Lee Maughan: Hosted by Todd Pettengill because it’s the mid-90s and irritating cretins in waistcoats are en vogue.
Developed by Midway and published on home consoles in August, 1995 by Acclaim, WWF WrestleMania was hardly what you would call a “wrestling game.” In fact, it very closely resembled one of Midway’s biggest smash hits, the gore-fuelled beat-em-up Mortal Kombat. The problem with that was twofold. Firstly, wrestling fans desired a wrestling game, not Mortal Kombat-lite. Secondly, Mortal Kombat aficionados generally found the lack of fatalities, vibrant characters and replacement of blood with comedy items like love hearts too soft to stomach. The game was met with generally mixed reviews, the most common negatives being the lack of replay value and the sparse roster, though some did praise the madcap action of the title. Levi Buchanan of IGN retrospectively called the SEGA 32X port of it “a breezy, brainless brawler that will disappoint any wrestling fan looking for a hardcore experience”, awarding it a rather mediocre 5.5 out of 10. That’s **¾ to you and me, or precisely as good as Randy Savage vs. IRS from WWF Wrestling’s Hottest Matches.
Pettengill proudly announces that the game spent two years in production. Two years for a paltry eight characters, or nine if you accept those long-running rumours about Adam Bomb having been secretly coded into the game only to be removed after quitting the WWF before the production deadline. In 2011, one of the game’s developers, Sal DiVita, apparently confirmed Bomb’s existence whilst doing promotional interviews for WWE All Stars, a game on which he was lead designer. According to xboxaddict.com, DiVita refused to divulge any information on how to obtain Bomb, claiming the character was incomplete and there was no sense in trying to unlock him. Sadly, as of the printing of this book there remains no concrete evidence to support these claims, and whilst one theory abounds that Bomb’s moveset was coded into the game before his sprite could be created, resulting in his becoming wrestling’s Invisible Man, it appears on the surface to have been nothing more than a long-standing myth. Pettengill helpfully explains some game jargon: “You guys know ’bout fully-rendered digitised graphics, don’t you? Well, if you don’t… duh! It only means the wrestlers look life-like!” he declares, as Razor Ramon cripples Yokozuna with a jumping piledriver. Oh yes, very life-like.
Next, it’s TNT resurrected as Bret Hart trundles around Acclaim’s warehouse on a forklift truck… in his wrestling tights… and a TIE! That’s comedy gold. From there, it’s off to Midway HQ, and the sight of the ‘Hitman’ walking down the street in his wrestling gear, leather jacket and famous pink sunglasses whilst lugging a briefcase beside him raises another chuckle. There’s just something about seeing pro wrestlers in their ring attire whilst in otherwise unrelated circumstances that always cracks me up. In a way, it almost makes me understand Duke Droese, T.L. Hopper and the rest, all those terrible second career characters that infested the promotion in the mid-90s. Clearly Vince McMahon’s mindset was that you were what you were, and that didn’t change. The binman shows up to wrestle dressed like a binman, the plumber dressed like a plumber. Naturally, since Bret was a wrestler, he showed up to program a video game still just dressed like a wrestler. There’s a really charming Saturday morning naivety to that.
Bret follows Pettengill’s lead and calls the game “more exciting and real than anything you’ve ever seen.” What, more real than actually watching wrestling? Bear in mind that he says this whilst animating a GIGANTIC hand on Doink, like a Hulk Hogan foam finger on steroids. Perhaps BIGGER equals MORE exciting? On the other hand (boom boom), it’s entirely possible he was trying to make it life-size. “Come on guys, Doink’s six foot tall, not two inches!” Further expertise gets passed along to a team of development boffins: “You’re dereferencing a null pointer, open your eyes!” One of the nerdy Midway guys gets slapped in the back of the head for making such a rudimentarily complex error. The sound engineer also comes in for Bret’s wrath when he screams down a microphone and blows the poor sod’s ears out, before moving onto a Yamaha organ and playing a tune that would put Billy Preston or Jean Michel Jarre to shame. Of note here, a Sonic the Hedgehog plush pinned to the wall, marking quite possibly the only time two of my childhood idols, Bret Hart and Sonic the Hedgehog, ever shared screen-time together.
