Hello, one and all, and welcome to another In Desperate Need of Love, the posting that showers praise on the overlooked gems of the video game world. Today, we’re jumping back to 1996 to pay a visit to the second ever wrestling game to hit the PlayStation, at least in the West. That’s right, it’s time for WCW vs. The World.
Now, at this time, WCW were on top of the wrestling world. The NWO were huge, their ratings were soaring, and they had a truly awesome roster that showcased a good mix of old veterans and rising stars. That being the case, it made sense for them to license a game on one of the hottest consoles around, right? The thing is, while well received at the time, AKI’s WCW vs. The World gets kinda lost in the shuffle these days with more people remembering what THQ went on to do with the license on the N64 classics WCW/NWO World Tour and Revenge. Is that justified? Well, in a word, yes. What THQ achieved in the N64 wrestling world was tremendous, and certainly worthy of note. That doesn’t mean that AKI’s efforts should be discarded though, especially given the climate at the time.
First up, let’s look at things comparatively. The first PlayStation wrestling game was Yukes’ Power Move Pro Wrestling. This was a US reskinning of New Japan Pro Wrestling Toukon Retsuden that, while not a horrible game, suffered from having a small, non-licensed roster. And immediately after it? The arcade styled WWF In Your House. WCW vs. The World holds a distinct advantage over both these titles: It manages to have a roster bigger than both IYH and Power Move Pro Wrestling put together! That certainly creates a much bigger scope for replaying the game. Of course, the huge roster does have some problems. For one, while the 51 wrestlers present are all real, they aren’t all using real names. You see, AKI procured the rights for several members of the WCW roster, but copyright restrictions prevented them from using the correct names for the other wrestlers in the game. So, why didn’t they just use more WCW wrestlers? Well, that’s because, much like Power Move, WCW vs. The World is a reskin job. It started life as Virtual Pro-Wrestling in Japan, and the character models for the Japanese wrestlers remain intact. What means is that there are some instantly recognisable faces to those that follow puroresu for the era, including Toshiaki Kawada, Mitsuharu Misawa, Kenta Kobashi, Atsushi Onita, Jushin Liger, Keiji Muto, TAKA Michinoku, Great Sasuke and Hayabusa. (If you’re interested, there’s a full list in the FAQ HERE.
Of course, roster size isn’t necessarily the best way to judge a game. For example, the old WWF Raw and Royal Rumble games from the 16-Bit era had relatively small rosters by modern standards, but were perfectly fine games. What this comes down to is the gameplay. So, how does it compare? Well, it certainly feels more like a wrestling game than IYH. The reason for that is likely as much to do with how the two companies presented themselves though. WWF were, at the time, in a transitional phase. They were slowly moving away from the cartoon characters of the 80’s and early 90’s, but were not quite into the much-loved Attitude Era, so throwing out a game that was closer to an arcade beat ‘em up makes sense. Meanwhile, WCW was portrayed as a serious wrestling company. Even with the NWO shenanigans, WCW was far closer to the old territory days of the NWA than the more entertainment focussed WWF. While IYH was not near as bad as it’s made out to be, there is no doubt that WCW vs. The World is a better-rounded game for wrestling fans. Meanwhile, it plays a fair bit smoother than Power Move, meaning that it’s instantly a much more gratifying experience.
Then there’s the Spirit Meter. Rather than utilising a standard energy bar like many wrestling games did, this goes out of its way to try something different. The aim here was to make things more like an actual wrestling match, and so it works like this: The more damage you take, the more your Spirit Meter turns red. If you manage to build some momentum, it’ll star turning white. Once it’s flashing, you do extra damage and unlock the ability to use bigger moves. However, once you do two, it drops back to the midpoint. Simple, right? With no visible energy bar, it does make it more fun trying to figure out when you can finish the match, and it really was a nice touch for the time.
Speaking of simplicity, the controls were also nice and straight forward. Remember the whole having to do the Macarena with the d-pad to do moves on WWF Warzone? There’s none of that here. Tap X to punch, hold it to kick. R2 did a big attack, R1 dodged, L2 taunted, Square blocked, Triangle punned or ran, Square plus X countered, and Circle was used for grappling (tap to Irish Whip and hold with a direction to do a move). Once your Spirit Meter was up, hold Circle until your character puts their arms up, and bam! Super moves are go! In a way, taking this approach was a really good mid-point between the arcade feel of IYH and the number of moves in Warzone, despite predating both game.
So, does the game trip up anywhere? Well, yes. The graphics, while not entirely horrific for the time, have not aged well. I think that they were perhaps going for the modular approach of such games as Super Fire Pro Wrestling on the SNES, but ramping them up to 3D. It was a good step, but not the finished product. The game modes too are a mixed bag. There are plenty of them, and the ability to create title belts is cool, but there a few things missing: you can only run singles matches, and there is no create-a-wrestler mode, despite the SNES having already had a pretty damn good one.
The thing to remember here is that the points in that last paragraph seem like a step backwards in wrestling game development. In a way, they were, but at the same time, it’s important to remember that using 3D graphics in wrestling games was new. There were going to be mistakes, and there were going to be stumbles. As a transitional title, WCW vs. The World is actually a pretty enjoyable game. It’s not as polished as some of what came after it, but it was easily the best of the bunch for a long time on the PlayStation. Worth grabbing? Definitely, if you find it cheap enough. Want to see more? Have a gameplay video below:
And that, as they say, is that. Thanks for reading everybody, I’ll catch ya later!