Retro Respawn – Royal Rumbling Throughout the Years

I ruddy love pro wrestling. I know some people will be staring this article down with the old stink eye now that I’ve written that, but I apologise for nothing. I am a fully grown adult, with a full time job and a university degree, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than stuffing my miserable carcass into an armchair and watching a good wrassle on the WWE Network. I’m an especially big fan of The Royal Rumble, a huge Battle Royale that includes up to 30 (and one year even 40!) Wrestling Superstars slapping the humus out of each other while cheers and boos emanate from the stands.

It will be no surprise then when I reveal that I also like tucking into wrestling video games when the opportunity presents itself. Quite a few wrestling games have tried to recreate the pageantry and spectacle of the Royal Rumble, with some succeeding better than others. Seeing as WWE presented its 29th Rumble match last week, I thought I’d take the time to look at some of my Rumble memories from games I’ve played over the years.

The earliest wrestling game I remember playing was the seminal WrestleFest that appeared in arcades during the early 90’s. Aside from being a frantic and colourful button masher, the game also included wrestlers’ special moves and the ability to compete in the Royal Rumble match. Being that I didn’t start properly following the WWF’s product until 1998, I didn’t really know who any of the wrestlers were, outside of Hulk Hogan who I knew from his Rock and Wrestling cartoon.

As a result, I often ended up picking The Hulkster or one of Mr. Perfect or Earthquake. I tended to pick Perfect because I liked the fact he did a dropkick and also carried a towel to the ring with him (This game was one of the first to have wrestler entrances) and I tended to pick Earthquake as I found it fun to play as big monster and squish all my opponents. The game had a tag team mode, so my Dad and I would often select the dream team of Perfect and Earthquake, and take on the world! I don’t think we ever got past the second bout, but it was fun nonetheless.

Seeing as I didn’t get to go to the arcade that much in my youth, and when I did it was with my Dad, I didn’t really get to play the Rumble mode that often. However, around 10 years ago or so I stumbled across an old WrestleFest cabinet while on a trip to coastal holiday town Rhyl. Rhyl is a torrid place in North Wales which acts half as a holiday resort and half as an elephant graveyard for the North West of England’s elderly. It’s a thoroughly awful place to holiday, but yet I find it strangely endearing regardless. My parents were never fans, instead preferring to visit the slightly less turgid (Though infinitely less interesting) Colwyn Bay when holidaying in Welshian territory.

However, sometimes they would stop by Rhyl on the way home, thus allowing me a chance to have a go in the arcades and also a swim in the famed “Sun Centre” swimming baths. This forged a lifelong affinity for me with Rhyl and meant that, even after I was long into adulthood, I’d still pay the place the odd visit now and then. Alas, The Sun Centre is now long closed, but the arcades still exist and, as far as I was last aware, there’s still a WrestleFest cabinet tucked away in one of them somewhere. It was with my pal Adam that we stumbled across the cabinet on that fateful day nearly 10 years ago. The gameplay was still as enjoyable as it had ever been and the added bonus was that it was only 10 pence for a credit! Thus we stuck a pound coin in and got ten attempts to win the Rumble to split between us. I think it was only proper that I eventually won the Rumble match with non-other than Earthquake, as I squished my opponent with the feared “Aftershock” Sit Down Splash.

WrestleFest is definitely has one of the best Rumble mode’s of any wrestling game, but what of the home consoles during the same time period?

LJN released a Royal Rumble game for both the Super Nintendo and SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis in the early 90’s. The games were relatively similar but had slightly different rosters. Which one you’ll prefer will depend mostly on which wrestlers you want to play as. I find myself leaning towards the SNES version, mainly because it has Ric Flair on it. In fact, I’m pretty certain Flair wasn’t even in the WWF/E anymore when the game was originally released! The SEGA version does have Jim Duggan and Rick Martel on it, complete with midi versions of their theme tunes, so fans of those two may be more inclined to play that version.

Gameplay wise, so long as you have a six button SEGA controller, you’re not going to notice too much of a difference. Your wrestlers have an option to kick, punch and run. Grapples are orchestrated by simply walking up to an opponent. At that point, the game becomes an exercise in button mashing, with the winner being able to pull off a move. The game is certainly playable, though somewhat lacking in strategy, and all the wrestlers come complete with one of their signature moves, which is an improvement on the previous LJN game Super Wrestlemania.

