Monday, December 21, 2015

Should Wrestling Games Be Considered Fighting Games?

I remember being so excited when my mom got me a Playstation back in the late 90s.

At the time, I was a huge wrestling fan and, quite frankly, the only reason I wanted a Playstation was so I could play a game called WCW vs. the World. All of my friends had the Nintendo 64, which had this awesome wrestling game called WCW vs. NWO: World Tour (one of the most iconic games of the genre).

WCW Vs. The World, the first wrestling
game I ever owned
My mom couldn't get me both consoles, so I had to make a choice. The N64 didn't have my Street Fighter or Tekken games. The Playstation had both series and it had WCW vs. the World, created by the same group that made World Tour.

But even after the decision was made and the console was purchased, I wasn't able to get WCW vs. the World right away. For about a year, we only had four games: Jet Moto, Parappa the Rapper, Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped, and Tekken 2.

Tekken 2 was the only game that allowed me to get my wrestling fix. Many of the characters had a small handful of wrestling moves:  The Mishima headbutt, Heihaichi's powerbomb, Jack-2's piledriver, Lee and Law's Bulldog. I never considered Nina and Anna's grappling attacks as wrestling moves, but I don't fault anyone else who does.

The only character in the game worthy enough to act as my true wrestling vessel was Armor King.

Now I'll stop right here for a moment because I know the vast majority of you are like "Timeout! What do you mean Armor King?! What about King?! That guy had way more wrestling moves than Armor King."

Armor King, Tekken 2's most realistic
wrestling game character
Yes, I played with King. I obsessed over learning every single one of his moves, every combination and every possible position available. For a while, he was my vessel – until I unlocked Armor King. I found Armor King's style to be more realistic to the performances of typically seen in professional wrestling.

Take a look at wrestling from the 90s to present day. If you notice, most of the action is based on strikes, not on unique moves, and certainly not on the elongated chain throws that are the trademark of a good King player (*very soon, I will post a breakdown of the top wrestling-based characters in fighting games that will give you a more definitive look at my perspective on King).

Playing with Armor King was the start of my observation of the similarities between fighting games and wrestling games. However, I didn't put any serious thought into the comparisons until about two years later, when I started playing the Acclaim Entertainment-based WWF games. You can hate on WWF Warzone and WWF Attitude all you want. Both of them were awesome, American-made wrestling games, and the first of their era to feature a create-a-wrestler mode.

My average gaming day consisted of alternating from WWF Attitude to Tekken 2 (later Tekken 3). At the time, of course, I saw them both as different games. One revolved around martial arts and offered traditional narratives for each character. The other is rooted in the tropes of sports entertainment and, although there are narratives within the Career Mode, treats itself like a conventional sports game not unlike the Madden or NBA Live series.

Still, the command-based gameplay mechanics of Attitude got me thinking. Should wrestling games be considered fighting games? All of these years and I still don't have a definitive answer. Looking at earlier American wrestling games in the 1980s, you could certainly argue that all of them were fighting games (and I stress American knowing that Fire Pro Wrestling was created in Japan during the late 80's and was generations ahead of its time as far as wrestling games are concerned).

Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game, blurring the lines
between wrestling games and fighting games
Until American wrestling games starting utilized Japanese game engines, many of the wrestling games had the same features as fighting games – power meters, stage select (ring select), combos, special moves, and finishing moves. Think about WWF Wrestle Fest, WWF Superstars, WWF In Your House, WCW SuperBrawl – all of them possessed those characteristics.

If you check out Wikipedia's list of fighting games, wrestling games have their own section. And I've often wondered why wrestling games aren't included in the list of sports games. The obvious argument against doing so stems from the idea that, because pro wrestling isn't real, it shouldn't be included in the sports game list. My counterargument: What about the goofy parody sports games like NFL Blitz and NBA Jam? Many of the antics in those games are about as far-fetched as anything you'd see in a wrestling game (in Blitz, the players use actual wrestling moves). If those games are part of the sports list, why can't wrestling games be there, too?

Let me be clear. I'm not arguing for or against anything. I'm just expressing a few long held curiosities of mine. So tell me. Should wrestling games be considered fighting games?