by Alex Knapp
WCW SuperBrawl Wrestling
Developer: Beam Software
Publisher: FCI Inc.
WCW SuperBrawl Wrestling is a peculiar wrestling game. And boy, does it reflect strangely on the promotion it represents.
After the former Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP) was acquired by Ted Turner and become officially known as WCW, they spent most of the early 1990s floundering for direction. Jim Herd and Bill Watts came and went, but they failed to make the changes that would allow WCW to take advantage of the great resources at its disposal and catch up to the WWF. Despite the fact that it boasted an incredible roster of talented in-ring performers, they had an image problem. On the one hand, they tried and failed to copy the WWF’s tendency toward over the top, cartoonish characters, coming across as a cheap copy of the number one American promotion in doing so. On the other hand, despite their attempts to compete on national television, they were still strongly stuck in their regional roots; their culture was strongly rooted in their origins in the American South, and while they enjoyed a devoted fanbase in Georgia, the Carolinas, and such regions, they had a cultural barrier that prevented them from attracting fans in other parts of the United States.
In 1994, WCW was at a turning point. It was early in the tenure of one Eric Bischoff, who aimed to reform the company from a floundering old school promotion into a promotion that could revolutionize the business and beat Vince McMahon at his own game. He upgraded the production values, he trimmed down on inefficiencies, he brought in Hulk Hogan, and he sought almost overnight to change WCW utterly.
This game…does not reflect these changes.
No, despite the fact that it is WCW’s first 16-bit game, and despite the fact that it provides some interesting new bells and whistles when it comes to game presentation, it somehow manages to come across as just the type of old school, slow, worn out, stereotypical ‘rasslin experience that reflected the old WCW’s limited appeal.
The game opens up with some impressive (for its time) voiceovers, in which an announcer introduces you to WCW SuperBrawl Wrestling. Similar to WCW’s recent Game Boy release also published by FCI Inc., WCW The Main Event, you can set match stipulations for one fall, three falls, or embark on something of a prototypical iron man match lasting 3, 5, 10, or 15 minutes. There are also three difficulty levels to choose from (TV title, US title, or World title). This game allows for either one-on-one or tag matches, and you can wrestle exhibition bouts, fight in a singles or tag tournament against a selection of competitors, or embark on the Ultimate Challenge (duh duh duh duuuuuh!!!) in which you choose a single wrestler to take on every member of the roster one by one.
Well, okay, this is all pretty basic so far. Time to choose my character now. I’ll just go to the next screen and…
Good Lord, what the hell am I looking at!?
Boy oh boy. Remember when I reviewed WCW Nitro for the PlayStation, and remarked that it had “Choose Me” promo videos for each of the characters, which helped add a dash of sizzle to the game and helped its atmosphere?
Well, this game’s character select screen is kind of like it. Sort of. It’s certainly memorable, I’ll give it that.
There are 12 WCW wrestlers to choose from. We’ve got Ric Flair, Sting, Vader, Rick Rude, Ricky Steamboat, The Steiner Brothers, Barry Windham, Ron Simmons, Brian Pillman, Dustin Rhodes, and Johnny B. Badd. All of them show up on one screen in animated squares, and they take turns popping up out of those squares to bellow out one line of catchphrases toward the screen. And not even well-known catchphrases of theirs; they’re just random phrases!
I just…I just…what? This is certainly very unique and memorable, but…what? Unlike WCW Nitro’s “Choose me” rants, these don’t necessarily do anything to exemplify the wrestlers’ characters or build up the game’s atmosphere. They’re just…goofy and random. The entertainment value comes by ironically watching them, perhaps pretending that the wrestlers are having conversations with each other (“Who deserves the belt!?” demanded Ricky Steamboat. “The sexiest man alive!” Rick Rude confidently responded. “Show me respect!” ordered Ron Simmons. “It’s not my fault!” protested Rick Steiner). Again, I can appreciate this game’s attempt to dazzle the audience with voice clips at a time when in-game voiceovers were still relatively rare, but this is a little bit…silly.
On top of that, this roster suffers from the same handicap that plagued WWF War Zone: It’s an outdated roster that captures the old WCW, not the new promotional identity which was emerging. Hulk Hogan is very conspicuously absent, despite the fact that he would win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship in his first match in the company at WCW Bash at the Beach 1994, and was having the promotion built around him. Ricky Steamboat and Rick Rude would both suffer career-ending injuries earlier in the year and be gone from the WCW ring. Barry Windham would drop out of sight after WCW Slamboree 1994. The Steiner Brothers still had not come back from the WWF, and would in fact not do so until a couple of years after this game came out. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that the game features old school names who we normally don’t see in wrestling games, but that still means that this game’s roster is a relic before we even start the action.