The Rumble match itself is good wild fun, with the goal being to weaken your opponent enough that you can fling them over the top. This is done by performing an Irish Whip near the ropes, which leads to your selected wrestler performing an outrageously dangerous hip toss over the top to the concrete arena floor. This is especially humorous to see when you eliminate behemoths such as the 500 Pound Yokozuna with the nimble 200 Pound Shawn Michaels (No wonder he ended up suffering a back injury in 1998!) or even funnier when you press a different button and end up atomic dropping them over the top to the floor. You essentially lift them up and fling them over the top while in a seated position in a vicious display of tailbone breaking disregard for your fellow man.

Overall, the game is fun to play for a brief period, but gets tiresome and samey over a long play through. With an arcade game like WrestleFest, you accept that there might be longevity issues as it’s an arcade game. With home console games, you expect a bit more for your money, especially if you’re paying full price. I’d recommend either of these games if you can find them cheap and already have the required consoles. The best thing to do if you own both consoles is to check the rosters and see which one has more of your favourite wrestlers. If you’re not a wrestling fan, just pick the version for your favourite console, but make sure you have a six button pad if you’re a SEGA player.

I’ll finish up by taking a look at another game entitled WWF Royal Rumble, this one being the original first run wrestling game released during the sixth generation of gaming for the vaunted SEGA Dreamcast. It also saw a release in arcades before being ported to home console. This was always a game I was aware of but I didn’t get a chance to play it until very recently, as I didn’t own a Dreamcast. As soon as I was gifted a Dreamcast by Adam and his lovely fiancé Clare, I knew it was only a matter of time before I played this game. It was just a matter of finding it at a price I thought reasonable.

During one of my many trips to Retro-Reload in Stockport, I saw it on a shelf and felt it was finally time to bite the bullet and pick it up. Royal Rumble on the Dreamcast suffers from the same problem that its fourth generation forbears also suffered from; it just isn’t substantial enough for a full price home release. It’s a strong port that produces solid arcade fun, but it ultimately has no lasting appeal when it comes to single player experience. You get three buddies together and you’ll no doubt have oodles of fun in the Rumble mode, but outside of that you’ll struggle to find a reason to come back. You can honestly see pretty much everything this game has to offer within half an hour. There’s no story/season mode, there’s no option to win championship belts, you can’t make your own pay per views and you can’t create your own wrestler either. All of these were accepted parts of the genre by the time the fifth generation came to a close, so to see Royal Rumble askew them feels like a step back, especially as SEGA had already rereleased previous gen games, such as WWF Attitude, to the console already.

WWF Royal Rumble feels more like a thirty minute tech demo for the Dreamcast rather than a fully finished home video game release. It’s frustrating, as the game has a lot in common with the popular Smackdown series of games. If more time had been spent adapting this to home consoles as opposed to just porting the game wholesale from the arcade, it could potentially have been something really special. As it was, despite being on a weaker system in the PSX, Smackdown is an overall much better game than Royal Rumble because it has so much more to offer the player when it comes to longevity. You could keep coming back to Smackdown again and again to play matches in Season Mode or create your own Pay Per View events. Royal Rumble, though playable and enjoyable in short bursts, just doesn’t match that type of longevity.

It’s a shame as the game does a good job creating the overall madness of the Rumble itself, with up to 9 people able to scrap in the ring at the same time. The roster is quite slim at a mere 21, but it includes all of the heavy hitters of the time frame such as The Rock, Stone Cold and Triple H. Even relative newcomers to the WWF such as Kurt Angle and Taz manage to made the cut, so the roster is relatively versatile and most people will at least be satisfied with it (Except staunch members of the Mideon fan club I suppose)

It’s slightly less of a button masher than the two games that came before it, with precision being slightly more rewarded, but overall it’s still a frenetic free for all that delivers the desirable thrills you’d associate with that many people brawling all at once. If you see this cheap and have a Dreamcast with a 2-4 spare controllers, you could do worse than picking it up and inviting your mates round for a good old fashioned virtual punch up.

There are some fun Retro Rumble experiences out there to be had, so why don’t you go and seek them out? I’ve covered but a mere drop in the ocean with these three games. Get out there and get Rumbling!!!

Thanks for reading

Nil Satis, Nisi Optimum

Looking for other great content here on the site? Well why not take a goosey gander at the following?

Jorge takes a look at Metroid Fusion in his latest article, and you can read all about it by clicking HERE

Ian recently reviewed Life Is Strange, and you can read what he thought of it by clicking HERE

Into your Indie games? Well why not spend some time with Dan The Man and his article on Warhammer by clicking HERE?

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