by Alex Knapp
Oh, this stupid, stupid game.
Hell, you can’t really blame the WWF for making a game like this. Just look at where the WWF was in 2001 and imagine how invincible they must’ve felt. They had won The Monday Night Wars. WCW and ECW were now their property, the company was making unbelievable bank, and Vince McMahon truly was at the undisputed top of the wrestling world. They must’ve figured that since there’s no competition, they could do whatever they wanted now, right?
And what did they decide to do with that freedom and power? Well, just like with their onscreen product, they had two options. Now that they had access to the names and rosters of WCW and ECW, along with the complete attention of wrestling fans, they could have, on one hand, worked hard, put effort into booking some great wrestling storylines and matches, and continued to make their fans happy and rake in the money that would have ensued. Similarly, they could’ve put some effort into making some good wrestling games that gave the fans some great experiences.
On the other hand, they could just say, “Screw it” in both cases, and do something really, really, REALLY dumb and self-indulgent.
And so, as the WWF squandered the invasion angle onscreen, they also made WWF Betrayal. Which is not, technically, a wrestling game, but is instead a side-scrolling, Double Dragon/Final Fight-esque beat-‘em-up game starring WWF wrestlers. The game only contains one actual wrestling ring, and it’s in the game’s opening cutscene. Other than that, it’s out to the streets for some cop-and-civilian-beating action.
They went with Option B, in case you haven’t figured it out.
The game stars the WWF’s four biggest main eventers of that time: The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Undertaker, and HHH. You choose one of them to play as and take the role of the story’s babyface, with the other three appearing as the heels you encounter in boss fights. Our tale begins with your character in the aforementioned honest-to-God ring, wrestling for the title and on the verge of winning WWF Championship, before one of the other heels interferes and costs you the match. As you charge backstage to confront the interloper, you are stopped by a distraught Vince, who tells you that Stephanie McMahon has been kidnapped by the heels, and promises a new title shot if you rescue everyone’s favorite shrill-voiced billionaire princess. From there, the chase begins, and you fight your way through referees, security guards, police officers, and some of the most bizarrely dangerous civilians walking the streets, as your adventure takes you from the backstage to the streets to the subway, with a final climactic battle at Titan Towers itself.
I really don’t feel like anything more needs to be said. This game is a second-rate Final Fight clone, starring wrestlers, and where the damsel in distress is Stephanie McMahon. Doesn’t that just speak for itself?
Oh, all right, I’ll describe the details. The gameplay itself is simple; you punch, kick, run, and when an enemy is stunned, you do your finisher. Each of the four available wrestlers has their own finishers (the rock bottom, the pedigree, the chokeslam, and the stunner), along with a signature move which they can use against the other wrestlers during boss fights (the spinebuster, the knee smash, the last ride, and the Lou Thesz press). To give credit where credit is due, the moves are well-animated by Game Boy Color standards, and are easy to pull off. The graphics, while not bad, are cartoonish and blocky. The game as a whole is extremely linear, playing as the four different wrestlers does pretty much nothing to make the story different (to the point where the only difference in scenes are slight changes in dialogue. Different catchphrases and all that), and there are no secrets or surprises.
In summary, it’s a dumb premise, with simplistic and limited gameplay, and a linear, predictable story.
And yet, as a kid, I kept on playing and replaying this damn thing.
Why do I keep coming back to play this idiotic game? What is it about it that makes it so damn addictive? For a while, I couldn’t articulate or explain in words why I kept replaying such a game. I knew it was a half-assed Double Dragon wannabe. I could feel my IQ dropping as I was playing it. I know that no one could possibly call it a quality game.
But then, I really took a look at an image from the middle of the game, and it put it all in perspective. Let me describe the image that I saw:
The Rock is walking through a moving subway train, wearing only his wrestling trunks, boots, and sunglasses (???). He is punching, kicking, and giving the rock bottom (???) to police officers attacking him with tasers (!), all the while dodging gunfire (!!!!!!!) fired by businessmen who seem to be carrying machine guns in their briefcases (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!).
I recall this scene…and a big, goofy grin spreads across my face.
WWF Betrayal is one of those rare enjoyably bad video games. It’s the same feeling I get when I watch a cheesy, badly-acted action movie. It’s the Street Fighter: The Movie of wrestling-related games. It’s stupid, it’s cliched, it’s poorly-written, it’s predictable, and it throws suspension of disbelief out the window. And yet you enjoy it, because it makes you laugh. You can quit thinking and chuckle like an imbecile at its silliness, and find mindless enjoyment in it all.
Betrayal has that sort of appeal. Whatever can be said about it, it’s not frustrating, it’s not cheap, and it’s not difficult. You can easily pick it up and learn how to play it, and let the MST3K-style riffing begin. Sometimes, there are games where it’s perfectly okay to not take it seriously, and a WWF beat-‘em-up action-adventure game certainly fits the bill. I will never be able to call WWF Betrayal a good game with a straight face, but I will say that, in a ridiculous, unexplainable way, I found it enjoyable, and wouldn’t say no to playing it again.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Photo 1: en.wikipedia.org
Photo 2: droptoehold.com
Photo 3: giantbomb.com
Categories: Wrestling Reviews