I love wrestling games. All of them. Even the shite ones.
Wrestle War on the Mega Drive? Love it. WCW Backstage Assault on the PlayStation? Love it. World Wrestling Championship on PS2? Okay, not that one.
Of course, given my lifetime passion for WWE, it’s the games based on that particular promotion that I love the most. There isn’t a WWE (formerly WWF) game that I haven’t played.
Recently, WWE 2K16 was released. It’s the 57th WWE video game released, and if that stat excites you a little then grab some tissues, because that’s the tip of the iceberg.
Yes friends, I’m about to take you on a tour of WWE game history using nothing but stats and numbers. It’s going to be the nerdiest thing to happen to wrestling games since someone created Dragon Ball and Avengers characters in WWE 2K15.
First, some housekeeping
• I am referring to all the games in this article as ‘WWE games’. I know the company was known as WWF until 2002, and when I refer to older games by name I will obviously give their proper WWF title. But for the sake of my sanity, when I say ‘WWE games’ take it as a given that I mean all WWF and WWE games.
• In gathering the stats for this article, I have counted every WWE game ever released on home consoles, handhelds, computers and mobiles which let you actually control the wrestlers. As such, I’ve left out three games: MicroLeague Wrestling, WWF With Authority! and WWE SuperCard. These are strategy games and since they don’t let you ‘play as’ wrestlers as such, I’m leaving them out of the list.
• Where a game was released on multiple formats, I count that as one game unless the roster varies wildly between formats. For example, WWE 2K16 is available on Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360 and PS3, but I’m counting it as a single game as the rosters are identical. Meanwhile, WWF Wrestlemania: Steel Cage Challenge on the NES and Master System have very different rosters, so I’ve counted them as two separate releases.
• The stats take DLC into account, including the upcoming WWE 2K16 DLC which is yet to be released at the time of writing.
• I know you’re supposed to call them Superstars and Divas these days, but forgive me if I stray off-brand and start calling them wrestlers.
• Um… that’s it. DING DING etc.
Let’s kick off with the big numbers. A grand total of 385 wrestlers have been playable in WWE games.
The original WWF Wrestlemania on NES offered a mere six (Hulk Hogan, Andre The Giant, Randy Savage, Ted DiBiase, Bam Bam Bigelow and The Honky Tonk Man.
Fast forward 26 years and you have WWE 2K16, which will feature a massive 155 wrestlers once all the DLC packs are released.
If you want to get massively nerdy, 38 of the wrestlers who have appeared in video game form have names that begin with ‘S’, so if you’ve got an odd fetish for that letter you’ll have a 1 in 10 chance of playing as someone with that initial.
Of these 385 wrestlers who have starred in WWE games, 58 of them (15%) are women.
This may seem like a low number but given that we’re counting games from as far back as the late ’80s, and that before the turn of the millennium you could count the number of female wrestlers in the WWE at any one time on one hand, it isn’t too bad going.
Which of the women has appeared more times than anyone else, though? Try and have a guess, and I’ll tell you later.
While 385 wrestlers have featured in a WWE game, obviously many of them have appeared numerous times.
In fact, if you take every single WWE game and count up all the character slots in every one, you’d have a grand total of 2,246 playable characters.
If you were to go through every game and play a 5-minute match with every wrestler in each (not counting loading times), it would take you 7 days, 19 hours and 10 minutes to get through them all.
You’d also really need to sleep pretty badly.
Well, here’s a lovely wee coincidental milestone. WWE 2K16 marks the 50th video game appearance of The Undertaker.
Since Taker’s 25-year career at the company spans almost the full history of WWE video games, it should come as no surprise to find that he’s appeared in more games than anyone else. By a wide margin, too.
If only there was some sort of list so you could see who the runners-up were. Ah well.
Hang on a minute, what’s this.
The Undertaker isn’t the only one who’s been a regular fixture in WWE gaming. In fact, a total of 23 wrestlers have appeared in at least 20 games over the years.
Here’s a list counting down the superstars who have featured most. The numbers in brackets are the number of character slots they’ve had: in other words, it includes multiple appearances in the same game (like when you can choose either the Deadman or American Badass versions of The Undertaker).
