WWF Steel Cage Challenge
Sega Master System
About a month ago, I reviewed Super Wrestlemania for the Sega Genesis and well... let me just quote myself, "Also, it's possibly the only game to feature Papa Shango so, that makes it stand out a little bit more as well." I'm willing to admit when I'm wrong and I'm also smart enough to use the word "possibly" just for cases like this because since then, I've learned that Papa Shango is playable in WWE 2K17 and he's also playable in this more obscure version of WrestleMania: Steel Cage Challenge. For the record, I'm still looking for another game besides World Championship Wrestling that features Kevin Sullivan but I haven't found one yet.
Most of you, like myself, probably remember the NES version of this game but I ran across this version awhile ago and it's a little bit different than it's NES counterpart. You may also notice that I've done quite a few WWF game reviews but that's mostly because as a wrestling promotion, they were very prolific when it came to getting their games released. By comparison, WCW had only two games released in the 8-bit and 16-bit generations. One each for the NES and SNES respectively. That always annoyed me as a kid because I loved WCW (for better or worse) but their video games were few and far between. The WWF was also great and at least they produced more than enough video games to enjoy.
Wrestlemania: Steel Cage Challenge, just like Super WrestleMania, was developed by Sculptured Software and published by Flying Edge, an alias of Acclaim. It was released in 1993; very late in the Master System's lifespan. I'm pretty sure it was officially on life support at this point. It was also eventually released on Sega's handheld, the Game Gear. Steel cage matches had previously been seen in the classic arcade game WWF: WrestleFest but this was the first time a cage match was featured on a home console.
The first difference between this version of Steel Cage Challenge and the NES version that people are more familiar with is the roster. This is yet another similarity to Super WrestleMania; the Nintendo and Sega console versions feature a few different wrestlers. All versions of this game include the usual suspects of an early 90s WWF game like Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Ted DiBiase, I.R.S., Bret Hart and The Undertaker. The NES version also includes Jake Roberts, Sid Justice, Roddy Piper and The Mountie. The Sega versions of this game replace those superstars with Ric Flair, Papa Shango, Shawn Micheals and Tatanka. The music and various wrestler themes also sound a little different between the two console versions as well with the Nintendo one once again sounding what would be considered by most to be "superior" but the Master Systems audio has its charm, just like the Genesis always did. Ric Flair's classic theme sounds really cool here and The Undertaker's isn't so bad either.
Even though the game sounds pretty good, once you start the match, the only noises you hear are the "ring sounds" of punches, kicks and slams. No music. No audience noise. All of the matches do start with an introduction by Howard Finkel though and any cameo by "The Fink" is always a plus. The wrestler models used during the matches look decent but again probably look better on the NES version. I hate to always sound like I'm putting the Nintendo consoles over (I enjoy Sega, too) but it is what it is and small differences in quality like these and in the quality of the console's audio output are perhaps why Nintendo still makes consoles and Sega does not.
Neither version bothered to animate much of an audience though. They use the same old trick promoters used to use to hide a small, undersized crowd on television. They just "turn down the lights" so you can't see the audience. The modes of play available are the usual ones featured on 8-bit games. You can play single, tag team, and championship modes but the obvious selling point of this game is the steel cage match. We'll get to that in just a minute but the standard matches featured all feel the same as most WWF games at the time. The superstars all share one move set and there aren't any finishing moves available here. The only difference between the wrestlers are the look of their sprites. Back then this was acceptable and very common but it kind of sucks when Ric Flair controls the same and has all of the same moves as someone like Hulk Hogan who also happens to control just like Shawn Michaels. It makes you get bored a lot quicker than if they all had at least subtle differences or finishing moves.
Finally, we get to the selling point of this game; the cage match. Sadly but expectedly, this plays out like pretty much every other match on the game. There's really not much difference.
Sure, there's a cage surrounding the ring but it doesn't really come into play aside from irish whipping your opponent into it. Even then, it doesn't seem to do much damage. The wrestler who just crashed into the cage gets back up too quickly like the Ultimate Warrior "selling" a clothesline.... or attempting to sell any move for that matter. If memory serves me correct, the cage match in WWF WrestleFest was more fun to play but that could just be because it was a great arcade game and playing things in an arcade environment seems to make any game more fun. It must be something about trying to get your quarter's worth out of your play time.
These cage matches are also contested under the much disputed (at least by me) WWF cage match rules in which you don't pin your opponent; you just disable them temporarily and then sort of run away, climbing over the top of the cage. I've said many times that I prefer the old NWA cage match rule set but that's just a personal preference. Can't really complain about a WWF game that uses WWF rules, I guess. They also don't bother to animate the climb down the side of the cage to the floor. Your superstar just climbs the cage and sits on top with their arms raised. Considering that a lot of the drama of these matches comes from someone climbing the cage to the top only to be yanked down at the last second, they really should have finished the climbing animation and game play surrounding it.
All in all, I'd rate this game as average or even slightly below average on a "must play list". I've played some games that are worse, but there are far more classic wrestling titles that are much more fun to play. It's also very similar to all of the other 8-bit WWF games aside from the small difference of the cage match which we learned isn't much to write home about anyway. Aside from roster changes and only minor ones at that, all of the old 8-bit WWF games feel the same. As I said, even the roster didn't change that much. You could always count on Hogan, Savage, DiBiase and I.R.S. to be on these games, it seems. Regardless, I always enjoy playing an old game that I've never played before and I got to do that here so, it's not all bad. Just perhaps a little repetitive.
Until next time... keep mashing those buttons!