WWF No Mercy‘s generally accepted status as the greatest wrestling game ever made has always been a pleasant curiosity in a world that’s often defined by our divisiveness and desire to argue for the sake of arguing.
WWF No Mercy is so beloved that it’s often hard to get someone to analytically break it down without eventually succumbing to wistful ramblings. Yet, the qualities that made the game so special really aren’t that complicated. In fact, much of the game’s success can be attributed to how uncomplicated it was.
Essentially an evolution of developer AKI Corporation’s previous N64 wrestling games (which notably included WCW/nWo Revenge and WWF WrestleMania 2000), No Mercy‘s calling card was its arcade-like gameplay that emphasized a rock/paper/scissors style system of stong/weak grapples, strikes, and counters. It was remarkably uncomplicated to pick up and play, but deep enough to master. More importantly, the game’s emphasis on varying your moves often resulted in dynamic matches that closely resembled what you might see at an especially good wrestling show.
What’s so fascinating about that particular quality is that a legion of so-called “realistic” (which is a contentious term in this context) wrestling games that followed directly attempted to recreate the look and feel of a wrestling match through more complex control schemes. They not only often failed to do so, but in the pursuit of providing a “simulation” experience, they sacrificed the simple pleasures of No Mercy‘s gameplay which make it remarkably playable today despite its lack of features and outdated graphics.
So why hasn’t a developer just made another No Mercy? We’d argue that many modern WWE games have tried that to a degree, but the problem seems to come down to complacency. Somewhere along the way, the glut of features added to wrestling games eventually compromised the simplistic joy of a game like No Mercy, and the expectations of a yearly installment denied WWE game developers the time and resources they needed to turn the ship around. With no real challengers on the horizon, WWE learned to live with feature-loaded games that looked good on the back of the box and were typically fun enough to make you forget they were really the only option for wrestling fans looking for a No Mercy-esque experience.
Once again, though, All Elite Wrestling comes along to shake WWE’s complacency to its core.
AEW was practically founded on the belief that WWE’s complacency was their biggest weakness. The company’s founders looked at WWE’s ratings decline in the 20 years since the release of WWF No Mercy and theorized that many of those wrestling fans hadn’t really gone anywhere; they just stopped watching WWE.
Recently, one of those founders (Cody Rhodes) was on-hand to help confirm the development of three new games based on the AEW brand. One is a slightly worrisome “casino” mobile game, one is a general manager simulator called AEW Elite General Manager, and the third is an untitled current and next-gen project that wrestler Kenny Omega says is modeled after No Mercy and the Virtual Pro Wrestling games. In fact, we already know that No Mercy director Hideyuki “Geta” Iwashita will assist former WWE game creator Yuke’s with the project’s development.
We don’t know much more about the game beyond that information and what little we can glean from the project’s “work in progress” teaser trailer, but the talent they’ve assembled already is more than enough to excite fans. Said talent will almost certainly include the contributions of AEW referee Aubrey Edwards (who worked for over a decade as a video game producer) and wrestler Kenny Omega who is not only notorious in the fighting game community but is such a gaming nerd that most of his in-ring moves are video game references. He even once came to the ring dressed as an Undertale character:
It’s that spirit of fandom and revolution which really excite so many fans about AEW’s wrestling game, despite knowing relatively little about it and despite having their hearts broken so many times before. AEW wouldn’t be in the position they are today if they didn’t listen to fans and work to give them what they felt they weren’t getting elsewhere. Now, that company is making a wrestling game and are already using the words that wrestling game fans have longed to hear, “No Mercy.”
Just as AEW put WWE on its toes again despite their upstart nature and a relatively smaller budget, they have the chance to upset WWE’s own video game efforts by taking advantage of the fact that they almost have to make a smaller wrestling game that emphasizes the simple and satisfying nature of those N64 classics above all else.
The golden age of wrestling games was only enhanced by the sensation of playing a truly great wrestling game at a time when wrestling was hotter than ever. As AEW looks to remind some of us why we’ve remained wrestling fans over many years that we’ve often felt unloved by the biggest company in the business, AEW’s games have the opportunity to remind us that the best wrestling games capture not just the showmanship of the business but the simple (sometimes guilty) pleasure of it as well.