Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always loved wrestling. My introduction to wrestling video games came back in 1991, when my parents – sick of seeing me piledrive the family cat – decided to pick me up a copy of WrestleMania for the Amstrad CPC 464. Fast forward 12 months, and there I was, pound coin in hand, ready to insert the first of many coins that would begin my love affair with the iconic WrestleFest arcade game.
Developed by Technōs back in 1991, WrestleFest stood for years among the giants of the arcade. It wasn’t the first of it’s kind. Quite the opposite in fact. Two years earlier, in 1989, Technōs had bodyslammed their way into the coin-op arena with the WWF Superstars title, while several other wrestling titles had made their way onto the home computer market to varying degrees of success.
For gamers and wrestling fans alike, WWF WrestleFest stood out from the crowd like the larger than life characters who inhabited it. Compared to the early Amiga, Amstrad and even Nintendo titles, WrestleFest looked like a major production.
With it’s enhanced graphics, legitimate voice samples and commentary including full ringside introductions by former ring announcer Mike McGuirk, it stood tall over its rivals, coming off like the WrestleMania of arcade experiences.
The game also benefited from a strong roster of talent. Unlike some previous video games, which had included less popular names such as Virgil or The Mountie, WrestleFest was stacked from top to bottom with legit main event names.
Everyone from Hulk Hogan and his “24-inch Pythons” to the dastardly duo of Smash and Crush was available for players to select. Top heels like Earthquake and Jake The Snake Roberts were joined by fan favourites such as Big Boss Man to round out the incredible talent pool, and there was even the non-selectable end of game boss in the form of the unstoppable Legion of Doom. What a rush!
It would take years for a WWF (or later WWE) video game to feature quite as sexy a roster as we’d seen back in 1991. The game was literally littered with legends and future Hall of Famers like we’d never seen before. When THQ took over the WWF/E license in 1999 they were sure to revive some of these icons of the ring – usually as unlockable easter eggs – but when WrestleFest landed in the arcades the business and it’s larger than life superstars was experiencing a massive boom.
Today, in 2018, we are spoiled with the likes of WWE 2K19, and it’s ultra-real visuals. Even we can’t argue that WrestleFest looked better than the modern era wrestle-ups. However, despite its cartoony graphics, WrestleFest stands toe-to-toe with anything 2K Games can offer up, and we’d argue that the animated style was much more fun to play around with – and perhaps more in keeping with the sport of kings, which gave up the pretence of depicting real-life decades ago.
WrestleFest is the only classic WWF or WWE video game title that has been resurrected for a modern audience. Over the years we’ve had games like Rage in the Cage or RAW is WAR, but only the 1991 arcade engine was deemed worthy of an HD remake, appearing on iOS in 2012. The newly named WWE WrestleFest not only featured the names we’d grown up within the arcade, but it also included modern-day stars like CM Punk, The Miz and even Sin Cara. It’s a true testament to the longevity of Technōs’ original concept that the WWE machine was willing to pump money into it once more, some 21 years after it’s original release.
The wrestling business is a cyclical one, and its popularity has risen and faded several times in its long and storied history. But like the ever-lasting hype surrounding the sport’s biggest names, WrestleFest remains a true fan favourite that has stood the test of time, made a comeback in its twilight years, and still delivered the goods inside the famed squared circle. Whether you love wrestling games or hate them, if you’ve ever dropped a coin into the slot and dropped that big leg drop of doom across your opponent’s neck, then there is no way you’ll ever disagree that WrestleFest is, was and always will be the real king of the ring.
What are your memories of playing WWF WrestleFest in the arcades? Did you download the iOS remake? Let us know your favourite wrestling video game memories in the comments section, or on our Twitter and Facebook pages.