Retro Respawn – WWF WrestleFest

This week we’ll be looking at one of my favourite arcade games in the form of WWF WrestleFest! Released by Technōs Japan in 1991, WWF WrestleFest recreates the colourful and over-the-top feel of the WWF product of the late ’80s and early ’90s, with big cartoon like sprites for the wrestlers and loud pumping music that really gets you amped up for a right good wrestle. It’s wacky, over-the-top fun and the perfect sort of game to blow a few coins on whilst at the arcade.

WrestleFest was actually a sequel for Technōs Japan’s previous WWF release from 1989 named “WWF Superstars”. WrestleFest actually improves on Superstars though by having bigger sprites for the wrestlers, a larger roster of wrestlers to choose from, more attractive and detailed arenas and also more punishing moves for your wrestler to deliver. WWF Superstars is a decent enough game, but WrestleFest was a notable step up as Technōs clearly learned from what worked in the previous game and decided to turn it up to 11.

The gameplay is rather simplistic but more than acceptable for an arcade release. You have a punch and kick button, which if you press together will allow your wrestler to run. Running not only allows you to sprint to a fellow wrestlers aid, but it also allows you to spring off the ropes with moves like clotheslines to knock your rival grapplers out of their boots. Walking up to a wrestler will see you grapple them, at which point you will need to mash the buttons in the hope of winning the grappling battle.

Mashing punch will see you deliver a move to your opponent, which will vary in how punishing it is depending on how weakened your rival is, whilst mashing kick will see you throw the other wrestler into the ropes, thus giving you a chance to deliver a move to them on the rebound. In a nice touch, the wrestlers have most of their signature moves, meaning that if you play as Cobb County prison officer The Big Boss Man, you can send an opponent into the ropes and then catch them with your trademark “Boss Man Slam”, should you time your button press just right.

As the match progresses and your rival wrestler continues to weaken, you will be able to eventually start firing off all of your wrestler’s trademark finishing moves, with the gigantic Earthquake squishing opponents with his planet shaking “Aftershock” splash, whilst Jake “The Snake” Roberts tries to drive his opponent’s skull through the canvas with his dreaded “DDT” manoeuvre. Even wrestlers with trademark submission moves have them included in the game, with “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase’s “Million Dollar Dream” and Sgt. Slaughter’s “Atomic Noogie of Doom” both being present and correct.

WrestleFest has two specific game modes in Saturday Night’s Main Event and Royal Rumble. Saturday Night’s Main Event sees you selecting two wrestlers and defeating teams of other wrestlers in an arcade ladder in order to be crowned the WWF Tag Team Champions. This mode features a non-selectable “boss” tag team in the form of the terrifying “Legion of Doom”. Along the way you will have to compete not just in normal tag team bouts but also inside a steel cage at points, and you can actually fling your opponents face first into the unforgiving bars of the cage, should you so desire.

Should you be lucky enough to survive the other teams and manage to defeat the Legion of Doom for their belts, you will then defend those titles against all the teams you defeated to complete the mode. As you can imagine, the difficulty ramps up with every match, especially as your health will only partially recover with each victory. In a nice touch, if your tag team partner spends a long time on the apron, they will become momentarily invulnerable when you tag them in, which mirrors what happens in real life when a fresh man gets the tag in a long tag bout.

You can either play as both members of the team yourself, or a friend can tag along with you in your quest to claim the titles. Up to four players can actually take part in the Royal Rumble mode, which sees the entire roster of the game doing battle with one another in a no holds barred battle royale. To win you have to either fling your opponents over the top rope to the floor below or defeat them inside the ring itself, either by pin fall or submission. In a funny little twist, you can actually assist someone else in pinning an opponent by dog-piling on top of them to add an extra bit of weight. It’s always funny to watch bodies fly into the air when a wrestler manages to muscle multiple opponents off them to break the referee’s count.

WWF WrestleFest is not a game with an especially large amount of depth, but for wild arcade thrills, it’s absolutely perfect and is an absolute blast when you get three friends together for some wacky Royal Rumble entertainment. It’s a game I fell in love with the very first time I played it many years ago, and it’s still one of my favourite games to find tucked away in an arcade somewhere. It’s big, bold, colourful and oodles of fun to play, although prepare for a workout considering all the button bashing you’ll have to do!

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