It's 1995 and Midway is king of the arcade with hits like NBA Jam and Mortal Kombat. You've been waiting to see what their next, sure to be amazing, offering will be. As you wake up one Saturday morning and make your way to the local arcade; you first spot this quarter eating monolith with it's joysticks freshly greased by the sweaty hands of teenagers. Was it as good as Midway's other arcade treasures? Was it worth investing your time and money into? We shall see...
The WWF made their first foray into the arcades in the late 80s, on the back of another great developer, Technos Japan. They developed and released the first two WWF arcade games; WWF Superstars and WWF WrestleFest. Both of these titles are widely considered classics. That, paired with the fact that Midway had created great games throughout the 80's and into the 90's almost assured that WWF WrestleMania would become a hit. Midway even promises in the arcade flyer that, "It's got brawls!". This is the same arcade flyer that has Bret Hart appear to be trying to hiptoss the arcade cabinent. It doesn't seem to be working though as the cabinent seems fixed to the floor like the proverbial "immovable object" it is.
As you know, I usually do "as advertised" here and go through my personal collection of retro wrestling games for my reviews but as much as I'd like to own this game; I do not own this or any full-sized arcade cabinets, sadly. I'm doing this review solely based on past experience as it hasn't been that long ago since the last time I ran into this game in the wild and was able to play it. For better or worse, I've spent quite a few dollars in this beast so I'm pretty familiar but anyway, that's enough back story. Let's get to the actual game.
If I haven't made it clear yet, we're reviewing "WrestleMania" which was a game released in the arcades not to be confused with "Wrestlemania - The Arcade Game" which is what it was called in it's various console ports. Those versions are more or less the same but there are some differences. Mostly the difference is that you're not packed into some sweat-box arcade with a bunch of grubby teenagers while playing the home console ports... but anyone who's ever played an arcade cabinet knows that being there, in the arcade, gives these games half of their atmosphere. It's just not the same playing at home.
Even though there aren't many differences in this game and it's home console counterparts; I still enjoyed playing this in the actual arcade much more than I enjoyed playing it alone in my house. Come to think of it; I guess you could recreate the "arcade feel" at home. You'd just have to tell your friends to not shower for about a week and then come over to hang out and hover over you, watching the screen intently, waiting for you to "run out of quarters" so then they can play.
When you first approach this game, while it's in it's "attract mode", you can see clips of gameplay footage to get a feel for what you're in for and also here a cool, digitized version of the classic WrestleMania theme. Once you decide to invest your money and feed the slots a quarter or two; you're taken to the wrestler select screen. Here, if you're playing a one player game, you can choose from one of eight superstars: Bret Hart, The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon, Bam Bam Bigelow, Yokozuna, Doink the Clown and Lex Luger. Adam Bomb was confirmed to originally have been a hidden, secret character but he was never fully finished or implemented into the game. Oddly, Diesel is not available as a playable character even though he was WWF Champion at the time. Poor, Kevin Nash.... always held back in the business by politics like this.
The game has one player modes consisting of chasing after the Intercontinental and the more difficult WWF Championship, and two player modes where you can either duke it out against another player or team up with them to go after the tag team belts. I mentioned before that Midway's two most recent arcade hits at the time were NBA Jam and Mortal Kombat, and if there's one thing that all three of these games have in common; it's speed. You really zoom around the ring here. Actually, this game is very similar to Mortal Kombat much like it's spiritual sequel, "WWF - In Your House", which I've previously reviewed.
Aside from speed, a lot of moves are cartoonish and over the top like Bam Bam Bigelow's fists catching on fire or Doink producing a giant mallet from thin air, "Tom and Jerry" style. Mortal Kombat was pretty famous for it's inclusion of blood in that game but here the superstars "bleed" objects that pertain to them. Literally, when you hit them, you see objects fly from their bodies. Razor Ramon "bleeds" razor blades and Bret Hart "bleeds" hearts and so on.