1) The Undertaker – 50 games (59 slots)
2) Triple H – 40 games (46 slots)
3) Shawn Michaels – 38 (39 slots)
4) Kane – 37 games (44 slots)
5) The Rock – 35 games (38 slots)
6) Edge – 35 games (37 slots)
7) Stone Cold Steve Austin – 31 games (36 slots)
8) Chris Jericho – 31 games (35 slots)
9) Big Show – 29 games (34 slots)
10) Christian – 29 games (31 slots)
11) Hulk Hogan – 24 games (30 slots)
12) Bradshaw/JBL – 24 games (25 slots)
13) Bret Hart – 24 games
14) Randy Orton – 23 games (26 slots)
15) John Cena – 23 games (25 slots)
16) Eddie Guerrero – 22 games
16) Matt Hardy – 22 games
18) Ric Flair – 21 games (22 slots)
19) Trish Stratus – 21 games
20) Booker T – 20 games
20) Kurt Angle – 20 games
20) Rey Mysterio – 20 games
20) Vince McMahon – 20 games
If you reckon it’s an honour for the wrestlers who appeared in the above list, spare a thought for the four poor chaps who are narrowly short of making it to the ’20 Club’, with 19 appearances each.
In fairness, there’s a good chance that three of them may still make it there next year. Mark Henry is still signed to the WWE (though he’s been out of action for the last six months), so you’d imagine he’ll appear in WWE 2K17.
Likewise, even though Batista and Randy Savage are no longer with the WWE (due to being an actor and being dead respectively), they’ve enjoyed such past success with the company that they’re more than likely to appear as ‘legend’ characters in later games.
The same can’t be said for Chris Benoit though, who I’d imagine will remain firmly at 19 appearances for the rest of history. After he murdered their family then killed himself, WWE distanced itself from him.
Since women’s wrestling took a longer time to get off and running in the WWE, and since the careers of female wrestlers tend to be much shorter than their male counterparts, only one woman – Trish Stratus – has made it to the 20 club.
Still, that doesn’t mean the ladies don’t have a few multi-game stars in there. A total of 19 women have appeared in at least five games. Here’s the countdown:
1) Trish Stratus – 21 games
2) Lita – 16 games (17 slots)
3) Stephanie McMahon – 15 games
4) Stacy Keibler – 10 games
5) Torrie Wilson – 9 games
6) Brie Bella – 8 games
6) Nikki Bella – 8 games
8) Molly Holly – 7 games
8) Natalya – 7 games
10) Ivory – 6 games
10) Jacqueline – 6 games
10) Kelly Kelly – 6 games
10) Layla – 6 games
10) Michelle McCool – 6 games
15) Victoria – 6 games
16) Beth Phoenix – 5 games
16) Chyna – 5 games
16) Melina – 5 games
16) Mickie James – 5 games
A wrestler’s career is a delicate thing. You work hard and make it to the big leagues, finally appearing on TV on Raw and Smackdown, and then – almost as quickly as it started – it’s all over.
For every Stone Cold Steve Austin and John Cena there are countless Kwangs, Mideons and Kurrgans, whose successes are sadly fleeting.
Don’t think of it as tragic, though, that 107 wrestlers only appeared in a single WWE game. Wrestlers like Jimmy Wang Yang, Pete Gas, Sean O’Haire and ‘Dr Death’ Steve Williams.
Instead, be proud of them for managing to make it there in the first place.
(Incidentally, while we’re at it, here are some of the more successful, illustrious wrestlers who only appeared once through no fault of their own: Cowboy Bob Orton, the Nasty Boys, Bruno Sammartino, Koko B Ware and Sabu)
In fairness, some of the above 107 wrestlers may still get a chance to make it out of the ‘one and done’ category.
After all, many of them are still active WWE members and are only in the list because their career is just beginning.
Indeed, 26 of those 107 have made their video game debut in WWE 2K16. These include Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, Kalisto and the Vaudevillains, all stars you’d expect to still be around come WWE 2K17.
The WWE Hall Of Fame was established in 1993 and since then a total of 119 wrestling legends have been inducted. Of these inductees, 46% of them (54 in total) have been immortalised at least once in video game form.
There are many reasons why this figure is so low. Many of the Hall Of Fame inductees are managers, wrestlers from the ’60s and ’70s, or wrestlers who were never part of the WWE but were just being honoured.
And then there’s Tito Santana, who really should have been in at least one.
Of the celebrity wing, which currently consists of eight non-wrestling personalities, two have made it to a WWE game: Mike Tyson and Arnold Schwarzenegger (as The Terminator).
A surprising number
While we’re on the subject of The Terminator, you’d be surprised how many weird and wonderful characters who aren’t part of the WWE roster pop up in its games.