Next, in-game tips from Bam Bam Bigelow, who’s first move is called the “neck bender”, though clearly it’s a running neck breaker. Given that Stan Lane used that very term on a previous tape, one wonders if the WWF had sent down a family-friendly censorship edict that a “neck breaker” had to be softened to a “neck bender”? It wouldn’t surprise me. Bigelow’s sprite sets the Undertaker on fire (not entirely unbelievable in the wacky world of pro wrestling actually) then bends his neck some more with a “pogo pilvedriver.” Seriously, if you’re a backyard wrestler with a trampoline for a ring and you’re not using the pogo piledriver for a finisher, then you’re a moron. Having said that, if you’re a backyard wrestler with a trampoline for a ring, you’re probably already using it as a transitional move to impress internet dorks anyway. “U guys shud be in WWE! LOL! Betta than John Cena, Cenation SUX! 4Lyf” – YouTube.
Pettengill meanwhile offers up some useful advice; “When you’re facing multiple opponents, try to get them close to each other so they’ll strike one another when they try to hit you!” Except none of the in-game footage illustrates that point, nor even comes close to doing so, which makes me think Bret might have also been the one to provide the demonstration footage, especially given his pitiful attempts to play the PSX port of In Your House with his kids on the Wrestling With Shadows documentary. Sure, he built WrestleMania: The Arcade Game from the ground up in just a few weeks using only his bare hands, but clearly video games had moved on substantially in the 15-months between the release of those two titles. It’d be like trying to grips with the mechanics of Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest when the only thing your entire gaming history has consisted of is single-handedly programming Donkey Kong Country, or like trying to play Call of Duty 4 when all you’ve known your entire life is clinging desperately to Wrestle Jam ’88.
Undertaker joins the party next, his sprite incarnate dazzling with a sliding chokeslam. I think I’d just about die laughing if the real Undertaker ever did that in real life, kind of like the time on SmackDown! when the Rock hit that sliding People’s Elbow on the British Bulldog. And lets be honest, dying seems like the most appropriate response where someone named “The Undertaker” would be concerned. Other guffaws include his 10-hit combo ending with him belting Bigelow with an electrified tombstone, and the ‘Dead Man’ uttering the words “Demon Dizzy” in the most deadpan manner possible. DEADpan. Because he’s an Undertaker. ZOMG!
Bret returns to tell us about his piledriver, which is actually a shoulderbreaker, and clue us in to his 16-hit combo. Why, when he programmed this game entirely alone on what I believe was a typewriter, would he only gave himself a 16-hit combo? Modesty? No, it’s because he has two of them for a combined combo tally of 32. Hart truly was the excellence of attribution.
Pettengill returns to deliver details on Lex Luger’s special moves, owing to the fact Luger had bolted back to WCW around the time of the game’s release, though too late in the day for his fully-rendered digitised graphic to have been canned. Hilariously, Luger’s animated 20-hit combo looks just as wooden as if the real deal himself were performing it. Maybe this game really is more realistic and life-like than ever. I have to ask though; why is his finishing move called “The Morning Star”? What the hell does that even mean, and how is it related to Luger? Maybe it was in reference to the meaning of Lucifer’s name, owing to the belief that while the morning star may be the first light of dawn, the sun (represented by God) will eventually rise and make all the other stars obsolete in its brilliance. On the other hand, the Urban Dictionary lists it as “when one male/female takes their tightly puckered, star-shaped anus and places it on the nose of a sleeping victim” so it’s your call on which explanation you’d rather believe.
Say hello to the Pad Guy! Controller pads? No? I’d get my coat but I’ve yet to ponder why Razor Ramon saying the words “rug shaker” has very clearly been dubbed out, so here goes; Why has Razor Ramon saying the words “rug shaker” so very clearly been dubbed out? With that out of the way, I’d also like to ponder these follow-up questions; 1. Why did Razor get a 24-hit combo when nobody else got to break 20? That hardly seems fair. 2. Having spent the better part of a year as WWF champion, why wasn’t Diesel included as a character in this game? From looking at the roster, my best guess would be it having had something to do with the development taking two years, as you’ll notice all the wrestlers who made the cut were already top stars for the WWF in 1993. Did I say two years? I meant two weeks, right Bret?
Pettengill returns to talk about Doink’s electric joy buzzer, and give a thorough run-through of Yokozuna’s special moves since Yokozuna’s gimmick was that he didn’t speak English and Mr. Fuji’s gimmick was that he didn’t speak sense. I think. So well done, Coliseum Video, you rustled up a scenario in which Todd Pettengill was actually the preferred presenter for something. A tarty apple pie for Marty Applebaum in having achieved the previously unfathomable. “When you’re out of the ring, throw your opponent into the guard rail!” Oh Todd, bastion of fair play.
