gaming

The 21 Best Wrestling Games of All Time

If you’re fully prepared to enter the digital squared circle, then these games are the best way to do it

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To say that WWE 2K20 was a massive disappointment would be an understatement.

 

A lackluster mix of undercooked visuals, entirely too slow grappling mechanics, a cringeworthy story mode, and a litany of bugs & glitches turned a promising WWE product into one of the worst wrestling games of all time. Wrestling fans have become accustomed to quality experiences within that sub-genre that gives them tons of fun creation options, an easy to understand combat system and a simulation suite that lets them book their own fantasy feuds and matches. Visual Concepts and 2K Sports certainly have to go back to the drawing board if they hope to regain the confidence of everyone that was burned by its most recent offering.

 

Now that I’ve mentioned a terrible wrestling game, allow me to bring some balance back to this conversation by mentioning a whole slew of awesome ones. These 21 picks represent the very best when it comes to games that are entirely focused on smashing fools while adorned in the flashiest in-ring attire possible. 

 

Whether they’re linked to WWF/E, WCW, Japanese promotions or your favorite rappers, these games stand out as the best way to enter the wild world of professional wrestling.

21. ‘Saturday Night Slam Masters’

Capcom’s 90’s winning streak was a result of Street Fighter II’s rousing success and the company’s many other quality arcade/home port releases. Another beloved fighting game venture of theirs is Saturday Night Slam Masters, which was a simple yet wholly entertaining in-ring brawler at its time.


The cast was full of eccentric grapplers that included Final Fight’s Mike Haggar and even a wildman that looked like a pre-green skinned variation of Blanka. Saturday Night Slam Masters may not have been particularly deep, but its easy to grasp mechanics made for a fun time as you fought your way to the top of the card.

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20. ‘WWF WrestleFest’

The brightly colored tights, catchy theme songs and outlandish characters that embodied wrestling’s golden age were represented perfectly within his playable time capsule. WWF WrestleFest featured a who’s who of early 90s legends, such as Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Mr. Perfect and Demolition. 

 

Every one of those squared circle behemoths looked just like their action figure counterparts and pulled off all sorts of devastating moves inside/outside the ring. The option to go to war with two wrestlers for a tag team championship campaign or go solo during a Royal Rumble contest gave players two fine choices to choose from during their time spent with this arcade classic.

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19. ‘WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game’

Midway produced a winning combination when it mashed up the more outlandish antics of its Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam games with the WWF’s New Generation era. The game that came from that unexpected concoction was WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game.

 

There were no slower paced fisticuffs to engage in here – this was a wrestling game that played more like a fighter and relied on insane attacks that brought each Superstar’s gimmick to life. Pulling off a double-digit combo in the arcade for an enraptured audience is a feat I was never able to pull off, but I once witnessed it in all its glory. Watching Yokozuna headbutt the American Stars and Stripes out of Lex Luger in this game never got old.

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18. ‘WCW vs. The World’

During the midst of the Monday Night Wars, WCW chose to up its game (literally) by offering its fans something quite memorable – a 3D wrestling game that pitted its roster against a collection of fictional stars based on real-world Japanese legends. 


Not only was WCW vs. The World an excellent game in its own right, but it also ended up being my gateway to the international wrestling scene at large. This title’s roster was massive and much of its replay value came from playing with every one of the included wrestlers from each Japanese federation. The modes suite was bigger than most wrestling games at the time, plus AKI’s perfect grappling system saw its earliest incarnation with this release. WCW vs. The World is still worth playing to this day.

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17. ‘WWE WrestleMania XIX’

The Nintendo GameCube tried to replicate the AKI excellence that Nintendo 64 wrestling games were known for when it received WWE WrestleMania X8. I bought into that game’s hype, but was severely let down by its dark and muddy visuals, annoying multi-man matches within the Path of a Champion mode and all around lame presentation. Once the sequel came around, my confidence in Nintendo’s purple box being the place to play good wrestling games was renewed.


