So AEW Fight Forever is finally coming out after a development time that felt on par with LA Noire and with the hype gathering as the release date comes closer and with discussion on where AEW’s first foray into the wrestling game sphere ranks amongst the great wrestling games, we look at the greatest grapple games of all time.
So what is going to separate Smackdown: Here Comes The Pain from WCW Backstage Assault. We will be using the following factors
Reviews from websites and magazines such as Metacritic, IGN, Gamespot and Electronic Gaming Monthly
Comparisons to games from the same generation of consoles
Comparisons of rosters
Feedback from fellow PWMusings writers and twitter followers and my personal opinions
The opinions of YouTubers in the wrestling/video games space.
So with hopefully less glitches than WWE 2K20 let’s look at the best of the best in Wrestling Video Games
But before we start the Top Ten, I need to say that I came up with a shortlist of 15 games that I narrowed down to the Top Ten. So here are our honorable mentions.
WCW vs nWo Revenge is WCW’s greatest game. It actually sold more copies than No Mercy at 1.88 million and our feedback from colleagues/twitter followers was positive about this game but the better reviews for the WWE games that were part of the fifth generation of consoles put this outside the Top Ten. I also touch on another reason for the games exclusion later in this article.
Fire Pro Wrestling Returns/FP World certainly has vast rosters with 377 and 110 wrestlers on Returns and World’s rosters respectively but while the idea of playing as Kenta Kobashi, Mitsuharu Misawa, Stan Hansen, Jumbo Tsuruta, Antonio Inoki, Keiji Mutoh and Rikidozan sounds fantastic, it’s review scores are lower than all the Top Ten games so its ranks just outside .
WWE 2K14 has an awesome History of WrestleMania feature and a roster which is stacked but with the worst Metacritic rating amongst our shortlist at 75 and worst Gamespot number at 6/10 it couldn’t get into the Ten.
SmackDown: Shut Your Mouth was also popular with contributors to my poll with it’s release being so close to Here Comes The Pain being a year after Shut Your Mouth and 7 of the Top Ten having come out between 1997-2003 sometimes you just need to spread the love.
So now that is out of the way, let’s look at our Top 10 (or is it 11?) Wrestling Video Games of all time (until AEW Fight Forever comes along)
1- No Mercy (N64)
The fact that the director of No Mercy, Hideyuki Iwashita, 23 years after the release of No Mercy is on board as a consultant for Fight Forever tells you of the impact and importance of our No.1.
The final licensed wrestling game made by AKI (the Def Jam wrestling hybrid games were also made by AKI) No Mercy is the standard bearer that every wrestling game since has been compared to
"To this day, I still hear, 'Why can't you make the new WWE games like No Mercy,' and I don't think I'm ever going to stop hearing that. It's 13 years old and we still get compared to No Mercy – how we compare to No Mercy's game play, and how they want us to bring back No Mercy on Xbox Live".
—Cory Ledesma, then-creative director of WWE Games, in 2013
No Mercy ranked at No.1 in Dan of Geek, WrestlingINC, Culture Vultures and Cageside Seats’ Greatest Wrestling Games List. It’s Metacritic rating of 89 is only bettered by one game.
The career mode might be one of the most comprehensive in the history of wrestling games and it's Smackdown Mall feature puts games 20 years after to shame with how complete it is.
Even the controversial “save bug” error that came with the initial release can’t remove No Mercy from the top spot
2- Smackdown 2- Know Your Role (PS)
This game is my personal favourite wrestling game. I still remember playing this game at the age of 15 and obsessing over the Ladder Match stipulation and how fun those matches were (one particular Shane McMahon vs Undertaker match I played would have got the ***** treatment from Dave Meltzer) but the high ranking isn’t due to my personal preference.
I mentioned above that only one game had a higher Metacritic score than No Mercy’s 89. It was Smackdown 2 with its 90.
Reviews from the time also rated Smackdown 2 better than No Mercy.