You can do some actual wrestling moves but mostly the matches consist of various strikes. Also, pinfalls don't really mean much in this game. Technically you go for pins and they end the match, but you only go for a pin automatically once you've depleted your opponents "health bar" and they never kick out. It's just a formality really. Each "match" or more accurately, each fight, consists of two out of three wins like Mortal Kombat and other fighting games at the time.
The graphics all look really great. Everything is digitized "Mortal Kombat style" so the wrestlers all really look like "themselves". Midway really seemed to have a patent on this style of graphics back then. It's a pretty good idea. If you digitize real images then you don't have to have good artists designing the likenesses of the various characters in the game. The audience here gets the same treatment. Most games get away with poor audience animations and graphics but here they're digitized just like the wrestlers and they're animated to stand and cheer and whatnot. It's really well done. I assume the members of the audience are some of the developers at Midway. They used to like to put themselves into their games through cheat codes in NBA Jam or the "Whoop-sieee!" guy that pops up from time to time in Mortal Kombat.
The in game music consists of the themes for the featured superstars but it also features, as sort of a bonus, the themes to WWF television shows like Monday Night RAW, Superstars and WWF Wrestling Challenge. Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler provide the somewhat limited commentary in the same style of one-liners featured in "WWF - In Your House". It's a nice touch but it doesn't really add much to the game.
Towards the end (of the review and the game) here we get a little weird but if you know me at all; that's just how I like it. Usually, you're more apt to find strange things in Japanese games like "Onita Atushi - FMW" but the superstar specific endings here rank pretty high on the "FMW scale" of weirdness. I hate to keep repeating myself here but once again, let's all say it together, this game is similar to Mortal Kombat in this aspect as well.
In MK, once you win the tournament, the game tells you what happens to your character after winning said tournament. In WrestleMania, once you defeat the other superstars and win the belt, the game tells you what happens to your superstar after winning said championship. The endings are really strange though and some are pretty morbid. For example, after winning the belt, Bam Bam Bigelow somehow gets in touch with his telekinectic powers which are featured in the game and shoots fire from his hands (a la the original Sheik) and burns the entire live audience to death and the entire arena to the ground! Doink has a celebration after his title win that involves an elephant that eventually tramples half of the audience but apparently the surviving audience members claimed to have "the time of their lives". In possibly the most "positive" end story....
"Shawn strutted around the ring arrogantly for several minutes, flexing and chewing his gum with an obnoxious smirk on his face. He had always bragged that he was the greatest thing to grace the World Wrestling Federation and now he has finally proven it. The ladies in the audience reached out their arms to him and screamed his name. With that, Shawn thought he'd be cute by teasing them with a little hip action. The ladies, in an uncontrollable, lust-crazed frenzy, stampeded the ring like cattle, trying to get a hold of him. Shawn scrambled to escape the clutches of the horde, but to no avail. They quickly cornered him and proceeded to ravish him, mercilessly. When they were through, Shawn was left lying motionless, sans his clothing and some hair, yet with a big ol' grin stamped on his face. He loved the attention and even more so, he loved the women. His craving for attention and multiple women led him to leave wrestling and become a politician, where he could get his fill of both."
Well, all things considered, this really IS a classic wrestling game for the arcades. Even if Midway sort of copied the same formula as Mortal Kombat when they developed this, at least they knew what worked. As an arcade title, meant to be played for usually a few minutes at a time until the mark moves on to the next cabinent, it works great! It's actually even a little better than that because it makes you want to play through the entire game multiple times to be able to see all of the crazy endings. I imagine this game made it's fair share of "allowance money" back in the day. I know it got some of mine. You might still be able to find it floating around somewhere out there, waiting to be played. Personally, I have a slight preference for the earlier, Technos Japan produced, WWF arcade games but this one is very solid as well. You really can't go wrong.
Until next time... keep mashing those buttons!