WrestleMania XIX provided me with hours of fun thanks to its improved mechanics, brighter visuals, amazing roster and smartly implemented counter system. Sure, Revenge Mode left a lot to be desired for someone like me who wanted a proper Career Mode. But WrestleMania XIX more than made up for that mistake with the type of digital in-ring action that felt as painful as it looked.

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16. ‘Ultimate Muscle: Legends vs. New Generation’

This next pick shocked the hell out of me when I first saw it in action. While I was a huge fan of the Ultimate Muscle cartoon when it was shown on Fox, I didn’t think the licensed game based on it would be any good. I was forced to eat my words when I saw how it played and who was responsible for its development – AKI Corporation. 


Ultimate Muscle: Legends vs. New Generation looked just like the anime thanks to its focus on a cel-shaded art style, so it always looked as if I was right in the middle of a brand new episode. The character selection featured the show’s greatest competitors (shout out to Kevin Mask!) and the moves you could pull off in this game were mind blowing. The story mode was cool and all, but the create-a-wrestler mode was what really made me appreciate this title. I bodied plenty of my friends with a cute dog-mask wearing behemoth who was a master of the Muscle Millennium.

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15. ‘Def Jam Vendetta’

I never knew how much I wanted to see Method Man vs. Ghostface Killah in a wrestling ring until I laid eyes on Def Jam Vendetta. What was supposed to be a WCW game that was exclusive to PS2 eventually morphed into a celebration of hip-hop’s early 2000’s heavyweights. 


I loved everything about this fantasy brawler – the recognizable roster members, the amazing soundtrack, the better than expected story mode and the Blazin’ finishers all blew my mind when this game first dropped. Since this title was powered by AKI’s signature grappling system, I fell in love with it instantly and took pleasure in KO’ing rappers with some of the most devastating moves ever performed in a wrestling ring. Def Jam Vendetta took a crazy concept and greatly succeeded in its execution.

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14. ‘TNA Impact!’

During the height of TNA’s run as a worthy alternative to WWE, I was a massive fan. Guys like AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Samoa Joe, Monty Brown and a few others gave me plenty of reasons to tune into TNA’s flagship show. When Jeff Jarrett’s wrestling brainchild partnered up with Midway Games to produce a video game starring TNA’s top talent, I was all in. 


When I finally got my hands on it, I was shocked by just how how much I enjoyed it. Not only did the arenas and wrestlers all look amazingly lifelike, but also the action itself was fluid and allowed for some pretty hype move transitions. TNA Impact! was the perfect mix between an arcade and simulation-based wrestling game – it was fast enough to keep casual players entertained, but it featured a deep combat system that made it worth mastering for wrestling game veterans. Too bad we never got a sequel…

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13. ‘WWE All-Stars’

WWE All-Stars practically took my young, impressionable memories of past wrestlers and placed them all within this over-the-top wrestling game. While a lot of people scoffed at the way this brawler made its characters look, I loved how each and every member of its roster were made to appear as steroid injecting giants. 


WWE All-Stars’ clever combination of past WWE legends and modern-day greats allowed for some never before seen fantasy matchups, plus the gameplay itself was tailor made for a party setting. I occasionally bring this game out if the homies are down for a quick Fatal 4-Way match that’s always capped off a jaw dropping finisher of some kind. WWE All-Stars is an incredibly underrated wrestling game that deserves far more love.

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12. ‘WWE SmackDown! Shut Your Mouth’

While the very first incarnation of the WWE SmackDown! franchise on PS2 was good in its own right, its follow-up was all the more better and a true realization of Yuke’s wrestling game know-how. Shut Your Mouth features one of the greatest season modes I’ve ever played in a wrestling game. 


Wandering around backstage and running into my favorite Superstars was always a joy, as you never knew what the outcome of those fateful meetings would be. This game also featured WWE’s Brand Split roster, which featured the earliest digital versions of John Cena and Batista. Shut Your Mouth was a vast improvement over Just Bring It due to an unpredictable season mode, improved visuals, a solid roster and vastly superior cover art.