With several new game types to play with Casket Match, Hell In A Cell, Ironman, Table and Special Referee (which is great in 3 player mode) even with a career mode that drags with loading screens that lasted as long as an Ironman Match in the game, this game is one of the greatest games that involves wrestling ever.
3- Smackdown- Here Comes The Pain (PS2)
While us Xbox players had to deal with the RAW games, the Playstation side of the 6th generation got the better end of the stick in the brand split of RAW and Smackdown in the video game world.
Smackdown: Here Comes The Pain ended up improving on the flaws of good games like Just Bring It and Shut Your Mouth to come out with one of the GOAT games in the wrestling space.
The game would be first to show complete entrances in the Gen 6 era and offered alternate outfits for characters (you can even wear Shawn Michaels brown outfit from Survivor Series 2002) and also offered the best backstage brawling segments to players ever. The Times Square set will never be topped in my opinion
With the highest rating from Gamespot and joint second best from IGN it’s place, it also received a BAFTA nomination for Best Sports Game in their video game awards which will probably won’t happen in the Television BAFTA's for the Bloodline Drama despite Ryan Satin’s best efforts. This is certainly a game you should acknowledge.
4- Smackdown vs RAW 2006 (PS2)
The last great WWE game ( if you don’t like WWE’ 14 as much as me) It’s revamped gameplay from the previous games might be the best in a WWE game with it’s stamina characteristics feeling akin to the Fight Night boxing game series that is beloved and the debut and the best incarnation of the GM Mode which feels like you are playing Football Manager and feels very similar to the TEW and Journey of Wrestling games
It’s roster is one of the best with it’s percentage being Observer HOF’s the highest of any above game with a roster larger than 25 and its reviews were on par with the 3 above with it’s EGM 7.17 rating preventing it from getting above 80%/8 out of 10 in the big four rating sites.
What of course sets this game apart from the others is the Fulfil Your Fantasy match where two of the female wrestlers would wrestle in a bedroom simulation in the ring with the object of the match being to strip the opponent to her bra and panties. Learning how to play on the PS2 controller with one hand was an experience for sure.
5- Def Jam: Fight For NY
Are the Def Jam games really wrestling games? Yes they are. Well, they are in the wrestling metacritic page and their history is recapped in Wrestling Bios and 616Entertainment’s wrestling game retrospectives, so yeah they are wrestling games.
While Vendetta is a very good game, all the criteria we've set up for this list points to Fight For NY being the better game.
With the career mode the main focus of the game where Snoop Dogg plays the main bad guy you will get to fight Flavor Flav, Ghostface Killah, Ludacris, Danny Trejo, Xzhbit and Ice T with Method Man and Busta Rhymes voicing over original characters (NGL I never thought I’d type out those names in a PWMusings article) it’s the best story in a “wrestling” game
It’s legacy is that people want to see a new Def Jam game in 2023. It’s so fondly remembered by those that played including myself.
6- Wrestlemania 2000 (N64) (With a nod to WCW/nWo Revenge)
The debut for AKI in WWF/E colours when they transferred to the fed from WCW is basically a copy and paste job of Revenge with a Cage match and WWE roster and theme entrances added but it keeps it quality. It’s review numbers are among the best (and better than Revenge), it’s roster is better than Revenge
Overshadowed by the next game in the series No Mercy, it is difficult to write a couple of paragraphs about WrestleMania 2000 but it’s the legacy of this game that puts it in the Top Ten. With WCW games with the AKI engine producing games that were loved by the fans, WWE did something very WWE. They stole the AKI engine from WCW.
AKI and THQ would end up on the cover of the Smackdown games and No Mercy and EA would be on the box of Backstage Assault and Mayhem. WWE did not win the war against WCW because of an engine change for a vidoe game but it should be in the books written of why WCW was killed.
7- WWF Warzone/WWF Attitude
I’ve put these two games together for many reasons a) the pair are a sign of the changing of what WWE games were b) Warzone is one of the highest selling games of all time and c) these two games couldn’t be more different in how they qualify via our criteria if you tried
Warzone is still one of the best selling wrestling games ever with the above chart dated at December 2021. It shows how beloved the game was at the time of release but it hasn't aged well at all.
