Welcome back to the Video Game Rewind, a monthly retrospective that delves back into video game’s glorious history. Harking all the way back to an era when controllers had more wires and significantly fewer buttons, we move back through the time-tunnel in five-year increments, pausing along the way to fondly remember one or two titles in a little more detail. Let’s go!
Call of Duty: Black Ops (multi-platform)God of War: Ghost Of Sparta (PSP)Ys: The Oath In Felghana (PSP)GoldenEye 007 (Nintendo Wii)Dance Central (Xbox 360)Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (multi-platform)Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (multi-platform)
Xbox 360 consoleCastlevania: Curse Of Darkness (PS2)Star Wars: Battlefront II (multi-platform)Guitar Hero (PS2)Donkey Kong Country 3 (Game Boy Advance)Mario Party 7 (Nintendo Wii)Mario Kart DS (Nintendo DS)Need For Speed: Most Wanted (multi-platform)Dragon Quest VIII: Journey Of The Cursed King (PS2)
2000: WWF No Mercy (Nintendo 64)
Also released in 2000:
Crash Bash (PS1)Shenmue (Sega Dreamcast)Harvest Moon 2 (Game Boy Colour)Counter Strike (PC) The Operative: No-One Lives Forever (PC)Capcom Versus SNK (Sega Dreamcast)Final Fantasy IX (PS1)Hitman: Codename 47 (PC)SmackDown! 2: Know Your Role! (PS1 – North America)
The first of our two featured games this month is a professional wrestling title that launched at the turn of the century for the Nintendo 64. Using the WWE (still titled WWF at that point) license, the game was developed by AKI for publisher THQ. No Mercy would prove to be the final WWE game for the console as it came to the end of its lifespan; it would also be prove to be AKI’s final game working with the license.
No Mercy proved to be intensely popular and time hasn’t seemed to diminish its impact. Even now, the web is full of articles arguing as to why the game is superior to modern wrestling games with their gradual upgrades and annual release schedules. It’s certainly true that to a large degree, the game introduced a slew of features that have come to define the core elements of what a top-tier wrestling game should be: a huge, playable roster; a wealth of arenas in which to brawl (including a wide range of weapon-rich backstage areas); branching storyline paths that led to untold replay value and even a plethora of wardrobe changes for each grappler. That’s right folks, in a solemn nod to the quintessential importance of sartorial selection, players could select their own level of camp by choosing from four different outfits per wrestler, a feat yet to be matched in games releasing today, fifteen whole years later.
Ultimately though, it was the title’s core gameplay that has made it impossible to forget. In an era where other wrestling games had elected to create more realistic-looking brawlers with elaborate control systems, AKI kept the formula simple, sticking to an arcade-style structure based around weak and strong grapples and a ‘spirit’ system that charted your momentum and determined your character’s ability to reverse moves and pull off finishers. In doing so, AKI hit that sweet spot of ‘easy to play, hard to master’ that not only guarantees replay value but also makes for a great couch co-op experience too, especially with the N64’s four controller ports offering the possibility for maximum mayhem.
The game engine used in No Mercy had actually been developed and in use for some time prior to the game’s launch, featuring not just in the title’s predecessor, the highly-rated Wrestlemania 2000, but also in titles featuring WCW, the company’s arch-rivals. As the war for fans’ hearts and minds grew ever more intense, WWE turned to coaxing their bitter rivals’ game developers, the team behind such classics as WCW vs. nWo: World Tour and WCW/nWo: Revenge (a refined version of the engine would even go on to be used by AKI when they developed the wrestling/rap mash up Def Jam: Vendetta some years later).
