It’s WrestleMania week, so naturally I have wrestling on the brain. I can’t wait to sit on my ass and watch wrestling content, largely uninterrupted by commercials, for nearly seven hours straight. It’s a yearly tradition at this point. Now, wrestling is one of those really divisive forms of media in the world of fandom, or nerd culture, or whatever word you have for “being into things.” People are either really into it, or they have such a serious distaste for it they either dismiss it as fake or redneck schlock. But wrestling is more of a multicultural affair than most people realize, and one thing in particular that really gets my gears turning is how often wrestling and video games find themselves intersecting. I’m not just talking about gamers showing up at Monday Night RAW tapings though, I mean actual video games, even ones that don’t have anything to do with wrestling on the surface, have a long history of showing off their creators’ love for the form.
Sure, there’s also a long history of wrestling games, even pre-dating the NES. There’s the various real-life-based wrestling games, based on WWE, WCW, TNA, and more. But there’s also a deep history of original pro wrestling games. Hell, even Nintendo made one in the original NES “black box” lineup, simply called Pro Wrestling. And it’s really good! There’s also the Fire Pro Wrestling series, and a variety of games from the likes of Temco and Data East also making their own, now retro takes on the sport. And let’s not forget more modern efforts like the Def Jam series.
But like I said, wrestling in video games extends even further than just the games explicitly about wrestling. Wrestling, which is historically taken more “seriously” in Japan than elsewhere around the world, is often featured as a bombastic, but legitimate combat style in all kinds of games. It’s even a great marker for advancements and innovations in games across genres. I’m not just talking about fighting games either, with the likes of Street Fighter and Guilty Gear cementing the fact that all fighting game rosters need at least one dude or lady well-versed in the graps.
I’m probably wrong about this, but when I think of wrestling making its first major impact on genre games, I think of Final Fight. Up until this point, brawlers weren’t much more complicated than the Double Dragon brand of jump kicks and weapons. But Final Fight introduced Mike Hagger, a former pro wrestler-turned-mayor. Either character, Cody or Haggar, could gran an enemy by walking into them and follow-up with a toss or some punches. But Hagger could actually grab a dude and walk around. Furthermore, if you jumped, Haggar could execute a leaping piledriver, which I’m pretty sure is grounds for a murder charge. This changed the game in the 16-bit brawler days, expanding the notion of having options in combat, even in a sidescrolling brawler.
This would continue on and on, and at this point wrestling moves in games are as commonplace as random collectibles and dead family members. In the modern Resident Evil games, play any Mercenaries mode and you’ll discover a whole WWE roster’s worth of wrestling moves. Leon Kennedy and pals bust out a variety of suplexes, neckbreakers, and I’m pretty sure there’s a tornado DDT in Resident Evil 6. Even games like Batman: Arkham Asylum and Devil May Cry have wrestling moves tucked in along all the other martial arts. Hell, I landed a jackknife power bomb in a Ninja Turtles game a few years ago and lost my mind.
The bottom line is this: wrestling is ubiquitous, and people who aren’t weirdos and rednecks love it too. Your favorite game development personalities probably have either been involved in wrestling games, or have been involved in games that heavily feature wrestling moves in combat. Wrestling is super nerdy, it’s basically comic book storylines playing out in live action. The cross-pollination of pro wrestling fans and gamers is not to be understated. And that’s okay, because it makes action-based video games that much more fun and exciting to play. From doing a four-person spinning piledriver in Golden Axe: Revenge of Death Adder to seeing Robin hit a vertical suplex in LEGO Batman, you’ll find this stuff in places you least expect it. And that’s great.