If you’re a fan of video games as well as wrestling, it is fair to say that the genre hasn’t always been well represented. In the early days of home consoles, wrestling games often featured sparse rosters and at worst were unplayable. The first wrestling game I owned was on the Nintendo Entertainment System and whilst it wasn’t licensed, it was perhaps one of the best I’ve ever played.

Whilst Acclaim’s 1989 release of WrestleMania did come with WWE branding, it was a mess. Featuring just six wrestlers, and very few moves led matches to become mostly kicking and punching affairs… but more of that another time, as that wasn’t the first wrestling game I bought. Instead, lets talk about Tecmo World Wrestling.

Tecmo World Wrestling: title screen

Released in 1990, Tecmo World Wrestling was a somewhat anticipated game, coming hot on the heels of the company’s American Football game, “Tecmo Bowl”. Whilst they were able to use real players, Tecmo had to change team names, and it was much the same for their wrestling game. Without any licensing from WWE or WCW – both of whom also had games released the same year – Tecmo had to go down a road that was familiar to wrestling fans in that era: knock-off characters!

Instead of the Road Warriors (and any tag teams), you had Rex Beat – “the British star” who boasted a powerbomb as a finishing move and wore spiked shoulder pads that looked suspiciously like they’d been borrowed from Hawk and Animal. In place of Tiger Mask for fans of Japanese wrestling, there was El Tigre, a Mexican who couldn’t quite spell “Northern Light Suplex” correctly. There was no Vader, instead you had Dr Guildo, a masked American monster who employed the Giant Swing to finish off his opponent. Oh… those giant swings!

The Giant Swing was one of many moves that were somewhat unique to each wrestler, as, unlike the WWE games of the time, everyone had their own varied movesets. Sure, there were some shared moves – the standard punch and kick, plus a brainbuster, bodyslam, back body drop and a piledriver, in addition to a flying knee off the top rope. So, Dr Guildo was able to pick up a downed opponent and hit a Giant Swing. Mark Rose, a vague Ric Flair lookalike, could pull off a Figure Four, while Jackie Lee was able to blast you with a German suplex. Whilst such a movelist would look incredibly sparse in 2016, in 1990 it was streets ahead of the competition at the time.

On top of that, if you hit a special move onto an opponent with little or no health left, you’re treated to a little cut scene of your move in action, such as you swinging your opponent around the ring… like this!

Image copyright 1990 Tecmo

When you started up the game, you had the standard choice of 1 or 2 players; however, as there are no tag team matches in this game, this was effectively giving you the choice between career mode, or a 1-on-1 match with a friend. Selecting single player mode took you straight into a character select screen, where you can pick one of ten wrestlers and then rename them (if you want). From there, your first move is… muscle training?! Yep, before you can wrestle, you have to decide whether you want to build up your strength, with a choice of doing pushups (with a sumo wrestler on your back), sit-ups, or pull-ups. The better you did in these, the more power your strikes and moves had in your match – meaning that if you only had the original NES controller, you’d either be getting a sore hand from mashing the A button, or you’d be saving up for a controller with a “turbo” button.

Once the bell rang, the action began, and for a home console system, it was quite fast paced, and a major departure from other wrestling games at the time. In Tecmo World Wrestling, only 60% of the screen was filled with the action, as the lower third contained each character’s power bar, and a commentator. No, this wasn’t full-on speech (it was only the NES, so be realistic!), but instead, a ringside announcer by the name of Tom Talker would give text-based commentary throughout your matches. And be prepared to hear Tom call a lot of moves that you were taking, because this game had quite the learning curve – whilst you may be able to beat Akira Dragon in the first match, the game got increasingly hard… and once you’ve beaten everyone in the game, that’s it, right?

Wrong: Tecmo World Wrestling featured a hidden boss, “The Earl of Doom”, the Blue King. Featuring everyone’s moves at all, the Blue King is a character that you only face at the end of the game; so if you were planning on having a friend wrestle as him, you’re out of luck. If you’re able to beat the Blue King, you’re crowned the champion (for real) and everyone lives happily ever after.

As a game, it’s not aged that well, but it’s still got to be considered one of, if not the best wrestling game available on the NES. If you’ve still got a NES laying around (some twenty years after it was discontinued!) – or one of the many hardware emulators out there – there’s plenty of copies of those available on eBay, but if you’re only interested in wrestling games, there are other systems with a better selection, as we’ll touch upon in future articles.

Pros Cons
Varied roster Not licensed
Varied movesets That damned pre-match minigame!
Gradual learning curve Limited options – single player/career-mode only, with no vs. CPU exhibitions
Striking design – Tom Talker’s text commentary set the game apart from the pack No creation or customisation tools, beyond naming your wrestler