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11. ‘WWE Day of Reckoning 2’

The GameCube’s WWE swan song was a triumphant way to go out on top. It took everything that was great about the first Day of Reckoning, added in a few more Hall of Fame standouts and provided a story mode that was great from start to finish. Day of Reckoning 2 gave me the chance to try out WWE’s slept-on mid 2000’s roster members in a game that felt like a nod to past AKI titles. 

 

What stood out the most to me about this sequel was just how impactful everything felt – landing a Batista Bomb always made me cringe a bit due to the bone breaking audio that came along with it. That final match against Triple H at WrestleMania 21 was rage inducing, but beating it was immensely satisfying and the best way to cap of this game’s fiery tale.

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10. ‘WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007’

WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2007 is one of those rare sequels that actually pushed the wrestling game genre forward and maintained the best aspects of its predecessors. The analog control system was a breath of fresh air as it gave you more freedom over where you wanted to throw your opponent and how you pulled off each grapple maneuver. 


The separate weight classes gave matches an extra air of reality as smaller wrestlers had to work that much harder to defeat their larger rivals. I got a kick out of this game for all those stated reasons, but what really spoke to me were its fun hardcore elements. Fighting in the crowd for the first time was always the main attraction for me in one of the best SmackDown vs. Raw games of all time.

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9. ‘WWE ‘13’

This entry is a game personified by the word “era.” On one hand, WWE ’13 marks the end of THQ’s outstanding run with the WWE video game license. And on the other, it also serves as a fitting tribute to the often-celebrated Attitude Era. 


What I appreciated so much about this title was its refined grappling animations and improved homing system that led to memorable mid-air finishing moves. Universe Mode was cool and all, but I came to WWE ’13 to relive the glory days of WWE’s raunchiest and most mainstream worthy period in wrestling history. And thankfully, that specific feature met my expectations and then some. WWE ’13 was a sign of greater things to come…

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8. ‘Fire Pro Wrestling World’

The Fire Pro Wrestling franchise is known for producing expert level wrestling games that aren’t for the faint of heart. Anyone that scoffs at its 2D visuals shouldn’t use that as a reason to ignore it, however. What lies in each Fire Pro Wrestling game is an intuitive and immensely gratifying grappling system that sucks you in and keeps you entertained for hours on end. 


Fire Pro Wrestling World is the most recent entry in the series and it stands out as the best one thus far. As someone who identifies himself as a diehard New Japan Pro Wrestling fan, I was extremely excited by this game’s usage of real NJPW talent and a story mode that brought me into the company itself. Couple all that with everything that makes Fire Pro Wrestling great and you have yourself a wrestling game with incredible replay factor potential.

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7. ‘Def Jam: Fight for NY’

There’s a reason why people still clamor for a remaster of this classic game. It took huge leaps to set itself apart from its predecessor and demanded the attention of even non-wrestling game fans. Def Jam: Fight for NY may include most of the familiar elements seen in your everyday wrestling game. But it goes above and beyond its sub-genre trappings by offering several different combat styles, open arenas with plenty of usable objects and one of the best character creation modes in gaming history. 


The roster is beyond legendary, too – Snoop Dogg, Elephant Man, David Banner, Busta Rhymes and even Flavor Flav are just a mere sample size of the dope MC’s included within this brutal brawler. I hated taking a million and one Pedigree’s from Fat Joe during my story mode run, but I eventually overcame him and came to dominate every rapper that stood in my way. Def Jam: Fight for NY is pure excellence and one of the greatest fighting/wrestling games to ever come from Electronic Arts.

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6. ‘WWE 2K14’

This might be a harsh statement to make, but I’m going to say it anyways – WWE 2K14 is the best wrestling game 2K Sports has ever released and it hasn’t been surpassed since. We’re now at WWE 2K20 and WWE 2K14 STILL exceeds it in every single way. Everything just seemed to move at a faster pace and look a tad bit more fluid in action. Like WWE ’13, WWE 2K14 earned my adoration and praise thanks to its story mode suite. 


