Personally I have a soft spot for Smackdown: Shut Your Mouth. It was a great combination of being the era I was obsessed with and having a great feature set.
I liked the Aki games on N64 a lot, and probably spent the most time with them, but my favorite is WWE All Stars.
Wrestling isn't a sport so there's no reason to simulate it. That game doesn't have a deep story mode (though it has some fun mini-campaigns) or super realistic recreation of arenas and superstars, and the create a wrestler is kind of limited, but it's super flashy and a ton of fun to play. It's more or less a fighting game, which is great.
I never really enjoy all the extra modes and match types in wrestling games, because they're never as creative or interesting as they can be in actual wrestling. Most of the time they're just kind of lame. All Stars has a killer roster, plays great, and has moves that are way more over the top than could be pulled off in real life. It is game first, wrestling second, and that's the right order for me.
All Stars, definitely. The deepest, most revolutionary wrestling game since wrestling games went 3D with its unheard of approach of having varying playstyles betwen classes and further mixing things up for hybrid movesets within each. Such a breath of fresh air in a genre that is notoriously vanilla across the board when it comes to control. That, and it was the only wrestling title that was nearly perfectly balanced for competitive play outside a few glitched dlc moves that didn't get patched. Fantastic game.
Also, regardless of wrestling not being an actual sport, there's plenty of reasons to want and play a simulation of it. Fire Pro, arguably the best series in the wrestling genre is driven by its customization and A.I., so much so...most fans of the series just watch cpu matches of their creations battling it out (instead of playing) constantly tweaking their settings in hopes of them putting on a great match or have the occasional botch or reversal spot you rarely come across when you're actually in control.
Then there's the one good thing about the 2K series (outside its creation suite), and that's the core in-ring gameplay with all of its reversals and transitional animations. Which in combination with the right settings and difficulty can produce incredible back and forth matches (that you can actually take part in) that are the closest visual representations of real life contests out there.
It doesn't matter if it's a sim or arcade in nature, there's room for both as there are many different styles of wrestling out there, why shouldn't that also be the case in game form? With the industry's resurgence in popularity in recent years, and more studios getting in on the genre, hopefully they bring new ideas to the table of what a wrestling game can be and the styles of play even out a bit allowing something for everyone.
@shiftygism: To elaborate on what I said about it not being a sport so there being no need to simulate it; first of all I was only really talking about my personal tastes. If other people want a simulation that's not really an issue for me, I can just not play those games. But what I was really getting at is that I think it's weird that so many wrestling games are "realistic" in terms of what can happen in the ring when they shouldn't be tied to what can actually happen in a ring. It would be cool if more games actually simulated the nature of putting on a wrestling show (e.g. allowed you to book story lines, focused on collaborating with an opponent instead of trying to beat them etc...) but they don't do that. Instead they seek to simulate the thing being performed, and if they're doing that (which is something that's already not real) they should just go more over the top. Live wrestling performances are limited by the safety of the athletes and the human body but digital wrestling shouldn't be. It's different from simulating something like soccer, where part of the fun is the realism. All-Stars does a great job of this by giving us exaggerated versions of all the moves and letting people fling Andre the Giant around.
I'm just not personally interested in slavish simulation of something that isn't real in the first place. The fun parts of modern wrestling are the promos and storylines and the exciting athletic performances in ring. It seems like a lot of wrestling games are more interested in simulating what it would be like if it were an actual competition with people just punching each other and actually going for the pin. If the games want to simulate something they should simulate the in-ring storytelling and other stuff that real wrestling uses in a post-kayfabe world. But for the most part they don't.
@bigsocrates: "It would be cool if more games actually simulated the nature of putting on a wrestling show... focused on collaborating with an opponent instead of trying to beat them"
"The fun parts of modern wrestling are... the exciting athletic performances in ring."
"If the games want to simulate something they should simulate the in-ring storytelling"
That's just it, these are the very reasons why most wrestling simulation fans dig that style of game. It's not about winning or losing, Fire Pro fans mostly care about the match rating, and the only way to achieve that is if the two sides work together. It's very much about the give and take nature of the business and telling a story in the ring. They actually hammer this in with the later tutorial missions.
Even in the 2K games, you want a reversal heavy match, and the drama that comes with it. Their Universe mode also allows for more story driven aspects to work their way into the mix like backstabs and face/heel turns though they're still pretty basic in nature.
@liquiddragon: Some folks...including Austin Creed, actually prefer 2000 to No Mercy, believe it or not. Framerate was better, no memory wipe glitch, and it had The Big Show who was sent to developmental during the production of No Mercy. Both were great though, shame the WWF aligned themselves with Yukes exclusively once the next generation of consoles came around however.
WrestleMania X8 on the GameCube was my favorite wrestling game back in the day. I just loved how you could customize the superstar's attire, the feel of the game, and the overall roster. I'm not sure if that game holds up -- or if it was ever considered good -- but I sure LOVED it growing up!
@sethparmer: Its ok and was modeled after AKI's style of play, its sequel Wrestlemania XIX was incredible though as it had a really top notch creation suite including the first paint mode in a WWE game. Combine that with the unique non-wrestling locations and mission goals and you had what was essentially the first create-a-brawler until something like Disney Infinity came around. Great stuff. That then led to the awesome Day of Reckoning series which brought a more traditional story mode to the table...though those were kinda dull. So yeah, not the best game...but it laid the foundation for some really top notch followups.
WCW vs nWo World Tour was my first proper wrestling game, and the first time I got to experience the usefulness of 4 controller ports on the N64 at a friends sleep over. We spent the night just playing that game and it was great. The later WWF games were better (barring the save glitch in No Mercy) but that one is the one I look back on most fondly.
The real answer is Saint's Row The Third though, Murder Brawl was great.
World Tour/Revenge/WM 200/No Mercy is it for me. I played Revenge the most with my friends, but all of them were great.
I couldn't even tell you the last 2K game I've played. 3 years ago maybe? The gameplay on them for me has always, always been ass. Just never got into that style of play.
Special shoutout to the Def Jam games too, Vendetta and Fight for NY. Been nice to see them get a little resurgence lately.
WCW v nWo Revenge was my favorite. Def Jam Fight for NY, if you count it, was my second favorite.
As far as the debate, it is too bad that wrestling games have really almost never gotten at the nature of wrestling as a creative process but they are still fun for what they are (well, in theory).
A big part of me, including the part that immediately has an answer while the thread loads, wants to say NWO Revenge. But the smarter part of me, knowing a lot of that roster crosses over and most of the fat gets trimmed out, says WWF No Mercy. But then there's also the sentimentalist that says Smackdown! 2 because it had a decent "career" mode and I really loved how "real" it could feel to be involved in those feuds. It felt good enough I haven't played a wrestling game since.
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