If you’ve been a longtime reader of our site, then you may know that one of my guilty pleasures is classic pro wrestling, particularly from the mid 70s to the mid 90s. In the 80s and early 90s, the WWF was a parade of colorful, wild characters, and they seemed to live in their own self-contained realm. It was a world of impossible possibilities. The sports entertainment industry was engaged in a cold war during this era, which peaked during the Monday Night Wars (so called because WWF and WCW’s flagship shows both aired on Monday nights and thus competed for ratings). You may not know anything about that, and you may not even care. I respect that. However, if you played video games in the early 90s, you probably at least shook hands with WWF Royal Rumble on your Genesis or SNES.
Royal Rumble is named after the popular event held every January by what is now known as the WWE. Unlike a typical pro wrestling match (two wrestlers or two tag teams competing to pin one another for a 3 count), the Rumble is an event that can include up to 40 (but usually 20-30) wrestlers. A wrestler is eliminated if he goes over the top rope for any reason. This general idea existed before, but it had every single wrestler in the ring as the match began… and made for one big visual clusterfuck for the fans. Longtime WWF employee Pat Patterson came up with the idea of having two wrestlers start off, then having new grapplers enter the ring at timed intervals. This allowed for a longer-lasting and more exciting product.
This same excitement carries over pretty well into the video game, which was released for both the Genesis/Mega Drive and the SNES. It was developed by Sculptured Software, a company that later assimilated into Acclaim. LJN published the game for both systems. While LJN is well-known among retro gamers as an infamous peddler of turd sandwiches (if you want an example, check out their NES cartridge for Back to the Future), they kept their hands off the nuts & bolts of this one. Royal Rumble is actually the middle game of a sort of trilogy; 1992’s Super Wrestlemania is a more basic version and a prequel, while WWF Raw came along in 1994 with a bit more detail and an updated roster. Ultimately, I prefer Royal Rumble. It captures most of the wrestlers I remember from the television shows, and it’s a good compromise between simplicity and innovative play design.
The game features 12 WWF Superstars, five of which depend on what console you use to rumble. Much like the Soul Calibur series features console-specific characters for today’s gamers, your roster in Royal Rumble was different if you were playing on a Genesis. If you were a Hulk Hogan fan, you wanted that version. If, like me, wanted to style and profile with Ric Flair, you went with the SNES version. Both versions featured the big WWF names of the time: Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon, Lex Luger (known at that time as The Narcissist), Bam Bam Bigelow, Crush, and the immortal Macho Man Randy Savage. The SNES-specific roster was filled out by Flair, Tatanka, sumo villain Yokozuna, Mr. Perfect, and the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase. The Genesis swaps those out for IRS (yes, a gimmick villain who works for the Internal Revenue Service), Rick Martel (The Model), a voodoo-themed guy named Papa Shango, and my personal favorite when I was a kid, Hacksaw Jim Duggan.
Players can pick their favorite wrestlers and step into the squared circle with a friend or the CPU. Singles, tag teams, even three-man tag… you can do it all in exhibitions or tournaments, and the “brawl” game type allows you to duke it out with no referee and no holds barred! You can go for the belts that way, or you can select a grappler and go for the ultimate prize… winner of the Royal Rumble itself. The controls take a minute to figure out when you first sit down and plug this game in, but once you’ve got them, you’ve got them. Every wrestler has the same punches and kicks, and can run the ropes and “lock up” with an opponent using other buttons. There’s not a lot of complex combos or anything, which is nice if you like a break from other fighting games. Once you’ve locked up, pick a button and tap it as fast as you can to overpower your foe and hurl him to the mat with any of several moves. Wrestling fans will recognize the suplexes, body slams, and hip tosses they all know and love, and if these are used cleverly, you can even hurl the other guy out of the ring like a sack of potatoes. When you’re out there (or if you manage to conk out the ref for a minute), you can do some underhanded moves like choke your opponent or even thumb his eye. All participants in a match have “life bars” that represent how much damage and abuse they can handle before they’re all out of gas and the fight has left them. In “brawl” matches, the loser is the first one to lose all his meter, while all it does in refereed matches or the Rumble is make you tired and easier to pin or throw out. Finally, every wrestler has his own special move, just like the “real” thing! All of them are activated by pressing the R button (SNES) or the A+B buttons (Genesis, although if you had the 6 button pad you could press X). The moves require your foe to be beaten all the way down, or close to it, and each wrestler has to stand in a specific place or have things set up right to make it happen. For instance, Randy Savage’s famous elbow drop can only be done off the turnbuckle while your foe is prone nearby, and Ric Flair’s signature Figure Four requires you to press the button while standing at a prone opponent’s feet.
The graphics for both versions are fairly good, although the SNES version looks slightly more polished. The sound effects are comical, involving a lot of grunts and moans of pain. They don’t vary from character to character. The music is comprised mainly of the wrestlers’ entrance themes; otherwise, there is no music while you sweat and bleed under the lights. There is only the monotone howling of the virtual crowd. I will say that while the SNES’s music will always sound goofy and “fluffy” to me, both versions do a good job of representing the actual pieces of music.
Odds are, you played this game (And maybe even liked it) even if you weren’t a fan of WWF or wrestling. I was a fan, and I loved it. I give Royal Rumble 7 out of 10. It’s a fun, easy-to-learn game with very adjustable difficulty, and it offers a lot of choices and control to the player. It’s not a legend or a must-have title, but I often see it underrated by others who review retro games.