Making an in-depth ranking of wrestling game titles over the years would be a massive endeavor, as to date, there have been over 71 WWE-licensed games and a nearly equal combined amount of now-defunct or overseas promo titles.
So this article will by no means be an exhaustive list of the best and worst wrestling games, but more of a “best of the best, worst of the worst” ranking.
Virtual Pro Wrestling 2
Widely regarded as (one of) the best Japanese wrestling games, this classic gem went relatively unknown in the western world, until N64 emulators made it possible for foreign titles to reach a wider western audience.
VPW 2 shares its engine with No Mercy, and thus the gameplay is nearly the same between the two games. However, VPW 2 featured almost exclusively Japanese wrestlers, with the exception of a very select few western legends that Gen Z probably wouldn’t recognize today.
One thing that made VPW 2 unique compared to AKI’s WWF and WCW titles was the inclusion of an MMA-style rules mode, with martial arts strikes, Judo throws, and grappling submissions, due to the popularity of “shoot wrestling” in Japan. Because of that, VPW 2 not only featured a deep roster of Japanese wrestlers, but several fighters from Japanese MMA promos such as FN Rings and Pride FC.
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WWF No Mercy
This fondly remembered N64 gem frequently tops “Best wrestling game” lists, and for good reason. Everything was nearly flawless about this title, as it featured easy-to-learn gameplay, a good variety of match types, a deep roster of wrestlers, and a CAW mode (create-a-wrestler) with a ton of outfit and moveset options.
No Mercy was developed with the AKI Engine, which was responsible for numerous great wrestling titles for WWF, WCW, and Japanese promotions, but No Mercy tops the lists for its sheer amount of gameplay features, and being the last WWF title developed by AKI Corporation.
WWE Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain
Smackdown: HCTP is widely regarded as the peak of the WWE Smackdown games, before the series’ decline into the just-not-as-good SvR titles, and the fairly meh ongoing WWE 2K series. Available only on the PS2, HCTP brought incredible updates to the game engine, featured a massive roster, and was the last game in the series to feature free-roam backstage areas, until they sort-of-not-really brought it back in WWE 2K18.
WWE games have been pretty much using the same Yuke’s engine for the past ~20 years, as can be told by WWE 2K20’s critically mocked graphics. Here Comes the Pain was the best of the engine’s arcade-style gameplay, before they tried to manipulate the engine into more of a simulator.
HCTP is considered a benchmark for modern WWE games, which they fall short against not just due to nostalgia, but superior gameplay that didn’t really need changing (or at least the changes brought to the series over the years).
WWF In Your House
In Your House was a horrible attempt at blending Mortal Kombat style gameplay with WWF wrestlers, published by Acclaim Entertainment. Acclaim was widely known as hit-or-miss game developers throughout the 90s and early 00s, and sadly, In Your House was definitely one of their misses.
The gameplay was heavily influenced by Mortal Kombat, and so there was very little wrestling in this game. It was pretty much a button-masher fighting game with WWF characters, and it even featured Mortal Kombat style fatalities, like capturing your opponent’s soul in the Undertaker’s urn, or Vader growing to gigantic size and squashing them. This all sounds kind of cool on paper, but the execution was a certifiable mess.
WCW Backstage Brawl
Attempting to capture on the popularity of hardcore wrestling in the 90s, WCW released this title that featured matches exclusively in backstage areas, no ring whatsoever. In theory this sounded cool at the time, and the game offered several backstage locations to wrestle in, but the gameplay was extremely subpar.
Using the same engine that made WCW Mayhem so unplayable, the clunky controls are easily the worst part of Backstage Brawl, and it very quickly flopped in the face of WWF’s superior titles at the time, kind of like how WWF bought out WCW only 3 months after this game’s release.
Rumble Roses is basically the Dead or Alive of the wrestling game genre, as it primarily features scantily-clad women fighting each other. The game is basically smut, as wrestling finishers are mainly grappling submissions in humiliating poses, with plenty of camera focus on the female wrestlers’ jiggly bits. It was poorly received in western countries, yet un-astonishingly achieved popularity in Japan.
While we can decry Rumble Roses for its focus on sex appeal, its nothing smuttier than we’ve seen in WWE (especially during the Attitude Era), so let’s decry it for the horrible gameplay. The controls are incredibly unresponsive and laggy, as if sometimes your button presses don’t even register to the game. The game did feature some impressive graphics and fluid animations, but a softcore porn version of WWE Smackdown simply did not appeal to American audiences.