

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Some wrestlers came out with valets or managers.

Revenge took every aspect of its predecessor and improved upon it vastly; wrestlers now have individual entrances (sometimes including a valet or holding a weapon, though their individual theme music is unfortunately absent), there are more animations and variety for reversals, a cartoon referee appears onscreen to visualise pin falls and submission holds, an instant replay triggers whenever a wrestler hits their Special move or a signature attack, and arenas are modelled after those seen regularly on television and pay-per-view events. Players can now also steal their opponent’s taunt by rotating the analogue stick in a clockwise direction and a combo system, of sorts, allows certain wrestlers to string together strong striking attacks at the cost of some of their grapple moves. Wrestlers also enter the ring wearing their championship belt and sport more true-to-life finishers and signature manoeuvres thanks to the addition of multiple new animations and moves.

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Customisation has always been an option.

However, there were some drawbacks; losing the cel-shaded appearance, characters now appear far more polygonal than before. The difficulty curve remained relatively consistent, meaning that even a dominating performance from a player and the successful delivery of a Special move would not guarantee victory in the majority of matches. Instead, players had to earn their victory, wearing their opponent down with counters, strikes, and grapples in order to win a championship belt and, again, unlock hidden wrestlers. Create-a-wrestler was still absent but the editing options for existing wrestlers was greatly expanded, allowing players to play about with existing attires in interesting and fun ways. WCW/nWo Revenge was the last of AKI and THQ’s titles with the WCW license; from here on out, they would take their revolutionary videogame engine and ideas and apply them to the WWF brands. WWF WrestleMania 2000 (Asmik Ace Entertainment/AKI Corporation/THQ, 1999) was the first of these endeavours and, as before, AKI and THQ took everything that worked in their previous videogames and expanded and improved upon them further still.

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Just another chair shot for poor old Mick…

The improvements can be seen immediately; just as Revenge opened with a introduction sequence showcasing its roster and gameplay elements, WrestleMania 2000 begins by showcasing the best of the best of the WWF’s acclaimed Attitude Era. Following this, players are taken to a comprehensive menu screen where they can elect to play a single or multi-man match with the title’s exhaustive roster; while the roster is still arranged in groups, they are no longer organised into factions and the roster is comprised entirely of those seen on a weekly basis back in 1999. Whereas AKI’s WCW titles featured a rather simplistic series of one-on-one matches in the pursuit of individual championships, WrestleMania 2000 includes a lengthy career mode called the Road to WrestleMania. Players select a wrestler and a tag team partner and play a series of matches through one year, facing lower-card wrestlers, taking part in tag team matches, and winning championships in the pursuit of the WrestleMania main event.

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After facing Foley’s personas numerous times, you’ll welcome this fight!

Winning multiple championships may mean that the player has multiple matches on one card and the better your progress, the more hidden wrestlers you will unlock; only a 100% success rate will reap the best rewards, which is a pretty tall order considering the mode’s difficulty spikes and drops depending on your success rate and the opponent you are facing. There will even be a few cutscenes in this mode where hidden wrestlers (usually one of the three faces of Foley) will challenge you to defend you championship.

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WrestleMania 2000 introduced a proper create-a-wrestler mode.

Perhaps the most significant addition was the comprehensive create-a-wrestler mode, which also allowed players to freely customise their name, music, video, and appearance. Using the create-a-wrestler mode, however, players could piece together close approximations of wrestlers not included in the videogame, such as Kurt Angle or Tazz, in addition to those who hadn’t appeared in a WWF ring at the time, such as Diamond Dallas Page and Goldberg, or entirely original characters. Players could choose from an exhaustive list of moves, many of which are carried over from the previous titles, to pretty much create anyone they could envision.

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Only a 100% win streak will reap the best rewards.

In addition, players could create a custom championship belt to defend or entire pay-per-view events; wrestlers all have their own individual entrance themes and tag teams even came to the ring with their team name displayed. The only real downsides were the increased polygonal look of the videogame and the sharp difficulty spike in Road to WrestleMania mode, which could result in players struggling to put away the Godfather but dominating Chris Jericho within two minutes. Finally, the pièce de résistance, the crown jewel in the AKI/THQ partnership, WWF No Mercy. It’s strange to me that the follow-up to WrestleMania 2000 would take its name from a strictly B-level pay-per-view event but there was nothing B-level about this videogame. WWF No Mercy was the culmination of nearly six years of development, refining, and improvement, featuring the biggest and deepest roster yet, the most striking graphics available, the most intricate story mode of all of AKI’s wrestling titles, and the deepest create-a-wrestler you could ask for. There’s a good reason this videogame has been heralded as one of, if not the, best wrestling videogames ever made; more than nostalgia, it’s depth and replayability.