Anyway, moving on. I pick my wrestler, and we go to the ring to start the match. The game uses an overhead angle of the ring, with the ring tilted diagonally. This has never been my favorite view, to be honest. It’s not as intuitive as the simpler ringside view that games like Pro Wrestling for the NES or WWF Royal Rumble for the SNES would have. It’s one of the reasons why I was so hesitant to get into the Fire Pro Wrestling series at first, despite its critical acclaim, due to the fact that it uses a similar in-game camera. In itself, this overhead diagonal angle doesn’t present too big of a problem. But alas, once the action starts, there is no shortage of other problems.
Look at that referee! When he’s not calling any action as he follows you around the ring, he stands there in this weird prim, prissy way, his hands folded politely in front of him. As you throw your opponent out of the ring, you hear him start the 10 count and…
…Oh my God, I want to laugh so hard.
Yes, not only is this game’s referee a stickler for good posture. He also speaks with the most stereotypical Southern redneck accent I’ve ever heard in a wrestling game. As you hear him rattle off the numbers, you half expect him to pause to spit out his tobacco juice. Again, like the character select screen, it’s details like this which make this such a weird game.
The gameplay is very stiff and slow paced. The wrestler sprites are brightly-colored and distinctive, but movement is slow and stiffly animated. You can pull off strikes, dropkicks, and grapple moves. It’s actually a fairly decent variety of grapple moves, including slams, suplexes, a tombstone piledriver, sunset flips (which all of the featured wrestlers can do, apparently), and even an airplane spin!
Signature moves are featured, but more often than not, they’re neither necessary nor easy to execute, despite the fact that it’s a simple matter on paper of pressing a couple buttons simultaneously. First of all, all you really need to do to win is beat your opponent until their health meter is low enough for you to pin them, and the signature moves don’t necessarily help in that regard. Second of all, while signature moves done in grappling positions are fairly straightforward, it’s more difficult than it’s worth for wrestlers who have signature moves for other positions. For wrestlers like Sting or Ric Flair who have leg hold finishers, the opponents usually don’t stay on the ground long enough for you to get in position to lock in the scorpion death lock or the figure four, even if the opponent’s health and energy bars are almost entirely empty. And for someone like Ricky Steamboat, whose finisher is the flying cross body, climbing to the top turnbuckle only happens when the game wants it to; although it’s allegedly a simple matter of pressing R or L when you’re in the corner, sometimes you end up climbing up, and sometimes nothing happens. These are some serious bugs that really take away from the experience.
As you execute moves, you’re treated to one of the game’s most unique bells-and-whistles; in-game commentary! It’s primitive and simple, but it is certainly distinctive for its time. Whenever you execute certain slams or grapple maneuvers, you’ll see an animated square of WCW announcer Tony Schiavone pop up, along with voiceovers of his comments. They’re very simple one-liners (“He’s got him up!” “Great move!” “Going for the pin!” That sort of thing), but it’s something that hasn’t been attempted in any games of that generation. Tecmo World Wrestling for the NES had in-game text commentary, but as far as I can tell, this is the first game that made an attempt at some form of voice commentary during the game. It doesn’t necessarily add much, but I can appreciate the fact that this game is trying.
Uh oh, hang on. I’m on the mat, and my opponent is going for an early pinfall. It’s okay, though, my health and energy meters are literally full to the max, and I’m just going to press buttons to kick out and…
I just got pinned for the three count.
I have full health, and I tried to press buttons in order to kick out, but literally before you could say “One, Mississippi,” the ref went down and slapped the mat three times so rapidly that it took me several seconds to process the fact that I had just lost the match.
I seriously call shenanigans on this ref! So aside from standing around like a butler during the match, and aside from having an accent that raises questions about whether he is still in possession of all of his teeth…he’s a fast-counter on top of everything!
I can without a doubt say that this game has one of the worst in-game referees I’ve ever experienced. This is seriously how the game goes! You can be kicking your opponent’s ass and be ready to finish them off, all the while taking no damage yourself, but if the opponent can get a lucky move in and knock you off your feet, they can steal victory from you by just landing a pinfall, while the ref leaps down and slaps the mat rapidly in a way that makes the Hebner Twins seem honest! Other than this, the game is relatively simple and easy to win, but for the love of God, if you find yourself lying down, you’d better roll out of the way immediately, because otherwise, the match will be over in the blink of an eye!
WCW SuperBrawl Wrestling is just…not a very good game. It reflects all of the issues that WCW had in the early 1990s. On the one hand, it was trying to be distinct and unique, but in superficial ways that just come across as gimmicky. On the other hand, it’s glacially slow-paced and gives off such a regional vibe that it’s hard for its appeal to spread. And it doesn’t help that in this game, the in-ring action is stiff, uninspired, and not particularly exciting. It was a decent attempt to be different from other wrestling games, but it doesn’t work. Back to the drawing board, WCW.
Rating: 1.5 Stars
Photo 1, 3: en.wikipedia.org
Photo 2: fighters.io
Photo 4: gamefabrique.com
Categories: Wrestling Reviews