I’ve spent a significant portion of my life playing wrestling video games, and it’s probably one of the main reasons why my social and romantic lives are both in the state they are (I’ll give you a clue as to how they’re going, I run a wrestling blog and a poetry blog, work it out for yourself). The majority of the many, many hours I have sunk into these grappling games were spent playing story modes – career modes, roads to Wrestlemanias, season modes, whatever name they were under, I was obsessed with them. But with so many games with so many story modes over the years, it begs the question – which ones are the most worthwhile playing? Well, The Hairy Wrestling Fan is around to solve your problems. Here are my Top 10 Story Modes in Wrestling Video Games.
For this list, I’m ranking each entry purely on how good the storylines involved in their respective modes are, as well as how effective and entertaining they are executed. Just because a game is higher up than another does not mean it is better overall, it is just superior in this specific area. With that being said, let’s get on with the list.
10. Legends of Wrestling 1 and 2
We begin proceedings with two games that although were lacking in good controls, more than made up for in story modes. You have an impressive roster of wrestlers to choose from, consisting of the biggest names in this industry’s history, or you can create your own if the likes of Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, and even Rob Van Dam don’t interest you. In the second game, you can even play as Andy Kaufman! How cool is that?! (If you don’t know about the legendary Andy Kaufman, you can read about him here.) Career mode has you travelling around the various wrestling territories in America, facing the stars that once dominated those areas. Even though this is probably the worst game on the list from a gameplay perspective, being able to explore the now defunct territory system, and battling against some of the most impressive rosters ever assembled in wrestling video game history is still an entertaining experience regardless.
9. TNA Impact
TNA Impact will always remain in my memory for having the single greatest yet craziest set-up to a character customisation screen of all time.
The story mode begins by explaining that you are the top star in the company, that is until you’re brutally attacked by LAX. You awake in a hospital completely covered in bandages to discover that you were disfigured so badly in the attack, that you are no longer recognisable, and require severe plastic surgery – this is when you create your character.
Serious bodily harm aside, don’t let the ridiculous opening put you off; this game is surprisingly engrossing. Despite its lack of polish and seriously limited character customisation, this game certainly delivers in the story department, which sees your character fighting across the world to earn a TNA contract, and progressing through the ranks of the company in order to find out who is responsible for the attack that destroyed your career.
Sure, TNA Impact is basically the video equivalent of…well…TNA Impact – by no means does it compare to WWE, but it certainly has its moments of glory.
8. WWF Smackdown and Smackdown 2
I sunk a ridiculous amount of time into these two PS1 titles as a child as they were my first experiences of season modes in wrestling games. The main appeal of these games was their theoretically endless levels of gameplay – there was no end objective or set time period, as long as you were still willing to play, the game carried on. Sure, you weren’t guaranteed a match every week, storylines didn’t last for more than one show, and the loading times made you want rip your entire scalp out, but with so much content to play through, filled with cutscenes and unlockables throughout, these games’ story modes will always have a fond place in my heart.
7. Def Jam Vendetta
The highest ranking unlicensed game to appear on this list, Def Jam Vendetta offers a grittier take on a grappling game story mode without a wrestling promotion in sight. It revolves around one of four original characters you can choose from, and their quest to win back respect, status, and ex-girlfriend from notorious gangster, D-Mob.
Using your in-ring skills, your character fights his way through multiple unique venues, fighting both fictional grapplers, and real life hip hop stars, such as Ludacris, DMX, and Method Man, until you finally gets your hands on your biggest rival. Unfortunately, there are points in the game where women literally fight to be your girlfriend, which I thought was cool when I was ten, but in hindsight is just strange and really sexist. Apart from this though, Def Jam Vendetta will grip you with its addictive gameplay, spectacular finishing moves, and most importantly, one hell of a story mode.
6. WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2007
Unfortunately, due to WWE’s habit of releasing one new game annually, some fantastic games don’t get the credit they deserve, and WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2007 is certainly one of those titles. Not only did it include the incredibly entertaining General Manager Mode from its predecessor, it also made huge improvements on the brand-exclusive season modes seen in the previous SVR games. With a ridiculous amount of storylines to experience depending on which wrestler and brand you choose (around 30 in total), SVR 2007 kept me entertained for hours on end, with new surprises in every playthrough.
5. Wrestlemania XIX
As the whole of this game’s story mode claimed one of the highest rankings in my list of the Weirdest Inclusions in Wrestling Video Games, it’s obvious that this isn’t exactly what you would expect from a typical grappling game. Given that it’s named after the biggest show of the year, first impressions of the game would make you think it’s a bog-standard, rather uninteresting Gamecube exclusive title, but when you begin Revenge Mode, you realise that nothing is as it seems at all.
Revenge Mode begins with your chosen or created superstar being fired by Big Bad Vinny Mac With the help of Stephanie McMahon, you exact your revenge on the chairman by travelling to various locations in order to halt the preparation and construction of McMahon’s flagship show, WrestleMania. You destroy WWE property, blow up a skyscraper, crash a barge, wreck cars and buildings with just your bare fists, all without a wrestling ring in sight. But Big Vin isn’t very happy about it, so he sends hordes of WWE Superstars and random employees (construction workers, security guards, etc) to try and stop you; there are even boss battles with the likes of Bartender Bismark, Agent 999, and the Master Builder. As we’re not in the squared circle anymore, a simple three count will no longer suffice – the only way to eliminate your opponents is to pretty much kill them. I’m not even exaggerating, you have to beat them down, and then proceed to either throw them off skyscrapers, or into deep water so they drown! There’s even a level where the sole objective is to throw your opponents in the path of moving cars.
Once you’ve caused millions of dollars in property damage and become a mass murderer, Vince finally agrees to face you at WrestleMania XIX. Yes, in the main mode of a wrestling game, there is only one actual wrestling match, and it’s the easiest, most anti-climactic final boss in wrestling video game history.
Revenge Mode is unlike any mode in any wrestling game that I’ve ever played – it essentially turns the game into a Beat ‘Em Up. It’s so ridiculous and cartoony (sumo wrestlers and secret agents try to prevent you from destroying fixtures in a mall, it’s fucking crazy) in a game that seems to be so serious and mainstream at first glance. Although Wrestlemania XIX is completely bonkers, and understandably not to everyone’s taste, it’s certainly worth checking out for curiosity’s sake alone.
4. WWF No Mercy
You don’t need me to tell you that this N64 classic is repeatedly voted as the greatest wrestling game of all time, and it’s easy to see why. Possibly the most memorable feature of this legendary game was its Championship Mode, which allowed you to challenge for every single championship in WWE with any character you wanted, male or female – you can have Kane compete for the Women’s title and declare himself the Queen of wrestling, it’s fantastic. Each championship has its own unique set of branching storylines, which are affected by your wins and losses, meaning that you can challenge for the same championship more than five times, and still have a completely different experience every time.
Having multiple titles to challenge for, each with several interchanging storyline arcs that are directly affected by your actions was completely unheard of at the time for a wrestling game. Combined with it’s addictive, arcade style gameplay, and easy pick-up-and-play accessibility, it was Championship Mode that made WWF No Mercy one of the best games on the 64-bit era.
3. WWE 2K17
This may not be anywhere near the top of other people’s rankings, but for me, the latest instalment of WWE’s yearly video games has one of the most in-depth, highest quality story modes of all time. MyCareer allows you to advance through the NXT developmental system, make your way to the main roster, win every championship possible, become a Paul Heyman Guy, and ultimately, a Hall of Famer. Your career spans for over one in-game decade, with plenty of different storylines along the way.
