Let’s go back in WWE history - before Austin 3:16, before Hell in a Cell, before crotch chops and the Attitude Era.

Back then, the WWE (then known as the WWF) went through a period of time known as the “New Generation” Era. It was an awkward, aimless era for the company - Hulk Hogan, Macho Man, and the rest of the old guard from the 80’s were on their way out. With WCW on the rise, the WWF was left in a tough spot.


“What the hell do we do now?”

For about four years, the WWE struggled - and failed - to find a good answer to that question (and when they first signed Steve Austin, they wasted him on an inane “Ringmaster” gimmick). Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart, two smaller, technically gifted wrestlers, carried the company through its lean years. Still, there was nothing on the level of Hulkamania.

This was not, however, for lack of trying - the New Generation Era was the era of desperate gimmicks. The WWE took a ‘throw everything at the wall and see what sticks’ approach to their creative process.

Take Mantaur, for example:

Just look at this poor bastard. He was billed as a half-man, half-cow - he would moo and charge at his opponent. Mike Halac, the guy who played Mantaur, lasted a year in the WWE. Who can blame him though - he wasn’t exactly set up for success.

Or how about Bastion Booger? His entire gimmick was to be fat and disgusting. They would send him to the ring in the skimpiest singlet they could find, munching on a chicken carcass. The commentators, for the entire match, would just comment on how fat he was.

The writers got lazier and lazier. They started creating characters based upon jobs/careers - there was a garbageman wrestler named Duke the Dumpster, and there were two pig farmer wrestlers named the Godwinns, who would Do-Si-Do and Elbow Swing whenever they won a match.

There was even a dentist wrestler. Yes, a dentist wrestler.

Before Glenn Jacobs was Kane, he was Dr. Isaac Yankem, DDS, and his theme music was the sound of a dentist drill. Writers actually thought this was a good idea - so good, in fact, that they pitted him against Bret Hart at Summerslam. It’s no wonder that Jacobs spent the next seven years of his career under a mask - I’d be embarrassed to show my face too.

In 1995, right in the midst of all of this, Midway released WWF WrestleMania. I never got to play the arcade, but later that same year, it was ported to the Super Nintendo. It was retitled WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game, and it looked and sounded fantastic.

The wrestlers were digitally rendered - the same technology that was used on the Mortal Kombat characters was used on the WWE Superstars. If you looked closely enough, you could see the sneers and smirks on Razor Ramon’s face.

There was wonderful voice work as well - Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler were clear and recognizable, and they gave the game a refreshing familiarity - like watching an episode of WWF Superstars on a Saturday morning.

The original arcade game allowed you to select one of eight different Superstars. The SNES port, however, only had room for six wrestlers, and so Bam Bam Bigelow and Yokozuna were removed. The remaining wrestlers were Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Doink the Clown, Razor Ramon, and Lex Luger.

Even with this sacrifice, it’s clear that the developers struggled to fit this game on the cartridge. As you progressed through the story mode of the game, you fought in handicap matches - 2v1 and 3v1 - against multiple opponents. In these unavoidable situations, the framerates dropped to hell, and the game lagged, badly. The wrestlers moved in slow, static motion, and it was extremely detrimental to the overall experience. This game was best played as a 1v1 experience - it was the only mode of the game that didn’t lag.

Of all of the wrestlers, The Undertaker was my favorite pick. He could summon ghosts against his opponent, and his uppercut could send an opponent flying into the light fixtures.

Yeah, about those special moves.

To enjoy this game, you had to accept that this was ‘professional wrestling’ in name only. There was very little, outside of basic grapples and throws, that resembled professional wrestling. In fact, Wrestlemania resembled a Mortal Kombat game, with cartoonish signature moves instead of blood and Fatalities.

Shawn Michaels, for example, had a baseball bat that he could swing into opponents’ faces. Doink the Clown was loaded with gimmicks - an electric buzzer to shock his opponents, and a massive novelty mallet, just to name a few. You could even also pull off 13-hit combos, similar to the button link combos in Mortal Kombat 3.

The wrestlers’ finishing moves - excluding Shawn Michaels’ Sweet Chin Music - were all in the game, but they were no more damaging than any other move, which was disappointing. For example, Razor Ramon had both a piledriver and the Razor’s Edge. You could perform both moves an unlimited number of times in a match, and they both did a similar amount of damage. A special move was no longer ‘special’ when it was as easily accessible as an Irish Whip.

It’s ironic - how the lack of realism elevated the gameplay of NBA Jam, but detracted from the gameplay of Wrestlemania.

I think I know the reason - the NBA is a real, competitive league, and thus, we cheer and laugh when we see something unbelievable. Professional wrestling, however, is scripted, and so the inverse happens - we cheer and laugh when we see something that looks real. When things look fake - even intentionally - it breaks kayfabe with the audience, and it undermines what we loved about wrestling to begin with. 

Fans, both new and old, complain about the current ‘PG Era’ of wrestling.

It’s still, however, a hell of a lot better than the New Generation Era. The stories are better, the wrestlers are more compelling, and even the talent is more consistent. This upcoming weekend is Wrestlemania XXX - the WWE continues to endure, despite its bumps and valleys, and this is true cause for celebration.

Order in a pizza, call up some friends, and enjoy - it’ll probably be a great show. And remember - even if it does get bad, it’ll never get worse than Wrestlemania XI.