Wrestling games are a unique sub-genre all to themselves. They don’t quite fall into the fighting game category like a Tekken or a Street Fighter game, but they aren’t quite the sports combat titles like UFC 3 or Fight Night.
The perfect wrestling game needs to capture the entertainment and theatrical side of the business, while the gameplay needs to be strategic but fun and represent the technical side of the action on TV. For true fans of the genre, small details in the gameplay mechanics matter if not more so than the presentation. For this list, we are focusing on wrestling games with the best mechanics and gameplay that best represent the world of sports entertainment.
10 WCW Vs. World
WCW vs. The World was developed by AKI and released on the PlayStation in the US in 1997. It was originally released in Japan a year prior, as Virtual Pro Wrestling which featured a large roster of New Japan Pro Wrestling stars and some WCW stars.
However, when the game was released in the west all of the Japanese wrestler’s names were changed due to copyright laws despite retaining their likenesses. So despite being marketed as a WCW game, it was very much a Japanese title. Being a Japanese wrestling game at its heart WCW vs. The World was all about the gameplay and being as close to a 3D wrestling sim as the PS1 could get – unlike the later WWE Smackdown! titles on the system. The game’s engine would be improved and popularized with AKI’s Nintendo 64 wrestling titles which included WWF No Mercy.
9 WWE Day Of Reckoning 2
WWE Day Of Reckoning 2 was released on the Nintendo GameCube in 2005. It was the last standalone WWE game to feature on a Nintendo system that wasn’t a downscaled port of a PlayStation and Xbox game. The game was developed by Yukes but the team for Day of Reckoning included some former members of AKI.
Like its predecessor, Day of Reckoning 2 uses a grappling system that’s similar to the AKI-developed Nintendo 64 titles combined with Yukes wrestling engine. Only this time the experience is more refined and improved than the previous effort. Like the N64 titles, the game uses the left shoulder button to counter strikes and the right shoulder button to reverse grapples. In addition, there are four submission types with their own effects on regaining and depleting stamina, momentum, and body part submissions.
8 WWE Here Comes The Pain
WWE Here Comes the Pain was released in 2003 on the PlayStation 2. It remains one of the series most popular entries with fans hoping for a modern-day remake or even a remaster since the visuals hold up surprisingly well.
Here Comes the Pain isn’t the most technical or methodical grappler on this list but it is one of the most fun and accessible. The game is fast and has arcade-like controls that are simple to pull off with crazy moves like weapon finishers, but there was a surprisingly deep move-set under the surface. Just like the AKI-produced games there were reversals for strikes and grapples mapped to separate shoulder buttons.
7 WWE 2K17 – 2K19
The inclusion of three games from the WWE 2K series is because with the exception of some additional moves the gameplay of all three games is identical. The most recent title WWE 2K20 still has the same basic system but the new team Visual Concepts unnecessarily remapped the button layout.
WWE 2K17 – WWE 2K19 has a very solid wrestling system in place that’s accessible for all. The grappling system allows the player to target limbs with lots of strong and weak grapples and strikes. The responsive reversal system provides gamers with good back and forth action when the reversal limits are turned off in the settings and adjusted the AI accordingly.
6 WCW Vs. nWo: World Tour
WCW vs. nWo: World Tour was developed by AKI and released 1997 on the Nintendo 64. It was the follow up to WCW vs. The World on the PlayStation. Building upon the mechanics of its predecessor WCW vs. nWo refined its grappling system which became the standard for wrestling titles for nearly two decades.
It also brought forward the first game’s spirit meter which means matches felt natural and are more about momentum shifts than it is depleting a health bar. Adding to the back and forth action was the revolutionary reversal system. Reversals can be countered and counters can be reversed it really captured the essence of Japanese wrestling.
5 WCW/nWo: Revenge
WCW/nWo: Revenge was released in 1998 for the Nintendo 64. It built upon the same grappling system featured in its predecessor WCW vs. nWo: World Tour improving wrestlers responsiveness, animation, and move-sets. Wrestlers could now perform more accurate looking signature moves and there was the addition of a new striking system.
Finishers in Revenge hit with far more impact than its predecessor and moves like Scott Steiner’s Steiner Driver and Goldberg’s Jackhammer look and feel awesome to pull off. Also, the game’s artificial intelligence is greatly improved when the difficulty is ramped up just be prepared to be in for a long but fun match.
4 Fire Pro Wrestling: Returns
Fire Pro Wrestling: Returns was released on the PlayStation 2 in 2007. The wrestling series has a long history in Japan starting with 1989 and with exception the Game Boy Advance Fire Pro Wrestling games, Fire Pro Wrestling: Returns was the first game in the series to be released in the west on home consoles.
The reason why so many fans and non-fans of wrestling imported the Japanese only titles – for hundreds of dollars – was that the gameplay was so good. Returns implemented various styles of wrestling such as WWE style American wrestling, Japanese Strong style, Lucha-libre, junior heavyweights, and extreme/hardcore wrestling. More importantly, the game’s artificial intelligence is on another level compared to the WWE wrestling games where winning and even losing feels like an accomplishment in the long drawn out matches.
3 WWF Wrestlemania 2000
WWF Wrestlemania 2000 was released on the Nintendo 64 in 1999. It was the first time that AKI developed a WWE game using the tried and tested wrestling game engine previously seen in WCW vs nWo and WCW/nWo: Revenge.
The gameplay is more or less the same as its WCW predecessor however, there were enhancements that dedicated players noticed immediately. The counter and reversal system was even more accurate than before and just as the developers claimed, every single move in the game can be countered if the player is skilled enough. Once again, the AI was very tough but players that are skilled enough could have competitive matches that resembled the action they saw on TV more than any other game at the time.
2 Fire Pro Wrestling: World
Fire Pro Wrestling: World was released on the PlayStation 4 and Steam in 2018. It was released 11 years after its PlayStation 2 predecessor with higher resolution visuals, more moves, and smoother animation. In addition, the game’s artificial intelligence is superb which is reflected in its higher difficulty levels.
Increasing the difficulty of the game means the CPU gains more abilities will crawl to the ropes break a submission, play possum, focus on recovery, and much more. In Fire Pro Wrestling: World the drama and psychology of a wrestling match take priority over pulling off big and flashy moves. The game forces players to wrestle strategically and develop the match to please the crowd.
1 WWF No Mercy
The final WWE game developed by AKI and arguably the best if not the best wrestling game of all time is WWF No Mercy for the Nintendo 64. WWF No Mercy still worked on the same wrestling game engine as AKI’s previous titles but brought several improvements to mechanics. The reversals and counters are easier to pull off and the addition of timing-based combos that transition into grapples added a new layer of strategy.
What made WWF No Mercy so special, however, was that it was more accessible than its predecessors meaning that new players could pick it up and get right into it. At the same time, No Mercy had one of the deepest grappling systems ever seen in a game and even the most seasoned players would keep finding new moves to discover.
NEXT: 5 Things WWE 2K20 Does Better Than Fire Pro Wrestling World (& 5 It Doesn’t)