MyCareer mode may be lacking the charm and moments of ridiculousness that some of the older entries on this list do, and there are definitely problems with it, but the unbelievable amount of in-game content and more gameplay than any fan would ever need, WWE 2K17’s story mode should keep you entertained until the release of WWE 2K18.
2. WWE Smackdown Here Comes the Pain
Considered one of the greatest wrestling games of all time, WWE Smackdown Here Comes the Pain has an important place in many wrestling fans’ hearts, thanks in no small part to the title’s season mode.
This game was really something special; a non-stop chain of interesting storylines for you to indulge in, complete with memorable moments, cutscenes, and backstage brawls. Many fans will remember forming your own stable, feuding against Vince McMahon, and reenacting Kurt Angle’s legendary milk truck segment from Raw. Some may criticise this game’s story mode for taking inspiration or directly copying previous WWE storylines, but others loved being able to re-live these iconic moments for themselves. One of the advantages of this game’s season mode was that you were able to play as any male wrestler on the game, or your own created wrestler, on one of two brands, and your storylines and starting position on the show were affected by the character you chose and the show you chose to be on, inspiring you to play it again and again to see how the experience differed every time.
WWE Smackdown Here Comes the Pain was a revolution for its time, and with its fantastic gameplay, impressive roster, and most importantly, incredible story mode, it’s still more than worth playing today.
WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2011 – The Road to Wrestlemania mode in this game was…weird. Fantastic, but weird. It provided me with plenty to talk about in my list of the Weirdest Inclusions in Wrestling Video Games, and is worth checking out for those moments of insanity alone.
WWE 12 – This game’s Road to Wrestlemania mode saw you take control of Sheamus, Triple H, and your own created superstar in one long-running, connected story involving all three wrestlers, culminating in a WCW Invasion storyline that the 2001 invasion wishes it could have been.
WWE Smackdown Shut Your Mouth! – I spent a ridiculous amount of time on this game as a kid, mainly just running around backstage in Season Mode. If the backstage roaming was this good in Here Comes the Pain, that game would have probably clinched the top spot.
- WWE Day of Reckoning 1 and 2
Perhaps this may surprise some of you, but for those who have played these games, it should come as no surprise at all.
Whilst these Gamecube exclusives may not have the best roster or the most refined gameplay out of all the titles featured on this list, the care and effort put into their story modes is what clinches the top spot. The unique feature of these games (and why they both occupy one ranking) is that the second instalment isn’t just another title in a series as us wrestling fans are used to; Day of Reckoning 2 is actually a direct sequel to its predecessor.
In Day of Reckoning, your created character begins their journey in WWE’s developmental system, which albeit a rather brief part of the game, was ground-breaking at the time. For the first time ever, we were forced to earn our WWE contracts before making it to the main roster, and it only made creating and developing our CAWs even more satisfying. Once making it to either Raw or Smackdown, your character slowly progresses through the ranks by facing various members of the roster in various storylines, culminating to a Wrestlemania feud against either Triple H and Evolution, or Undertaker and his ministry, depending on which brand you are competing on. This isn’t where the story ends though. In Day of Reckoning 2, the story mode begins with your character from the previous game enjoying their time in the main event scene, when suddenly the world heavyweight championship goes missing, and the blame is put squarely on you. You’re immediately sent to the other brand, where you have to work your way back up from the bottom to rebuild your name and prove your innocence.
As a kid, I loved playing story modes, but the Day of Reckoning games were the first time where I really cared about what was happening to my character. I watched each cutscene in full, paying attention to every word. What’s more, it was all completely original, not simple re-hashings of storylines I had already seen on television, so I was all the more excited to witness what was going to happen next.
Day of Reckoning 1 and 2 may not be my highest recommendations for the best wrestling games to sit down and play with friends, but if you want to sit down and experience the best storytelling available in a grappling game, look no further than these underrated gems.
If you enjoyed this list, check out my Top 15 Weirdest Inclusions in Wrestling Video Games.
Follow me on Twitter for more wrestling – @HairyWrestling.