WWF WrestleMania Challenge
I have here a copy of WWF Wrestlemania Challenge by LJN. Hmmm... LJN is a name that makes most classic gamers shudder. They are not very well liked and have a fairly bad reputation for producing shoddy games. In their defense, they did not actually create any of the games they released, they just distributed them and in fact, I can think of at least a couple of decent games that they put their name on (mainly Jaws and A Nightmare On Elm Street for the NES -- those were actually pretty good in my opinion).
This game was created by beloved game developers Rare, who just celebrated their 30th anniversary by releasing Rare Replay for the Xbox One. Wrestlemania Challenge was released in November 1990 November for North America and actually didn't get released in Japan until almost two years later. It was the second out of three official WWF games that were released on the NES.
So.... if LJN is arguably one of the worst publishers of all time and Rare is arguably one of the best developers of all time, then what do you get when the two "Megapowers" team up? I don't know "brother" but let's dust off this old cart and check it out!
GRAPHICS AND SOUND: First off, I like the cover art for this game. It's a nice layout and Andre the Giant looks particularly menacing. When the game starts, the title screen features the Ultimate Warrior. I remember that's who I always liked to use the most back when this game was released.
On the wrestler select screen, the wrestlers' thumbnail pics look really good. The roster here is really nice. It's a pretty small roster - eight guys - but that's to be expected from the limitations of the system. There is also a generic character called "Yourself" that you can chose to play as.
Once the action starts, all of the wrestlers are very recognizable. The theme music for each wrestler currently in the ring also plays throughout the match. One wrestler's music plays for a minute and then the opponent's music is played. All of the theme songs sound great as 8-bit music. The health bars for each wrestler are located on the ring skirt area which I think is a pretty clever way to incorporate them into the game.
The only animation they didn't get quite right was tagging in your partner. Instead of standing on the apron in your corner, your tag team partner just sort of wanders back and forth ringside and when you "tag" them there is no actual tag. You just leap from the ring and somehow, like a superhero, your partner does a standing jump from the floor, over the top rope and into the ring while landing on his feet.
GAMEPLAY: The gameplay is okay.....not terrible. It's a little strange that you can't walk and wrestle at the same time. To do any strike or move you have to be standing still which makes things somewhat difficult.
The move sets are varied but very small. Each grappler has a body slam, the Warrior's slam animation being his classic gorilla press slam. Then each wrestler has a variety of one grapple from behind, one ground attack, and a couple different strikes. There is also a "special move" for each wrestler that you can do by pressing both buttons on the controller at the same time.
Each grappler appears to be able to do their "finisher". For example, if you play with Brutus Beefcake or Rick Rude and grapple your opponent from behind, you can execute a sleeper hold or Rude Awakening respectively. Hacksaw Jim Duggan's old three-point stance tackle is even put into the game. There are different game modes like going after the singles or tag titles and even a Survivor Series elimination team match. All matches end up feeling kind of clumsy, though. You just walk around, hope to line yourself up right to be able to do a couple different moves over and over and either pin or be pinned.
VERDICT: WWF Wrestlemania Challenge ends up being a pretty average game. The highlight being the catchy 8-bit theme songs played during the matches. The worst part would be the repetitive somewhat clumsy matches themselves with only a few moves available per wrestler.
All in all it's a decent time waster for a few minutes or fun to play with friends but it's far from a "classic". It is a few steps above LJN's first WWF effort on the NES: WWF - Wrestlemania. I rate it +2 stars just for the roster and theme music alone.
Until next time..... keep mashing those buttons!