WCW vs. The World
"Control or conquer all your favorite WCW wrestlers - and their signature moves! Brawl your way to the top through the toughest wrestling organizations in the world, schooling the other bad boys with all the punishing holds, blows and throws you've cheered to on TV. Only the strongest will bring home the belts!"
I've said it many times before; WCW didn't release many games early on. They released only two in the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. Granted, those two (World Championship Wrestling for the NES and WCW Superbrawl for the SNES) were pretty good, but they were the only ones for a long time except for maybe a handheld title or two. Once WCW strted to heat up in the late 90s with Sting in his "Crow gimmick" and the nWo in full swing, all that changed. As the Monday Night War escalated and WCW started to nudge ahead in television ratings, they began to release console games on a more regular basis. This was their first "comeback release" so to speak (released in February 1997) and it was a pretty strong one.
WCW vs. the World was the first game developed by the famous (in pro wrestling video game circles, at least) AKI Corporation that was released outside of Japan. At the time, they were known as "The Man Breeze". That sounds like a pretty laid-back company to me... or perhaps just three random, English words strung together. Yeah, that's more likely.
Anyway, our friends at (the now defunct) THQ were responsible for publishing this and this was also the second professional wrestling game released for the Sony Playstation following Power Move Pro Wrestling, which I'm looking forward to reviewing in the future. In Japan, it was originally known as Virtual Pro Wrestling and it featured some WCW wrestlers (or at least unlicensed versions of them) but some of the roster was different.
In fact, a better title for this game might be WCW vs. Japan because that's basically what it is; WCW wrestlers taking on each other and the top Japanese stars of the time. It's a nice concept for a wrestling game and it really works well here. Although it only features 14 WCW superstars it also features 39 other superstars of Japanese pro wrestling! This was the first North American release that I recall to start the trend of packing a lot of wrestlers onto games. As we know, in the "dark ages", you were lucky to have 8-10 wrestlers to pick from on your favorite wrestling cartridge but here, with fancy, new "disk technology", they were able to (or at least willing to) give us 53! That was huge at the time even though when I first purchased this, when it was released, I assumed two-thirds of the roster were generic wrestlers and didn't realize that they were Japanese wrestling stars in disguise. 53 wrestlers to choose from was still a gigantic roster!
Let's go ahead and break down the roster in a little more detail. To start with, you have the WCW wrestlers and there's a good mix of stars here. You have the top talent consisting of Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and Sting and then you have the folks who were considered mid-card but whom were probablly the real top talent. Folks like Dean Malenko, Ultimo Dragon and Lord Steven Regal mixed in with some others. Jeff Jarrett is also an unlockable character for some reason. Usually unlockable characters are the coolest ones so it makes you want to continue playing to be able to unlock them. In the Japanese version of this game, Dynamite Kid is unlockable. Here they just give you ol' slapnuts himself. I share the same opinion of Jeff Jarrett as Jim Cornette has; "He's broken more guitars then he's ever put asses in seats."
Now we move into the "stars of Japanese wrestling that are thinly disguised as generic wrestlers" section of the roster and I do mean very thinly disguised in some cases. For example, Tatsumi Fujinami's character is named Fujigami so, it doesn't take a genius to figure out most of the grapplers real life counterparts which is actually a nice thing. Playing back then, I think the first people I realized were based on real people were Sabu's and Dr Death Steve William's characters of "David Harley" and "Siberia". Oh, and you can ALWAYS spot the Great Muta on sight alone no matter how they try to present him. He's not hiding anywhere. One more amusing thing about the roster is the fact that Ken Shamrock's character is named "Sherlock - The World's Most Dangerous Detective". Okay, I added that last part. Still, Sherlock was a good but somewhat odd name the developers came up with for him. The odd thing is though is his portrait for his character looks a lot like Disco Inferno. Even Bas Rutten is featured here going by the alias "Thunder Dome" which I always assumed was an amusing dig at the combination of his bald head and they fact that he punches and kicks extremely hard.
The game starts up (as a lot tend to do for the last couple of decades) with real footage of WCW wrestlers in action. Once you get to the wrestler select screen; it's passable. For some reason, all of the WCW wrestlers portraits are drawn while all of the other wrestlers portraits are digitized images of how they appear in game. Except for Ken Shamrock. Like I said, his portrait looks like a drawing of Disco Inferno for whatever reason.
The modes you can choose from after you select your wrestler are pretty standard for Japanese games but somewhat unique for the North American audience at the time. There's lot's of tournament and league options and even the option to create your own title, save it to your memory card and then take it to your friend's house to put it on the line in a title vs title match. You and your friends could live out your very own Jerry Lawler/Kerry Von Erich situation and put both of your belts up to unify a World Champion!
You can also pick from a few different ring mat designs for your matches. Oddly enough, the WCW ring design is one of WCW Pro which wasn't their flagship show by a longshot. When the matches start, the wrestler models look really good for the time this was released. Early polygon graphics never age well though and these are no exception. By today's standards, the wrestlers look pretty blocky and hard edged and the faces and outfit designs just look blurry and out of focus. Still, compared to what was basically the only other "3-D polygon" wrestling game at the time, Power Move Pro Wrestling, this looked good and comparable to that. Eddy Guerruo looks a little short and thick though. Reminds me somewhat of one of my "favorite" luchadores, El Dandy....
Anyway, there are a lot of taunts in this game and all of the moves look crisp and seem to have real impact. It does help that the sound effect that accompanies you slamming someone to the mat also sounds really good. The usual "health bar" you see in most older wrestling games is replaced here with a "spirit meter" that sort of measures the momentum of your wrestler in the match. This way, if you start to make a comeback, you can "regain your health" in order to finish your opponent off. It works pretty well and serves to imitate the back and forth struggle of a great match.
As far as gameplay goes, it's a little awkward at first. The controls are different then most modern wrestling games started to use soon after this release but you can't really fault the developer for this. They were still sort of feeling their way around and the controls on AKI games after this got much more intuitive. After you get used to it, it's not so bad. Nowhere near a "game breaker", just a little hurdle to overcome in this classic. It's still far better than the controls for ECW Hardcore Revolution which came out much later. The controls in that game; we cannot excuse. They should have known better at that point. Also, if you compare this game to the first 3-D WWF game (WWF Warzone), all it's missing is some control tweaks and some unintentionally funny Ahmed Johnson promos.
Altogether I'd say this is a classic title in the annals of pro wrestling video games. It really helped to usher in the new wave of 3-D polygons and show the possibilties of what you could pack into a pro wrestling title at the time. AKI always took a lot of time and care with their wrestling games and it shows here as well. Aside from WWE produced games, they were probably the number one wrestling video game developer for the PS1 and N64 with multiple classic titles in their library. In some of the later games, they even featured their own makeshift mascot AKIman as a playable character. I say that they deserved to pat themselves on the back like that, Barry Horowitz style.
Until next time, keeping mashing those buttons!