The 30 Years of WrestleMania match playlist gave me more of a reason to play with all those throwback legends, plus The Streak mode was a fun little side endeavor that took me forever to complete. I still have my burned CD’s full of wrestling themes intact simply because I wanted them available for my Xbox 360 copy of this game. WWE 2K14 is still worth playing due to its phenomenal single-player challenges and top-notch gameplay.

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5. ‘WCW/nWo Revenge’

WCW vs. nWo: World Tour was cool and all, but its sequel pretty much made it and everything that came before it irrelevant as soon as it dropped. The roster was massive, the graphics saw an obvious upgrade, and the legendary AKI grappling system truly fulfilled its potential in WCW/nWo Revenge. We even got legit arenas to boot! 


There’s just so much to love about this game and talk about during heated discussions around the very same topic I’m writing about here. Sure, this game lacked a Create a Wrestler mode but you could still customize the roster to your heart’s content. And man…THAT COVER? Legendary. WCW/nWo Revenge still holds top honors as the greatest WCW video game ever made.

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4. ‘WWF WrestleMania 2000’

When AKI decided to ply its trade with the World Wrestling Federation and abandon its video game partnership with World Championship Wrestling, that move was akin to Ric Flair jumping over from WCW to WWF with the World Heavyweight Championship belt in the early 90’s. Yes, it was that much of a major move for the best wrestling game developers of all time. 


The game that came out of that new partnership was WWF WrestleMania 2000, a title that made me jealous of my friend who owned a Nintendo 64 (while I didn’t). It may have been a WCW/nWo Revenge palette swap when it came to its overall gameplay feel, but that’s not a bad thing whatsoever. What WWF WrestleMania 2000 did to stand apart from its WCW predecessor was offer a full-fledged story campaign, a Create a Wrestler mode you could spend hours messing around with and the wildest unlockable characters ever seen in a wrestling game. I had way too much fun trolling my friends with one of Godfather’s Ho’s!

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3. ‘Virtual Pro Wrestling 2’

When AJ Styles and Samoa Joe constantly sing this game’s praises, then you know it has to be something truly special. After I found a way to finally get my hands on this Japanese exclusive, I became a believer. My appreciation for the culture and presentation of Japanese Puroresu wrestling made me appreciate this title even more. 


It featured all the stiff strikes, MMA takedowns, and Strong Style maneuvers I came to love from feds such as NJPW and All Japan Pro Wrestling. Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 respected the time-honored traditions of Puroresu and showcased everything that made it so engrossing in video game form. If you need a wrestling game that lets you pit Stan Hansen and Big Van Vader against Shinya Hashimoto and Yuji Nagata, then this pick is tailor made for you.

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2. 'WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain’

Yuke’s earned my respect and plenty more from PS2 owners when they produced this GOAT-tier wrestling game. WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain was a true evolution of the franchise it was attached to – the new grappling system was damn near perfection, the body damage display made the use of submissions far more integral to the action at hand and the individual wrestler statistics added a welcome layer of strategy to the proceedings. 


I was floored by this game’s inclusion of playable legends, which is a feature that has gone on to do bigger and better things in future Yuke’s wrestling games. Fun fact – this is the only WWE game to include Ultimo Dragon as a playable character. I know that fact all too well cause I abused his Asai DDT finisher on the AI and my unlucky friends. WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain set the template for the SmackDown vs. Raw games and provided me with even more bragging rights as a proud PS2 owner.

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1. ‘WWF No Mercy’

The hype as hell intro. The catchy main menu theme song. The new and improved create a wrestler mode. Those traits and several other elements solidified WWF No Mercy as the greatest wrestling video game ever made. Its roster featured one of the best lineups of wrestlers in WWF history – the debut of The Radicalz, Kurt Angle, and Tazz were all worth the price of admission. 


The storylines and feuds I threw my custom wrestler into tested my mettle as a gamer, but I came out on the end of them a better man. Every wrestling fan I’ve ever been cool with has a N64 at their crib with this game’s cartridge in close proximity. And the fact that unofficial mods for this game are still being made to this very day speaks to how revered it still manages to be. WWF No Mercy easily takes the spot for me as the best wrestling game of all time and the one game I’d take with me for a permanent island getaway.

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