Every spring, I look forward to WWE’s Wrestlemania with all of its pomp and circumstance. Unfortunately this year, with recent CDC guidelines that restrict public gatherings to under 50 people, it looks like for the first time since 1985, we won’t have a Wrestlemania to enjoy this year. Thinking about a year without Wrestlemania, it’s caused me to reflect on the WWE/F and the Wrestlemania’s of years gone by, and it brought to mind my all-time favorite arcade game… Technos’ 1991 classic WWF Wrestlefest!
Growing up, my older brother and I both played ice hockey for a handful of teams, and it seemed like we were always at the ice rink. My parents would often drag me along for his games when all I wanted to do was stay home and watch TV or play with my action figures. Looking back now, I had a lot of fun at that ice rink, both on and off the ice. During my brother’s game, I’d spend my time wandering around the central lobby of the ice rink. The central area was pretty standard with a small snack bar and a big screen TV that was always set to the local FOX station. In the early 90s, my parents had bought the hype that The Simpsons was causing the downfall of polite society and had banned it from our house, but at the ice rink, I would often catch an episode or two of the afternoon reruns on that lobby TV. Just to the right of the snack bar was a bank of payphones (remember those?) and a small little game corner with a couple of older arcade games and a lone pinball machine. If an episode of The Simpsons wasn’t on, I’d happily take a handful of quarters over to the arcade corner and go from one game to the next.
Then, one day I wandered over to the game corner, and among the old games that I had played a hundred times was a new one standing front and center. It was bright, colorful, and featured professional wrestling! From then on, I saved up all of my quarters (and begged Mom and Dad for more) and looked forward to my brother’s next hockey game. WWF Wrestlefest quickly became my all-time favorite arcade game.
Released by Technos in 1991, Wrestlefest was a sequel of sorts to a similar style game called WWF Superstars. Wrestlefest was much improved in that it added a much more extensive roster of wrestlers and boasted enhanced graphics and sounds. There were also more recorded real voices used, including ‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund, and the at-the-time groundbreaking pre-match introductions by the then-WWF ring announcer Mike McGuirk.
Wrestlefest added two additional player spots over Superstars, allowing for four-player games. The four players could simultaneously participate in two different modes of play. My favorite was the new Royal Rumble mode, where you would pick one wrestler and must take them through the entire Rumble match against a string of wrestlers featuring the whole roster. The other, Saturday Night’s Main Event mode, players must pick two wrestlers to create a tag team and take them through a series of matches, eventually leading to a Title match against the Legion of Doom.
New for Wrestlefest, the game also allowed for numerous double team power moves and the ability to collect power points and “power-up” towards your finishing maneuver, which has been used for practically every wrestling game since then.
As a kid in the 90s, the visuals on the game were stunning. That era of the WWF was quite similar to watching a colorful Saturday morning cartoon, and Wrestlefest’s colorful visuals turned these real-life pro wrestlers into larger than life animations. Different from WWF Superstars just two years prior, Wrestlefest featured a much brighter color palette and smoother graphics and a larger wrestler move-set than just kicks and punches. To me, the wrestlers looked very similar to their real-world self compared to the simpler graphics of previous wrestling games.
The cast of characters in this game included ten selectable wrestlers. Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, and Big Boss Man returned from the previous Superstars game.
Newly included in Wrestlefest were Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Earthquake, Mr. Perfect, Sgt. Slaughter, Demolition Smash, and Demolition Crush. The Legion of Doom (Hawk and Animal) appeared in the game as a non-selectable boss-level tag team.
Admittedly, the gameplay was relatively limited when you compare it to a modern game, but looking back, that was what made it so appealing to us kids. It was kept simple and not overcomplicated like some games can be today. You could kick, punch, and grapple. Grapple holds would turn into one or two extra maneuvers aside from your finisher or the previously mentioned double team power move. WWF Wrestlefest was targeted at wrestling fans, but, was so bright and colorful and simple enough to play and understand that it appealed to anyone who enjoyed video games.
Today, this game is still playable if you search online for a few seconds and understand how to use ROMS and Emulators. In 2012, THQ released a remake of the game for mobile platforms featuring both current and former wrestlers along with the updated “WWE” moniker. While fun, it did not live up to the charm and nostalgia of the original.
Did you play Wrestlefest or have memories of another wrestling arcade game? What was your favorite game, wrestling or otherwise? Leave a comment below!