Wrestling games have the unique premise of being both a fighting game and a combat sports simulator. Despite the obvious athleticism involved and the physically demanding schedule, wrestling is a performance art more recently coined sports entertainment.
Wrestling shows are as much about theatrics, cool entrances, soap opera style drama, and of course the in-ring action. To successfully capture all of these aspects in a wrestling game is what makes the sub-genre so difficult to pull off for developers.
As a result, the wrestling game genre has seen some truly awful games like Backyard Wrestling: There Goes The Neighbourhood. In turn, there have also been some instant classics that are so good that they are enjoyed by fans and non-fans or wrestling alike. Let’s take a look at ten of the best wrestling games rated by Metacritic to see if the genre's fan favorites received the critical acclaim they deserved.
10 Fire Pro Wrestling World – Metascore – 79
Fire Pro Wrestling World was released in 2018 for the PlayStation 4 and Steam. It’s an unashamedly old-school 2D wrestling sequel to a series that has been on the scene since 1989. Despite looking like a high-res 16-bit beat-em-up it has one of most complex wrestling systems in the genre. Even though the game has only just managed to make the Metacritic top ten, many wrestling fans consider the Fire Pro series the best in the genre.
The game doesn’t come with the same kind of presentation, entrances, and visuals that are seen in a WWE 2K title but does have a more authentic wrestling experience. The wrestling requires timing and skill where matches are built up slowly focusing on crowd excitement. Try going for the big moves early and the AI will make the player pay for it. Just like wrestling on TV matches start slowly but build to a grand finale.
9 WWE Smackdown! Vs. Raw 2010 – Metascore – 80
WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2010 was released on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PSP and Nintendo Wii, and DS in 2009. In addition, to the Smackdown! vs. Raw themes, the game also featured the ECW brand too. Additionally, it was the first game to introduce mixed-gender tag team matches and the Championship Scramble matches.
The game featured improvements to its reversal system using a single button that requires timing and it brought back the use of four strong grapples using the face buttons. It did, however, implement WWE Legends of Wrestlemania’s frustrating pinfall kick-out system where players had to fill up a meter.
8 Fire Pro Wrestling GBA – Metascore – 80
Fire Pro Wrestling was released on the Game Boy Advance in 2001. It is a wrestling title that doesn’t contain any licensed characters from the WWE, WCW, or any other promotions. Yet, even without the names, the series is one of the best and deepest wrestling titles ever made and included lookalike characters of famous wrestlers like The Legion of Doom and the Steiner Brothers.
The already 2D graphics scale down well on the little handheld and the gameplay has lost none of its authenticity. For a long time, fans considered the Nintendo systems the best place to experience wrestling games along with AKI’s WCW and WWF titles on the N64.
7 WWE Smackdown! vs. Raw 2007 – Metascore – 81
Released on the PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, and the PSP in 2006 WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2007. the game introduced the analog control grappling system which allowed for an almost Fight Night-like experience where players could control the direction of their throws.
In addition, a wrestler’s fighting style is now determined by weight with lighter wrestlers having access to high-flying moves and the heavyweights gaining access to powerful but slower moves. In addition, it was the first game in the series to be featured on the Xbox 360 and had four times the detail of its PS2 counterpart.
6 WWE Smackdown! Shut You Mouth – Metascore – 82
WWE Smackdown! Shut Your Mouth was released on the PlayStation 2 in 2002. It marked the first time series adopted the World Wrestling Entertainment banner dropping the WWF logo for good. It was also the first time that the series implemented the war of the brands between Raw and Smackdown!
In addition, the game received a huge boost in visuals from its predecessor WWF Smackdown! Just Bring It which still looked like a PS1 title. The character models and animation looked and moved better than ever and the finishers looked impactful and satisfying to pull off.
5 Def Jam: Fight For NY – Metascore – 83
Def Jam Fight for NY was released on the PlayStation and GameCube in 2004. It was a wrestling/fighting title developed by AKI the same team that worked on WWF No Mercy on the Nintendo 64. Fight for NY was a sequel to Def Jam: Vendetta and featured more characters and arenas then its predecessor.
Without a real wrestling license to work with AKI moved on to the Def Jam fighting series. Despite the silly concept of playing as bulked-up versions of real-life rap stars, the game had some of the best wrestling mechanics in a videogame. Without the rulebook of a wrestling franchise, Def Jam was infinitely more violent and brutal than its WWF and WCW counterparts and featured a much more compelling storyline not familiar with the fighting genre.
4 WWE Smackdown! Here Comes The Pain – Metascore – 85
WWE Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain was released in 2003 on the PlayStation 2. Despite being rated the fourth highest-rated wrestling game on the game is often considered to be one of the greatest wrestling games ever created next to WWF No Mercy and Fire Pro Wrestling.
Here Comes The Pain improved on everything from its predecessor and included features like chain wrestling, chain submissions, limb targeting and more. These were all the staples of made a good wrestling game but the game also included some crazy moments like high flying attacks from a helicopter in Times Square and leaping from 30-foot heights. The game was accessible and fun for veterans of the series and newcomers alike.
3 WWE Smackdown! vs. Raw 2006 – Metascore – 86
WWE Smackdown! vs. Raw 2006 was released on the PlayStation 2 and the PSP in 2005. It was the last game to release exclusively on Sony consoles and did a great job of squeezing the very best of the system at the time.
Even though many wrestling fans consider WWE Smackdown! Here Comes The Pain to be a superior game Smackdown! vs. Raw 2006 deserves its accolades because it introduced the General Manager mode. This mode puts players in the shoes of either the general manager of Raw or Smackdown! Here the players compete against the AI for brand superiority and would have to keep an eye on fan reactions, their wrestler’s health, and of course booking successful matches.
2 WWF No Mercy – Metascore – 89
WWF No Mercy was released in 2000 exclusively on the Nintendo 64. It was developed by wrestling game veterans AKI and almost 20 years later is still considered to be one of the greatest wrestling games ever developed due to its near-perfect grappling mechanics.
The game featured a great branching story mode, create a wrestler and brilliant artificial intelligence that made players feel like they were doing battle with a human opponent. Almost 20 years later and the game is still being played today being unofficially modded and updated by fans via an N64 emulator on the PC.
1 WWF Smackdown! 2 Know Your Role – Metascore – 90
WWF Smackdown! 2 Know Your Role was released less than after the series debut in 2000. It was the game’s high sales and appeal to fans meant solidified the series which has continued under the WWE 2K brand.
The simplistic arcade-like control system was accessible enough for newcomers but wasn’t anywhere near as good as AKI’s WWF Wrestlemania 2000 and WWF No Mercy. Even though Know Your Role didn’t quite have the depth and superior grappling system found in WWF No Mercy the game captured the Attitude era’s production values perfectly.