"Digitized video action. Wrestle real WWF stars featuring Hulk Hogan"
This week, we take a look at the first ever, licensed WWF game, MicroLeague Wrestling. This game was released for the Commodore 64 in 1987 and was part of the MicroLeague Sports series. Well, to be fair, I don't believe it was much of a series. The only other game in the series seems to be MicroLeague Baseball so, prolific it was not. It was however programmed by Subway Software and published by MicroLeague Multimedia Inc.
The game starts up with a "do not try this at home" disclaimer screen which is pretty rare for a video game. It's basically just telling you to please not "humble" your little brother by applying the Iron Sheik's dreaded Camel Clutch to him in your living room. Depending on which side of the disc you insert, you can play one of two matches. I know that sounds a little strange but bear with me. This game is set up differently than most.
Most of us think of games utilizing "digitized images" as being released later on in the 90s and beyond. Games like, Mortal Kombat, Night Trap, and even WWF: In Your House, as far as games in the pro wrestling genre go. Micro League Wrestling, however, is perhaps the first game to utilize such a thing. The digitized images in this game, though, are fairly rudimentary at best. Everything is presented as a slideshow of images that gives the illusion of rough animation. Don't get me wrong, the images look decent by 1987 standards but the animation itself is pretty rough. People complain nowadays if a game runs at 30fps compared to 60fps. By comparison, this game probably, literally runs slower .5fps! There's a frame every few of seconds or so.
As I mentioned, you can compete in one of two matches depending on which side of the disc you insert. One side features Hulk Hogan vs. Randy Savage and the other side features a match contested between Hulk Hogan and "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff. Each match starts with "Mean" Gene Okerlund interviewing the combatants. After each grappler is done with his schpiel, Howard Finkel handles the ring announcing.
Prior to the ring announcements, there's a menu in which you can personalize the name of the arena that the superstars are wrestling in. So, if you want the Fink to announce that the match is taking place in Madison Square Garden or even "Uncle Ted's backyard", you're able to do so. There are decent renditions of the various wrestler's themes on the game. Randy Savage's old theme of "Pomp and Circumstance" sounds particularly good.
If we're going to bring up the sound, though, there are some negative aspects we should talk about. Like, why is there this horrible sound like someone sanding something with sandpaper during the pre-match interviews? It sounds annoying and loud and I'm not sure why they didn't just leave that part of the game silent. Maybe it was some sort of programming glitch. It's out of place and nerve-wracking so I'm pretty sure it's not just something the programmers added on purpose to create some sort of effect. There is a similar noise that occurs during the matches but at least we can chalk that up as a poor representation of "crowd noise".
Getting back to the "action".... this has got to be the slowest game I have ever seen! I don't just mean the framerate, either. Everything is like it's in slow motion. It takes a good minute or two for the wrestlers to "walk that aisle" (as Ric Flair likes to say) to get into the ring. Again, being digitized, it looks pretty nice. It just seems to take an eternity. Picture one of The Sandman's old, drawn-out ECW entrances where he stopped to drink beer with some of the fans and you get a general idea.
Once the wrestlers enter the ring and begin the match, right away you can tell that this isn't your standard wrestling game. This game is set up to be more like a wrestling simulation and it actually plays like an old-school, turn-based strategy game. The middle of the screen is where you see the match actually take place. The bottom of the screen displays the commentary team of either Vince McMahon and Bruno Sammartino or Vince and Jesse "The Body" Ventura. They provide little quips of text throughout the match. On the sides of the screen, you see lists of both wrestlers available moves.
To play, you pick a move you want to try from the list and your opponent (human or AI) does the same. Then, the game apparently picks which one of the moves is successful based on your opponents move choice, the situation in the match and various other things. Whichever move is deemed as being "successful" is then shown slowly, frame by frame, in the part of the screen designated for showing the action of the match itself.
As you can tell, the matches take place at the same snail's pace as the rest of the game. That's not to say that it's not fun, though. This game is just not "action-oriented". I can appreciate being laid back and playing a game that doesn't require super-fast hand-eye coordination every once in a while, though. Nothing wrong with that.
There's strategy to this game, if you bother to put in enough time to learn it. Each wrestler has a set of weak and medium moves and a super move that must be used in order to be able to attempt a pin. Face wrestlers can also try to hype up the crowd in order to get some of their health back and heels can cheat but at a risk of being disqualified. Basically, the matches go on, move vs move, until there's a winner. Then, you can replay the match, perhaps using the other available wrestler, or flip the disk over and try out the other match.
Later, in 1988, two expansion discs (which you younger fans can think of as sort of an ancient form of DLC) were released that featured four new playable matches; two per disk. These were known as the WWF Superstar Series. The first expansion featured Randy Savage vs The Honky Tonk Man and Hacksaw Jim Duggan vs King Harley Race. The second expansion featured Hulk Hogan vs Ted DiBiase and Jake Roberts vs Rick Rude. Finally, in 1989, there was a DOS version released with improved graphics and different matches. After this release, the series was discontinued because the WWF was more interested in licensing itself out for console games as opposed to PC games.
I had some fun with this one. Obviously, it's very different and takes some getting used to but, as a fan of turn-based strategy games, I really enjoyed it. It has a nice presentation and interesting graphics. I also enjoyed the laid back pace of it all. If you're looking for an action-packed wrestling game, though, this wouldn't be one that I'd recommend picking up. On the other hand, if you're looking to try something new, you can't go wrong with this one.
Until next time... keep mashing those buttons!