Genre: Sports Developer: Sega of Japan Publisher: Sega of America Players: 1-2 Released: 1991
Pro wrestling video games have a long varied history throughout the various console generations. Most prolifically in the 8 and 16-bit eras, publisher Acclaim was responsible for many WWF-based games, but back before Acclaim and the WWF became the norm for wrestling video games, Sega decided to take their chances in the ring with Wrestle War. Now, I know what you’re thinking and don’t be surprised that you’ve never heard of this game, due to the fact that Genesis owners never saw it on North American shores. With that being said, we should all be thankful that it wasn’t, because this is one frustrating and just plain boring wrestling game.
Originally an arcade game in 1989, Wrestle War puts you in the boots of Bruce Blade, a newcomer to the pro wrestling circuit who is working his way up the championship ladder. This is about as story based as the game gets, but we’re not here to play it for its story after all (and if you do play wrestling video games for story purposes, seek help). No, we’re here for all the action, all the cheap shots, all the flying off the top rope mayhem that we all know and love.
Sadly though, we’re looking in the wrong place, because Wrestle War offers little or nothing like any of that. Instead, we are left with some of the absolute worst controls imaginable in just about any game I’ve played in the Genesis/Mega Drive library. The characters move so stiffly and awkwardly that it’s almost like you’re fighting against the controller more so than your actual opponent. The most important feature of any video game is its controls, and here, Wrestle War fails miserably. Even just punching your opponent can prove to be not just annoying, but nearly impossible to pull off. I’m not even kidding, you’ll be sending your controller flying against the wall in frustration before you even manage to somehow win a match.
In addition to the abysmal controls, Wrestle War boasts an overly bland and just plain boring look. The ring and crowd people are typical stock type, nothing special in the least, but the wrestlers themselves at least appear to be somewhat inspired. You’ll take on wrestlers given monikers like “The Mohawk Kid” and “Sledge Hammer,” which shows that the developers had their tongues planted firmly in cheek when coming up with character ideas, and that in itself is a bit of a plus because this is pro wrestling after all. Other wrestlers, namely “Titan Morgan” and “Don Dambuster” are obviously modeled after industry icons Hulk Hogan and Legion of Doom member Road Warrior Hawk, which kind of adds to the overall appeal character-wise, but at the same time it just serves to remind you that what you’re playing is a cheap knock-off of the WWF license and everything that is included with it.
While Wrestle War barely manages to have enough originality to it, the package as a whole won’t keep you coming back for much else. You have to give Sega some credit though for never releasing Wrestle War in the States though. Apparently it wasn’t well-received enough (if at all) in Japan, Australia, and various parts of Europe to warrant getting released on the American Genesis, and considering that Acclaim’s WWF-licensed games were practically around the corner to hit the system, Sega made a wise move.
However, American gamers weren’t completely saved from this garbage known as Wrestle War, as it was included (for some reason, I still can’t figure out why) on the Sega Smash Pack, Vol. 1 compilation for Sega’s Dreamcast, which was released in the waning days of that cult-favorite console’s existence. Just for the sake of reasons to warn retro gamers: the emulation of Wrestle War on the Smash Pack ended up being even worse than the cartridge Mega Drive version if you can believe that.
To wrap things up, I can’t speak to Wrestle War’s faithfulness to its arcade brethren, for not only have I never played it in the arcade, but I can’t even recall once even seeing a Wrestle War arcade machine, and I was THE arcade rat when I was a kid growing up in the late ’80s/early ’90s. Regardless of that, I cannot stress enough the vital importance of avoiding Wrestle War if you ever come across it for whatever reason. No matter how cheap you may find it, no matter if you can play the import cart with ease, no matter how much you love vintage pro wrestling video games; avoid Wrestle War at all costs. Trust me, you’ll be glad that you did.