Pro wrestling video games - WWE games in particular - are really kind of either/or when it comes to their quality. The good ones are astoundingly good, and the bad ones are really bad.
There aren't many that are in the middle. So, when a new one is released, it's kind of a crapshoot as far as whether you'll be spending hours and hours of joyful playtime on it - or if you'll want to instantly demand a refund.
WWE 2K22 will hit store shelves in a couple of months, and it's the first mainline (meaning *not* 2K Battlegrounds) WWE game in around two years. After the problems that came along with 2K20, 2K Games and studio Visual Concepts took a step back - as well as an extra year of development time - to get 2K22 right.
But that got us thinking about wrestling games from the past - both good and bad. Eventually, we came up with a list and we've rounded up the two best and three worst WWE-related video games.
We have decided that any games based on past promotions that Vince McMahon's company currently owns are eligible. So, WCW and ECW games are in - but titles like Legends of Wrestling or the Fire Pro series are not. You can also check out our video on the same topic.
Before we get to the list, we have one quick dishonorable mention.
Dishonorable mention: WWE 2K18 (Nintendo Switch edition only)
Don't get us wrong: all the other versions of 2K18 are perfectly fine. It featured Kurt Angle as an unlockable character for pre-orders the same year he was inducted into the Hall of Fame (the game actually came out in 2017). It wasn't the best title in the series, but it made some improvements in a number of areas and was generally met with decent reviews.
Aside from the version that was released on the Nintendo Switch, that is. The 2K series is infamous for being loaded with bugs and glitches when they hit the store shelves, this was ridiculous.
From framerate problems to missing or scaled down features, the Switch version of 2K18 had all the hallmarks of a rushed and lazy port.
It didn't go unnoticed that this was released during the holidays and the Nintendo Switch was a huge seller that year.
So, while 2K18 is hardly anywhere near the list of the worst wrestling games ever, if all the other console editions were released in the same state as the Switch version, it would be number one without a doubt.
#5 Worst WWE game: WCW Backstage Assault
World Championship Wrestling, the rights, and tape library of which are currently owned by WWE, certainly had their fair share of great video games.
Titles like WCW/nWo Revenge, WCW vs. the World, and WCW vs. nWo: World Tour/Virtual Pro Wrestling 64. They overshadowed the games with WWE licenses by a longshot.
However, much like WWE, they've also had their share of stinkers, and this particular title takes the cake when it comes to crummy WCW games.
WCW Backstage Assault was the last game based on the promotion, and they certainly didn't go out gracefully.
Published by Electronic Arts and developed by Kodiak Interactive, this game also had one of the weirdest concepts for a wrestling video game ever. None of the bouts took place in a wrestling ring.
Every match in WCW Backstage Assault takes place backstage in an arena. Different parts of the arena can be unlocked, and players can fight their way through different locations during a match.
Fighting backstage in a wrestling game was nothing new up to this point. Even the previous game, WCW Mayhem, had that feature. This, however, was the first wrestling game to have no wrestling ring at all.
The game's concept alone doesn't put it on this list. After all, while it was certainly an odd idea, at least they were trying something different. A novel approach to a genre doesn't automatically make for a good game.
The controls for this game were awkward, the graphics were subpar even for the time, and most of the main game modes were unnecessarily convoluted.
#4 Best WWE Game: WWE SmackDown: Here Comes the Pain
It's worth noting that, in terms of which WWE games are either Best or Worst, this list isn't in any particular order. Which is good because if we had to pick which of the two "Best" titles was best, this thing would have probably never gotten written.
WWE SmackDown: Here Comes the Pain was the fifth edition of the SmackDown series of games and was released in 2003. It was the first game to feature some now-iconic stars, such as John Cena and Batista, and legends from the past, like Roddy Piper and others. It also included different versions of wrestlers, such as The Undertaker, as he looked during his original WWF run.
The game featured a more in-depth grappling system but, in general, didn't add much compared to earlier releases. What it did, however, was improve upon and refine what came before it.
It's the game that - other than the other "Best" on this list - all other wrestling games since are compared to. It's also top in the topic of conversation of "old wrestling games that should be remade."
It also has a General Manager mode, something that hasn't been seen in one of the company's games since. It will finally make its triumphant return in March as part of 2K22.
There's only one other game on its level and we'll get to that shortly.
