Friday, May 20, 2011

REVIEW: WCW/nWo Revenge (1998)

It's Real (Fun) To Me, Dammit

After hearing about the tragedy that befell one of my favorite all-time wrestlers today, Macho Man Randy Savage, I thought I'd offer up a review of a game that had him in it: WCW/nWo Revenge for the Nintendo 64.

Wrestling games in the 90's went through various changes as new systems were introduced, since fighting games in general are easier to market to the target audience of video game makers in the 1990's (read: men aged 4 to 30). However, the most successful and popular style of wrestling video gaming came from Revenge.
The sequel to the nearly-as-popular WCW vs nWo: World Tour game from the previous year, it was hailed as the beginning of Madden-style yearly updates for the franchise. However, Revenge came out when the WWF (now the WWE) was gaining in popularity, so it never quite reached that pinnacle. That said, it improved greatly on World Tour and became the best-selling wrestling game of all time.

The best thing about this game (and its spiritual sequels, and World Tour) is that even if you're not a fan of wrestling, it's accessible and fun. The Nintendo 64 controller is full of buttons and they're all on full display with each wrestler having their own arsenal of moves, designed to mimic what they actually do in the ring. For example, special moves are there for every wrestler. Feel like spearing a chump in half with Bill Goldberg? Easy! Jacknife Powerbombing your little brother as Kevin Nash taking on Disco Inferno? Awesome! It's one of the rare genres of games at the time that took full advantage of the (relatively) complicated controller of the Nintendo 64, and made it seem so easy to perform things that can't be done by most 12-year-olds in real life.

This game also marked the first steps towards customization (something that wouldn't be fully and awesomely realized until WWF No Mercy down the road). You could do some basic costume swaps, which became such a big deal that create-a-wrestler modes compared to most create-a-player modes in regular sports games is like comparing the math needed to build a rocket and send it to Mars versus taking one apple from three apples and having two apples left.

The taunts in the game were a first as well, with both benefits being that you could boost up your own guy's power AND dance around the ring wearing a spandex skeleton like a complete idiot (thanks, La Parka!). My favorite taunt? Macho Man Randy Savage running a half-circle in the ring before making the "first down" signal in front of his opponent's face and yelling "OH YEAH!" louder than the crowd, the announcers, and when Mom called for dinner.

This game's legacy just shows how easy it is for developers to overthink things in franchises like professional wrestling--Revenge was part of about a 4-game peak for the wrestling industry that coincided with its peak in popularity in the late 90's and early 2000's. Unlike other sports, the perfect timing of quality, easy-to-play and fun games as well as unprecedented popularity in the public's eye set the bar so high that later games on the Playstation and XBox flopped, and to this day no wrestling game has come within a turnbuckle of the kind of quality that Revenge and others like it gave us gamers. The story modes and graphics are obviously outdated, but if you've ever wanted to flash Hulk Hogan's guns or flop lazily in the corner like Raven, there's something for everyone to enjoy in what should have been the start of an incredible run of wrestling games. Instead, we'll just have to laugh at the pretty-looking, ugly-playing games spun out by the floundering professional wrestling industry and remember the good ol' days where smacking your opponent with a stop sign placed conveniently in the front row of the crowd was always cause for a good laugh or two.

4.5 bits out of 5


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