Although No Mercy would be the developer’s final game with the WWE license (as the Nintendo 64’s lifespan drew to a close), AKI had really managed to tweak the engine to include those little details that drove wrestling fans wild: beating one’s opponent with his own finisher was a fashionable craze doing the rounds in the WWE’s Attitude era thanks to a series of classic matches between stars like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin; the option to do the same was in the game and afforded the opportunity for some seriously grandiose showboating at the expense of your humiliated opponent. Slamming opponents onto dropped metal weapons such as ladders and stop signs was now met with a satisfying clang and mat technicians were also rewarded for inflicting attrition upon appendages with individual limb damage.
Sure, the graphics weren’t great and the TitanTron intros were terrible; the first run of cartridges had a memory problem and the in-menu song was so bad that you wanted to rip your own eyeballs out of their sockets, just so you could stuff your earholes with something, anything to stop the noise… but hey – never since has there been a wrestling game so celebrated or loved.
The SmackDown! series on PlayStation saw its second release in the same month and would go on to become the WWE’s staple yearly video game release for many years to come; for a lot of fans though, it never replaced the thrilling excitement of No Mercy and players were forced to form illegal underground fighting clubs to get their violent kicks. Note to self: for once, stop confusing Fight Club with real life, just once…
Beyond The Beyond (PS1 – Japan)Twisted Metal (PS1)Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest (SNES – Japan)Virtua Cop (Sega Saturn – Japan)Warcraft 2: Tides Of Darkness (PC)Tekken (PS1 – North America)Samurai Showdown III (Arcade)WIpEout (PS1 – North America)
Super Nintendo Entertainment System consoleSuper Mario World (SNES – Japan)F-Zero (SNES – Japan)Cyber Lip (Arcade – Japan)Last Armageddon (NES – Japan)Castle Of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (Sega Genesis – North America)Blades Of Steel (NES)Parodius (NES – Japan)Tecmo Bowl (NES – Japan)
1985: Tag Team Match: M.U.S.C.L.E. (NES)
Also released in 1985:
They Sold a Million! – Compilation title including previously-released games including Daley Thompson’s Decathalon, Jet-Sat Willy, Beach Head and Sabre Wulf (ZX Spectrum) Repton 2 (BBC MICRO/Electron)Mach Rider (NES – Japan)Pac-Land (NES – Japan)
Wow. Not sure exactly what it is about those gently falling golden leaves; about the pale, open skies and stark serenity of autumn that makes us want to don spandex and beat our fellow man until he’s bruised and bloody – but there has to be something, right? Why else would game developers be so eager to push out wrestling games at this point in the year? Maybe they’re making some sort of ironic comment on man’s mortality, or perhaps it’s a wry metaphor on the cyclical nature of violence? What’s that you say? Christmas is around the corner and they’ll sell lots of games? Oh, right. Figures.
This title is not considered to be a classic. Based on the Kinnikuman manga and anime series which in turn spawned a toy line (rebranded as M.U.S.C.L.E. here in the U.K), this early wrestling title offers up tepid tag-team action using characters from the source material.
Although the figures were briefly popular in the U.S. (industry publication Playthings named them as a top-ten best-selling toy line in 1986), the game itself is widely considered to be one of the worst the Nintendo Entertainment System had to offer (and that’s no mean feat). Abysmal graphics, a very limited move set and limited replay value meant that as far as November-released wrestling-related video games go, No Mercy shouldn’t be sweating over its status as current champion. Finishing moves during the game were only unlocked by picking up randomly dropped glowing orbs, meaning that no amount of skill or tactics could save you if luck wasn’t on your side.
Interestingly enough, AKI Corporation, the company behind the feverishly popular No Mercy, went on to pick up the license for the Kinnikuman games in the noughties, developing a series of titles for a number of platforms including PlayStation 2 and PlayStation Portable. Not a bad shelf life for a bunch of toys that basically started life as a series of novelty erasers, eh?
That’s it for November! Thanks for dropping by and we’ll see you here next month for December’s Video Game Rewind. Incidentally, if anyone out there knows of any sites that chart Spectrum, Amstrad and Commodore 64 games by month of release, please let us know in the comments below. Thanks!
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