Playing WWF Warzone 20 years after it’s release at Digbeth Dining Club at a retro gaming night was a different experience to playing the game in my bedroom instead of doing my homework at the age of 12. It hasn’t aged well at all from the chunky and stilted movement of the characters to needing to push a code to hit your finisher that looked like a nuclear launch code but at the time it felt revolutionary after Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game and In Your House.
Warzone’s 18 man roster feels small certainly compared to what WCW were offering but with 50% of the roster being Observer Hall of Famers, it’s quality is better than it’s quantity for sure.
Attitude's reviews were better than Warzone's but it's roster was worst, the public remember Warzone better but YouTuber's retrospectives speak kinder of Attitude.
The pair of games are the definition of the step up of quality but also the art of perception.
8- Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game
With the game capitalising on the Mortal Kombat/Street Fighter beat 'em up boom. WWE’s first foray into Gen 5 consoles developed by Midway, the makers of Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam was memorable.
I never really loved this game when I was a kid. The 10 year old wrestling nerd in me wanted something more simulated like the LJN series games on the SNES and the Acclaim games that rank at No.7 but looking at the numbers this game should be in the Top Ten.
Electronic Gaming Monthly’s 9/10 is the highest rating given by the mag for a wrestling game. It’s roster has 3 of it’s 8 in the Observer Hall of Fame and the OTT gameplay is beloved by many including YouTuber Wrestling Bios.
This game not by my type but for many others it is the belle of the ball for many others
9- WrestleFest (Arcade)
I love this game so much and chances are if you’ve ever gone into a retro gaming bar and this arcade game has come into your eyeline, you would love it too. Playing it in Kong’s in Bristol at a pub crawl stag do and getting a majority of the party cheering every move on your way to completing the game is a joy that may never be equalled.
You might ask why I feel differently about this game to WrestleMania: The Arcade Game. Maybe it’s the fact that I first played this game as an adult, that as a Street Fighter guy over Mortal Kombat, WrestleFest felt closer to my beat 'em up of choice.
WrestleFest was a dominant figure of the arcade amusements across the world in the early 90s with it's larger than life animation of characters like the Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan and the LOD as final bosses that were tougher to beat than Bowser and very fun gameplay being the main attraction. Unfortunately there isn't much figures to present regarding reviews even with the awards bestowed on them by
It's the legacy of this game that puts it in the Top Ten. WWE released a mobile game in honor of WrestleFest a decade ago (it sucked) and RetroMania (which was fine but limited) copied the WrestleFest formula. It's a game that was of its time and maybe the current gaming generation won't love it as much as this 37-year old but it's a fun nostalgia trip for those who care about those times.
10- WWE 2K23
WWE 2k23 is actually good?
Yes it is. After the disaster that was WWE 2K20 (check out Matty McMuscles What Happun? Video on YouTube) and the pandemic that followed (can we blame 2k20 for the bad energy that triggered the shit that happened in 2020 and 2021?) 2KGames came back and upped their quality with 2K22 but it was the next effort that deserves its place on the list.
While I prefer WWE 14 with it's History of Wrestlemania feature and it's very cool roster the critics overwhelmingly preferred 2K23.
It’s 82% on Metacritic is the highest number for a WWE game since SmackDown vs Raw 2006, it’s Gamespot number of 8/10 is its highest number the 2007 version of SD vs Raw.
It’s 248 characters have 53 of them that are in the Observer HOF, even if many of them are different variants of the likes of Hulk Hogan and John Cena (the Super Cena character with a 100 rating is a very good inside joke) and even if it’s ratings are suspicious at best (Adam Pearce’s 69 being less than Aliyah’s 76 is certainly a choice) it’s numbers in reviews make 2K23 the best WWE game in current times even if its a sea of mediocrity since the mid 00’s.
Did the last 10 minutes of reading this give that impression of wrestling games not being as good as they used to be.