Some of the oddest examples include:
• The Terminator (obviously, because I already said him) (WWE 2K16)
• Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst (WWF Smackdown: Just Bring It! and WWF Raw)
• A Druid who follows the Undertaker (WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011)
• Green and Red, the generic dummies who appear in move previews when you create a wrestler (WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2010)
• Zombie Santino Marella and Zombie Fit Finlay (WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2009)
• Al Snow’s mannequin Head, complete with invisible body (WWF Attitude)
• Mike Tyson (WWE 13)
• Pamela and Sue, two THQ employees (WWF War Zone)
• One of the prostitutes that accompanied The Godfather to the ring, simply named Ho (WWF No Mercy)
• Tony, a military member who joins WWE after they perform a Tribute To The Troops Show in John Cena’s story mode (WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2009)
• Yourself (WWF Wrestlemania Challenge, WWF King Of The Ring)
43 out of 44
There are 44 wrestlers in Acclaim’s WWF Attitude, but you can only make 43 of them bleed.
You see, Owen Hart sadly died just before the game was released, and while it was too late to take him out, it wasn’t too late for development studio Iguana West to make a few last-minute addidions: an ‘in memory of’ screen when the game starts, and an inability to make him bleed.
Yes, even though there are a handful of female wrestlers in WWF Attitude (Sable, Chyna and Jacqueline) and you can bust all their faces open, you can spend days wailing on Owen Hart with a steel chair and he’ll never sport a crimson mask.
I should know because, shamefully, a 16-year-old me tried for hours to do it.
WWF Raw on the original Xbox was THQ’s attempt to kickstart a brand new franchise on Microsoft’s console to complement the Smackdown games on PlayStation and the Wrestlemania games on GameCube.
Sadly, it was a bit rubbish, with a weird stamina system which made all the wrestlers constantly out of breath as if they smoked 200 a day.
One thing it did have going for it, though, was unlockable weapons. A ridiculous 178 of the bastards, to be precise.
These ranged from the expected (steel chairs, sledgehammers) to the slightly less sensible: a parrot, a turban, a pineapple, a giant tuna fish, a pair of slippers and a plastic hand. Mae Young fans will shiver at the thought of that last one.
To this day, many (including me) think WWF No Mercy on the Nintendo 64 is the greatest WWE game ever made.
Part of this was down to its near-flawless risk/reward gameplay, while part of it was down to its massive 74-strong roster, by far the biggest at the time.
Anyone and everyone involved with the WWE at the time was chucked into No Mercy, making for some bizarre playable characters – many of whom made their first and only appearances in a WWE game as a result.
These included referee Earl Hebner, announcer Howard Finkel, veteran wrestlers Mae Young and The Fabulous Moolah, and even Vince’s wife Linda McMahon.
Over the years, as different publishers take on the WWE licence, new franchises are started and ended.
When Acclaim had the licence, for example, it released four games using developer Sculptured Software’s Super Wrestlemania engine: WWF Super Wrestlemania, WWF Royal Rumble, WWF Rage In The Cage and WWF Raw.
Then there was THQ. On the Nintendo 64, they technically only released two WWE games with the same engine – WWF Wrestlemania 2000 and WWF No Mercy – but these followed on from WCW vs nWo World Tour and WCW vs nWo Revenge.
By far though, the Smackdown series has been the longest-running, continuing to this day with the same gameplay mechanics (heavily modified and improved over the years, obviously) despite changes in name and publisher.
Launching as WWF Smackdown! on the PlayStation in 2000, the series has been renamed numerous times over the years, first to WWE Smackdown vs Raw, then simply WWE and finally WWE 2K when publisher 2K Sports took over. The latest game, WWE 2K16, is the 17th in the series.
WWF Attitude had a career mode where you start off doing house shows and eventually work your way up to Raw before performing at pay-per-view events (there was no Smackdown back then).
Originally, Acclaim planned to include 22 ‘jobbers’ – fictional rookie wrestlers you could step on at the house shows as you climbed the ladder to success.
These jobbers didn’t have the most appealing names: had they made it in the game you’d have ended up facing the likes of Stickboy, Caboose, Jabroni, Biohazard and… um, Spaz.
For some unknown reason, these jobbers were eventually scrapped, though all their voices, ring attire and theme music remained in the Create-A-Wrestler mode.
No great loss, then. Still, Stickboy’s Devo-themed music was amazing:
List your top ten wrestling games and chances are arcade and Dreamcast title WWF Royal Rumble won’t be anywhere near it.
Despite this, it did have one thing going for it: it’s the only WWE game to date that has managed to include nine characters in the ring at once.
It’s an impressive technical achievement, and one that was a massive selling point for the game.