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No Mercy believed in gender equality, if nothing else.

After the suitably over-the-top opening sequence, players could enter the Championship mode to compete in a series of matches and win a championship belt. Unlike WrestleMania 2000, players competed for each belt individually (or alongside a friend if they chose to go for the Tag Team Championships) and this mode featured multiple branching paths and cutscenes based on a variety of WWF storylines; for example, players could play through the entire WWF Championship storyline and fight against Triple H in exactly the same manner as Mankind did, even transforming into Cactus Jack for their street fight at Royal Rumble, or they may lose a match and branch off into a storyline mirroring Chris Jericho’s issues with Triple H from 2000. Once the player won a belt, they could play the mode again in order to defend it. With its multiple paths, no longer forcing players to win 100% of their matches, and far more manageable difficulty curve, No Mercy’s Championship mode was light years ahead of anything seen in AKI’s previous videogames and it’s a lot of fun to play differently each time to 100% each path.

THQAKINoMercyShop
Purchase new content in the SmackDown Mall.

New additions to the gameplay in this title included not only a graphical overhaul that makes wrestlers far lass polygonal but also the inclusion of running grapples, both from the front and behind, the return of blood (though early editions of the videogame would randomly wipe themselves due to some glitch involving the blood), guest referee and ladder matches, a breakable announce table at ringside, multiple backstage areas to fight in, a new version of the cage match to better display the in-ring action, the Survival mode (where players faced an endless Royal Rumble against every single wrestler in the title and in which you could unlock hidden wrestlers), and the SmackDown Mall. In the Mall, you could use the money you earn in Championship and Survival mode to unlock loads of extra content, from new moves and gear to use in create-a-wrestler to hidden characters and weapons.

THQAKINoMercyCAWs
You could create almost anyone in No Mercy.

Speaking of create-a-wrestler, this mode returned better than ever; the moves and attire options made available were more than extensive, allowing you to not only create WCW, ECW, and Japanese wresters not included but also modern day wrestlers to keep the videogame as up-to-date as you desire. The inclusion of wrestler faces (both as avatars and to use on your created wrestler) and certain attires also allowed you to create omitted wrestlers like Gangrel and the Mean Street Posse. Each attire slot could now be assigned entirely unique attributes, meaning you could use one slot to create four separate wrestlers and all that they are forced to share is a moveset. The developers even utilised this to put TAKA Michinoku and Funaki in the same slot, something 2K are seemingly reluctant to do in this day and age (despite proving they are capable of doing so in the past). There were, however, some drawbacks; wrestlers no longer had their entire entrances and tag teams no longer entered as a duo, multi-man matches suffered from slowdown that was not present in previous titles, there were no good mask options to create luchadors like Rey Mysterio, the Big Show was entirely absent from the videogame and (hilariously) replaced in Championship mode with Steven Richards (as opposed to, say, Chris Benoit or even the Big Bossman), and, as mentioned, early copies of the videogame featured a game-breaking glitch that would cause the data to be randomly lost.

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Still the best multi-player wrestling videogame, for my money.

This was a major downside to the videogame at the time, as many players had corrupted copies, and even reissued copies of the videogame would often be prone to this glitch. Unfortunately, WWF No Mercy was the last videogame produced by AKI and THQ; despite apparently planning a third title, WWF Backlash, THQ and AKI parted ways, meaning the WWF videogames would follow the model set by the equally-enjoyable WWF SmackDown! (Yuke’s/THQ, 2000) up until the modern era. Since then, the standard set by AKI has not even attempted to be emulated much less imitated by THQ in their subsequent titles. Moving away from the simple, but in-depth grappling system developed on the Nintendo 64, WWE videogames now seek to closely emulate the televised product through simulated gameplay rather than arcade-style action. Although, graphically, AKI’s titles have not aged terribly well, nothing can take away that rush of nostalgia when starting up a new session on WWF No Mercy; instantly, I am transported back to a simpler time when me and as many as three other friends would spend all day and night playing match after match and pushing the cartridge to its very limits. No WWE videogame since has received that kind of constant love and attention from me, as online gaming and the realities of everyday life intervene with the simple pleasure of gathering around a television and throwing Spears at each other endlessly with the very best polygons money can buy.