#3 Worst WWE game: WWF Steel Cage Challenge
As far as WWE games go, the original WWF WrestleMania wasn't much to write home about. The controls were weird, it didn't look particularly good (even for the time), and it opened with a graphic of Hulk Hogan looking like a drunk, angry homeless guy on a bus.
But it also had a charm to it (as well as some pretty cool 8-bit renditions of wrestler theme songs), and it's still kind of fun even today.
Its follow-up, WWF Steel Cage Challenge, on the other hand, had none of those qualities.
The developers, Sculpted Software (NES version) and Teeny Weeny Software (Sega Master System & Game Gear), went with a top-down, isometric look which made the action in the ring a lot easier to see in actual steel cage matches.
That's the only positive thing to say about this game, other than it won't explode while you play it.
There are a number of changes to the roster between the Nintendo and Sega versions of the game. Not that anyone would notice, as the graphics are so bad it's really hard to tell who is who in this game.
Every wrestler in the game has the exact same moveset and no finishers. Not that that matters, as the controls are so bad, you'll probably not be able to pull any of the moves off anyway.
There's one character on the roster that is designed to represent the player, named "Yourself." It's about as generic-looking as a character in a game like this can get, but then again, every other character in the game looks pretty generic.
Baffling to us and for reasons we'll probably never understand, this game was released as a plug-and-play TV game, renamed WWE WrestleMania: Steel Cage Challenge. Other than changing "WWF" to "WWE," the only major change was the removal of Hulk Hogan and The Mountie and was replaced with Razor Ramon and the Ultimate Warrior.
#2 Best WWE game: WWF No Mercy
When Visual Concepts and the rest of the team working on WWE 2K22 were interviewed about the game, nearly all of them said they were looking at WWF No Mercy as inspiration. No Mercy is revered by designers and gamers alike.
WWF No Mercy was developed by the Aki Corporation, published by THQ, and was exclusively released on the Nintendo 64.
In fact, it was the very last pro wrestling game to be released on the console.
It would also be the final wrestling game made by Aki (the company now goes by the name syn Sophia) - though they would take their brilliant game engine for No Mercy and use it for other games, like Def Jam: Vendetta and Def Jam: Fight for New York.
Aki originally worked on the Virtual Pro Wrestling game, two of which were localized and repackaged as WCW vs the World and WCW vs nWo: World Tour, as we mentioned before.
It was their WCW/nWo Revenge that really caught the attention of gamers, as its solid grappling system made the title fun for those not into wrestling. It would be the last game they would do for WCW.
The studio refined its system after getting the WWE (then WWF) license and releasing WWF WrestleMania 2000. While that was a fantastic game in its own right, it was surpassed shortly after by No Mercy.
Solid and smooth gameplay, an amazing presentation, and a robust create-a-wrestler mode left no doubt that this was, by far, the best WWE game for the Nintendo 64.
#1 Worst WWE game: WWE Aftershock (for the Nokia N-Gage)
Before we get to the last WWE game, let us tell you about a little portable system called the N-Gage. It's essential we do so you understand precisely why this game is on the list.
Nokia's N-Gage was the cell phone company's attempt at mixing a portable game system with a cellular telephone.
Back in 2002, when the system was released, this was an exciting concept. At the time, games on phones didn't get much more complex than Snake.
With Nintendo dominating the handheld market with their Game Boy Advance, the concept of a portable game system that also worked as a phone seemed like the best way to compete with the Japanese gaming giant.
Unfortunately, that also required the device to work as well as the Game Boy Advance. But that was not the case. The button layout tried to mix phone buttons with the game controls, and that didn't work.
The system's screen, to maximize phone features, was centered vertically (unlike the Game Boy Advance's horizontal screen), making playing games awkward.
Also, the phone was shaped like a taco, making using it as a phone was really weird, too.
These things are the primary factors as to why Aftershock is on this "worst" list. But they're not the only reasons.
It's unclear if publisher THQ was contractually obligated to release a WWE game for the handheld device, or they started making it and then realized nobody was buying the thing and stopped caring.
But what came out was a game that on any other portable gaming platform would be mediocre at best.
Granted, by the time the game was released in 2005, Nokia had released the N-Gage QD, a significantly redesigned version of the system. But, even with those improvements, Aftershock was still a chore to play.
What WWE video games do you love and/or loathe? We'd love to hear them.
Share them in the comments section below.