Do you remember the first great wrestling game you ever played? Gary Heneghan certainly can’t forget his: WWF WrestleFest.
A s I’ve said before, wrestling video games of the 80s and early 90s weren’t up to much. Limited by the technology of the time, they struggled to satisfy the needs of wrestling fans.
They suffered from substandard gameplay, weak sound effects, and graphics which couldn’t accurately convey the larger-than-life chaos going on between the ropes. Still, we tolerated these games as they were all we had.
Except that wasn’t true. Like Fox Mulder discovering aliens partying with Nixon, I had my world view turned upside down during one unforgettable trip to the arcades.
I knew arcade games looked and sounded better than what my Atari ST and Master System could offer, but my first sighting of WWF WrestleFest confirmed this effusively.
The art of attraction
One of the things all good arcade games need is a good attract sequence – the demo that runs while the machine has no credits in it. In my opinion, WWF WrestleFest has one of the best attract sequences ever. Nerdy wrestling fan I am, I’ve always loved knowing wrestler hometowns, heights and weights, so I was instantly drawn in by WWF WrestleFest‘s tempting demos profiling each grappler.
Those screens were incredible – watching these awesome giant cartoon wrestlers destroying poor foes with finishing moves while an amazing “talking head” shot raged away simply changed my life. I then knew that wrestling games could be more than the dross we got on our home systems.
I did what any child with a huge supply of 20ps would do: I awkwardly walked to the WWF WrestleFest machine and pushed some sweaty coins into the slot. That was where the love affair truly began.
Upon bashing the credit button, I was given the choice of Saturday Night’s Main Event or the Royal Rumble. This impressed me straight away as in most other games, you were just given the dull option of “1 vs 1”. Truthfully, they were just fancy descriptions for a tag league or a battle royal, but I was gripped. Even in my wrestling fandom infancy, I knew these were important events.
The masterful presentation continued with the character select screen. Ten WWF stars were there for selection, beautifully rendered. In an era where eight selectable superstars was considered good, WrestleFest gave us two more – and a fine ten, at that. We had Hogan and Warrior at their peak, favourites like Big Boss Man and Jake Roberts, and dastardly bad guys like Ted DiBiase and Sgt Slaughter.
Here comes the Ax, here comes the… Crush?
My attention was drawn straight away to the tag team of Demolition. In wrestling, I’ve always been drawn to the bad guys – the guys who cheat, dress in black and look scary. In truth, the Demolition portrayed on WrestleFest were the duo of Crush and Smash, which was the nadir of the team’s lifespan. In fact, by the time WrestleFest was released, the team had been split and repackaged after a dreadful Wrestlemania VII match with Tenryu and Kitao.
Not being particularly educated about wrestling at that point, I didn’t know this, so I picked Demolition and headed off to win the tag titles. This was my first lesson in how arcade machines ate coins. WWF WrestleFest was damn tough – the CPU could obviously outmash a player on grapples, so seven-year-old me had no joy in winning those tag belts. I only got a few rounds in and I know for a fact the Legion of Doom – the ‘bosses’ of the tag mode – would have battered me, especially with their double-length energy bar!
The battle royal mode was no better. It was tough fighting all those grapplers and at seven, I didn’t really grasp that I could put more credits in and continue. I was, and still am, a bit of a purist at heart; the idea of entering a Royal Rumble more than once was cheating to me, so I’d just sadly let the game end and start again.
Every arcade machine has a price…
I’ve played a lot of WWF WrestleFest over the years, but the session I remember on it the most was one holiday in Wales. I had a fairly substantial amount of money for a child – £10, I believe – and was left to my own devices in an arcade. The 90s were a very different time, people.
In a dark corner of the arcade was WWF WrestleFest and I absolutely smashed it. I can’t remember if it was an evening or a night – all I remember is that it was dark and the only Splatterhouse arcade machine I’ve ever seen in my life was next to it. Thank God I didn’t play that instead, or I’d probably be in prison now.
I played WWF WrestleFest for what felt like hours. No one disturbed me; no one else wanted to play. It was bliss. My abiding memory of the session was happily confirming to my mum at the end that I had no money left. I’d blown £10 in an hour or two, which, at 30p a go, works out as around 33 goes. I find that hard to believe, but I can’t remember playing anything else – the only alternative was Splatterhouse, and even then I got bad vibes from that game…
I still play WrestleFest at my local barcade (Arcade Club in Bury) and still love it. The reason I keep going back is because I’m still learning new things about it. Last time I played, I clocked on to the fact that wrestlers with submission finishers can destroy others in the Royal Rumble. All you have to do is beat the other wrestlers up until you can use your finisher.
Cue me picking Ted DiBiase and just slapping the Million Dollar Dream on anyone dumb enough to come near me. A pile of defeated bodies later and I was the proud winner of the Royal Rumble! My friend wasn’t impressed, but seven-year-old me was made up. It only took two credits, and there wasn’t a Splatterhouse machine in sight.
- Impeccable presentation of early 90s WWF
- Easy to play, but well worth investing time to see its full depth
- Superb in multiplayer, especially the Rumble!
- It’s a toughie; a proper old-school coin gobbler
- I hate emulation, and my wife will put me in the Million Dollar Dream if I get the arcade machine in my house
- Sgt Slaughter has the Atomic Noogie as his finisher, not his awesome version of the Camel Clutch
WWF WrestleFest is one of the greatest wrestling games of all time. Other games had more features or better graphics, but WrestleFest is a pure experience. It’s from a time when we didn’t know all the ins and outs of wrestling and hadn’t been dazzled by the lifelike graphics we have now.
WrestleFest takes me back to being a kid, exploring arcades and seeing these amazingly advanced games that I never thought could ever be possible at home. For that, it’ll always be one of my favourite arcade games.