Sadly though, people quickly realised this made focusing on specific opponents a bit of a mess and as such it’s perhaps no surprise that even far more powerful consoles never go beyond six wrestlers at a time.
You may have noticed earlier that Stephanie McMahon, Vince’s daughter and wife of current COO Triple H, has appeared as a playable character no less than 15 times.
This is a great accomplishment for any wrestler regardless of their experience, but it’s particularly impressive for Stephanie.
That’s because in her entire time at the WWE she’s only wrestled a total of 24 times. Granted, she managed to win the Women’s Championship in that time, but it’s fair to say she’s more of a talker than a fighter.
There’s nothing more infuriating in fighting games in general when you realise you can’t play as the final boss characters.
It’s something that plagued the original Street Fighter II, to the point that Capcom eventually released a Champion Edition to finally let gamers play as Balrog, Vega, Sagat and Bison.
Back in the day this concept applied to WWE games too: a total of 13 different wrestlers appeared as non-playable boss characters in the likes of WWF Wrestlefest and WWF European Rampage Tour.
Top of the ‘up yours’ list is ‘The Million Dollar’ Man Ted DiBiase, who appeared no fewer than three times as a completely non-playable opponent.
I’ve already gushed about how fantastic WWF No Mercy was on the Nintendo 64. But things didn’t run smoothly from day one.
You see, anyone dedicated enough to buy the game at launch discovered it had a game-breaking bug.
Every time you switched the game off, the amount of save data that was retained on the cartridge was 0%. In other words, it wiped your game save every time.
THQ eventually admitted the first batch of games were affected with this bug, and advised players (via a press release sent to gaming websites) to return their copy to the shop they bought it from for a free replacement.
This was still a relatively early time in online games journalism though, meaning loads of players didn’t get the memo and were stuck with a broken game forever.
Still brilliant, mind.
No Mercy and the N64 aside, many PlayStation fans firmly believe that WWE Smackdown! Here Comes The Pain was actually the best wrestling game ever.
But the thing is, it could have been even better. 11 characters better, in fact.
Data found on the game disc reveals that a further 11 superstars were at one point planned to be in the game but were eventually canned.
Jeff Hardy and Hulk Hogan had left WWE before the game was released, and The Ultimate Warrior was engaged in a legal dispute with them, so that’s why those three were ditched.
There’s no such excuse, though, for Spike Dudley, Billy Kidman, Billy Gunn, William Regal, Bradshaw, Molly Holly and 3-Minute Warning, all of whom had data on the disc but didn’t have finished character models.
Finally, a bit of solid gold cheese.
Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game was an action game created by Midway, who were big on digitised graphics at the time following the success of Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam.
It’s a ridiculous game, with live-action sprites of WWE wrestlers performing odd Mortal Kombat style special moves, some of where were ever so slightly racist (Yokozuna hit enemies with a basket of tuna).
The best thing about it, though, was the promotional VHS strategy guide in which the wrestlers were roped in to reveal how to do some of the special moves.
The thing takes a truly bizarre turn fairly quickly: head to 8:05 in the video below and watch The Undertaker give precisely zero fucks as he tells you how to do the Demon Dizzy move.
So there you have it. Hopefully you enjoyed this massively nerdy list. If you did, spread the word with your fellow wrestling fans.
Also, be sure to comment below if you’d like to see me do something similar with your favourite gaming series. And let me know what it is, obviously. I’m good, but I’m not that good.
Thoroughly enjoyed that, I remember the No Mercy bug like it was yesterday! The guy in Electronics Boutique (RIP) had no idea what I was talking about when I went in with the press release but it eventually got sorted, though the characters didn’t bleed in the replacement copy I was given 🙁 I’d love if you did a similar article on Pokémon, Mario, Zelda or Lego games!
Ah, that’s right, the blood didn’t work in the second batch! I decided to cut my losses at that point – better to have no blood than no save file 🙂
That was a brilliant read.
what about the original arcade game chris WWF Superstars by technos japan, had a limited but great roster fantastic chunky vibrant sprites and 4 player action, fondly remember it at my youth club in the early 90’s!
Great piece Chris, it brought back many memories!
The N64 and PS2 games were the go-to multiplayer games during my teens and I’m glad you mentioned the Dreamcast’s Royal Rumble game. That 9 men in the ring feature was a big deal at the time, but it was so devoid of content that it was a bit of a rip-off at £40, even if the backstage areas were fun.
I’d quite like to see you play through one of the better games (No Mercy, Shut Your Mouth, Here Comes the Pain) and take us through the career mode, perhaps on your YouTube channel.
That was a great article. Keep up the good work.