Things close out with Shawn Michaels running through a list of his moves, but I have to question why he was given a baseball bat as a secret weapon. Couldn’t they have come up with something a little more character appropriate, like a mirror? Maybe if it had been Sid with a softball bat I could have let it slide. Slide right into first base… How terrifically referential was that? Anyway, if you still need help performing some of these great combos, why not give Midway’s helpful hotline staff a bell on 1-516-759-7800? Go on, you should totes do it!
Raw on the Roof
WWF production guru David Sahadi (who would later go on to work with ROH and TNA) recounts that he was sat in an edit room production meeting at 1am in the morning when somebody asked “What if we put a ring on top of the roof at Titan Tower?” And thus, 1995s opening credits for Monday Night RAW were conceived. Vince McMahon declares the entire concept “a real hoot” before lovingly putting over Kerwin Silfies for producing the show every week, then making fun of his white socks and diminutive stature. A crane (the machine, not the bird) lugs the ring parts up the side of WWF HQ as Kevin Dunn (booo!), the most influential figure in wrestling from the 80s and onwards not named McMahon, calls RAW “the most unpredictable show on television, bar none.” I wonder if he’d still echo those sentiments into the program’s three hour era? In character, Owen Hart says he doesn’t know what’ll happen up on the roof (hopefully Robson and Jerome won’t be there) and he might go a little nuts, and in a rather curious little moment, Razor Ramon, Diesel and Fatu stand around and throw up what would become known as the Wolfpac hand signal, before they begin howling in the dark at each other.
A rare treat next as Barry Didinksy makes quite possibly his only non-PPV Coliseum appearance, his toupee being yanked off to reveal a very pronounced slaphead. For those who don’t remember Didinsky, he was a WWF huckster pitchman, most notably at SummerSlam ’95 where he hawking merchandise for Barry Horowitz and Shawn Michaels. He also appeared on TV, routinely pushing WWF Mad Caps and the like. Mad Caps? POGs as you, I and Steve Allen would call them. “Behold, the ultimate POG!” Maybe that’s why Allen wound up having so many personal problems with the WWF, and the PTC was just a front for a personal vendetta against Mad Caps? Mad Caps, POGs… either way, I was into the craze as much as any kid in the mid 90s. “Bart, look! I got some cool POGs… Mantaur POGs. Remember Mantaur? He’s back! In POG form.” The WWF actually did a survey in late 1995 for marketing research purposes, asking fans which on-screen personality they would most like to see get powerbombed, and Didinsky topped the poll. He was fired not long after and eventually became a professional poker player. I wonder if he used his Mad Caps as collateral to raise his initial stakes?
The finished title sequence runs, and that’s it.
Summary: In a world of YouTube and beyond, it’s easy to pull up full playthroughs for those epic, time consuming games where you just can’t figure out how to grab that last collectible that’ll push your score up to 100% and bag you that precious, platinum trophy. Back in 1995, this was one of the few equivalents for that, most games of the day coming with tie-in strategy guide books but very few with actual videotapes. Unfortunately, given how shallow WrestleMania: The Arcade Game was, it wasn’t exactly a game that needed a visual guide to get you through it. The proof was in the padding, as the main feature only runs a paltry 14 minutes, with a good chunk of that being gobbled up by the Bret Hart skit. At best, this was cheap, video rental store fodder, or the kind of thing you’d find bundled with the actual game from a store that had overstocked its wares. But who could this possibly appeal to retrospectively speaking? Anyone interested in hearing Undertaker gargle the words “Demon Dizzy” or listening to mid-90s pro wrestlers regurgitating the words “power punch” and “power kick” over and over in marginally different combinations ad nauseum I suppose, and that’s got to be a small, small market. The Raw on the Roof piece is fairly interesting if you’re into behind the scenes production and things like that, particularly as it comes from a much more protected era when seeing wrestlers outside an arena was still a rare thing, but it’s nothing you should actively seek out to see, nor is it something you’d ever want to see more than once at absolute most. Ultimately, I can’t give this tape anything but three thumbs down, even with my own Shawn Michaels-branded, Barry Didinsky-pitched, heart-shaped, rose-tinted nostalgia glasses firmly attached (to order YOUR own pair of Shawn Michaels-branded, Barry Didinsky-pitched, heart-shaped, rose-tinted nostalgia glasses, just call 1-900-TITAN-91 with your credit card details and for one cool payment of $79.95, you too can be the envy of playground bullies everywhere!)