Minus The Simpsons Wrestling, because you know — The Simpsons Wrestling, we've actually had a pretty solid run of (I'm about to say it a third time) wrestling games over the past few decades. And with the upcoming WWE 2K22 making its rounds in the media at the moment, now seems to be as good a time as any to take a trip down memory lane and explore some of the most memorable episodes in the domain to date.
From the ringside disputes to the backstage brawls, wrestling has contributed an overwhelming amount of entertainment to the fighting scene since its inception. But let's talk video games, and those that have made the greatest impression of all. From 1989's WWE WrestleMania to 2020's WWE 2K Battlegrounds, here are, in our opinion, the five best wrestling games of all time, ranked.
5. Fire Pro Wrestling World
Fire Pro Wrestling World certainly doesn't look like your run-of-the-mill wrestling template as seen in most top-shelf renditions, but that's partly the reason why it's praised by both fans of the genre and indie lovers alike. It dares to be different, and favours the retro-like fashion to help sever its connection with the heavyweights of the category. And honestly, it does it remarkably well.
Working with a top-down style, as opposed to a bog-standard eye level design, Fire Pro Wrestling World gives you the best seat in the house as you spectate some of the most riveting fights spring to life. Mechanics-wise, it's a whole lot more complex than its simplistic art style lets on, and is actually punching a little higher than most modern day entries in the genre. Not bad for a series that launched way back in 1989, that's all I'm saying.
4. WWF SmackDown! Just Bring It
Way back when The Rock reigned supreme over all other wresting icons, WWF SmackDown! was a true staple on televised entertainment — even more so in the gaming industry, what with its barrell of PlayStation 2 hits from the early noughties. WWF SmackDown! Just Bring It, however, just hit a little differently to others in the timeline.
Combined with a more fleshed out story mode and a deeper understanding of the wrestlers, as well as a heavy upgrade surrounding the over-the-top fighting physics, WWF SmackDown! Just Bring It launched the platform into a whole new realm of possibility. Many would even say that Just Bring It was the chapter that helped carve the way for all future entries to the fighting genre. A strong statement — but a well-deserved one at that.
3. WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain
Swiftly arching forward to the WWE thread of games, it's WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain, the 2003 segment of the rebranded WWE universe. It's said that Here Comes the Pain was released right around the time developer Yuke's had been able to crack the wrestling formula and brew near-perfect concoctions. Again, a strong argument, but one that is definitely worth entertaining.
Using all accumulated knowledge from previous instalments and boosting it with numerous visual and mechanical enhancements, Here Comes the Pain was able to build on something truly remarkable and take the franchise to even greater heights. And while it didn't exactly reinvent the wheel when it came to wrestling video games, it did provide a textbook example of how one should look when in motion.
2. Def Jam: Fight for NY
Def Jam isn't exactly a traditional wrestling series in any sense, but it has employed numerous elements that breathe from the same vein as it — especially in the debut Def Jam entry, Vendetta, which was, in essence, a hip-hop version of most SmackDown games. However, rather than filling the roster with some of the biggest fighters in the business, Def Jam instead opted for the likes of Method Man and Ludacris. You know, wrestlers.
Admittedly, the series took an unusual turn with Fight for New York, but it was a turn that happened to put the franchise on the map. Locations were bulked out to include more than dreary street arenas, and the overall gameplay became a lot sharper and far more polished. Throw in some all-time favourite rap legends, and you have a well-rounded piece of entertainment, plain and simple.
1. WWE 2K19
Before 2K drove the series into the dirt with WWE 2K20, the timeline was arguably one of the most trustworthy in all of the genre. Prior to the ship capsizing and staining the series' reputation, WWE 2K19 hoisted the sails and manned an absolute game changer of an entry. With all of the standard ingredients that made previous games respected, Visual Concepts only looked to expand on the recipe and add new flavours to the plate, effectively bringing a whole new banquet to the table.
Boasting a polished creation suite, enhanced graphics and finely tweaked combat system, 2K19 quite simply built on its predecessor by leaps and bounds. Add a full-fledged storyline without the lazy writing that bogged 2K20 down, update the roster to include some fresh faces, and you've got yourself an absolute beast of a wrestling game. Best by far? We'd like to think so.
So, what's your take? Do you agree with our top five? Which wrestling games would you rank the highest? Let us know over on our socials here or down in the comments below.