During AKI’s legendary run of producing some of the best wrestling games ever made, they made two for the WWF: WWF Wrestlemania 2000 and WWF No Mercy. The latter is widely recognized by many – including me – as the single greatest wrestling video game of all-time. The former is…the precursor everyone forgot about in the shadow of the greatest wrestling video game of all time. Quite frankly, I have largely blocked out the existence of Wrestlemania 2000 from my mind until the opportunity arose to stream it on the eve of Wrestlemania 35. Playing the game again served as a great reminder for what makes it enjoyable to this day, but also why it faded into obscurity.
On the surface, Wrestlemania 2000 is just WCW vs. NWO: Revenge with WWF wrestlers in it. If that were the case, that would be just fine. AKI’s wrestling engine is the stuff of legend, making for a wrestling title that gave players access to a ton of moves and a level of tactics and strategy that hadn’t been seen in the genre up to that point. Being able to fight in that engine with Stone Cold Steve Austin and clean house with a round of Stunners still sounds like a great time.
Thankfully, AKI was never one to rest on its laurels. There are more positions that wrestlers can get tangled in, such as being dropped on all fours, or chest-first into the turnbuckles. This opens the doors for new moves and more realistic ways of engaging with other fighters. Counters also became a more prominent aspect of the game, giving players more opportunities to defend themselves.
One big jump came from the game’s presentation. Unlike the previous WCW games, WWF Wrestlemania 2000 introduced authentic entrances for the Superstars. Yes, the TitanTron “videos” were nothing more than flashing images and the entrance music suffers from severely-compressed audio quality, but other wrestling games at the time didn’t have that. Being able to hear the glass shatter in Stone Cold’s theme before he stomped his way to the ring was unheard of at the time. Even minor details in the way that the wrestlers fight were lovingly captured here, from Mankind actually slipping Mr. Socko onto his hand, to the entirety of The Rock’s People’s Elbow animation make it into the game.
Another leap came from the modes that it offers. Of course, you could do standard 1v1, tag, fatal four-way and Royal Rumble matches, but the game had a few sizable tricks up its sleeve. For one, you could now play First Blood matches, where matches would end as soon as an opponent was bleeding. I generally don’t use this mode, but it was a popular match stipulation at the time. Cage matches were also introduced, which look really cool. Though it was only limited to 1v1 matches, it did also include moves specific to the cage, such as being able to throw an opponent face-first into the cage, or dropping an elbow from above.
Most notable is the game’s inclusion of a campaign. Picking any wrestler of your choice, you’ll progress through a series of shows that ultimately end at Wrestlemania 2000. In it, you’ll pick any wrestler of your choice and fight in a series of matches that ultimately end at Wrestlemania. It’s doesn’t feature branching paths per se, but where the campaign ends will depend on your performance.
The previous WCW games didn’t offer any sort of progression to speak of, so this was a welcome addition. However, it’s really limited in hindsight, especially by contrast to its sequel. You can tell who you’re feuding with based on the frequency in which certain opponents arise. However, there’s no real dialogue or story that ties everything together. Playing through it now feels hollow, especially when you consider the vast improvements that No Mercy made on this front by including branching paths, backstage action, and wrestlers cutting promos.
The game’s roster size is smaller than that of WCW vs. NWO: Revenge, but it compensates with a killer create-a-character feature. With tons of moves and clothing options, you can recreate much of the WCW roster on your own, or make a wrestler from your own imagination. You can even make custom belts and fight for them in the game’s assortment of modes. Again, this feature would be greatly expanded upon in No Mercy, but this was also a sizable leap from the titles that came before it.
In a world where WWF No Mercy doesn’t exist, WWF Wrestlemania 2000 would probably be hailed by many as one of the greatest wrestling games ever made. Even now, it’s still a lot of fun to play. That said, its sequel was such a huge leap in every regard that it essentially renders Wrestlemania 2000 obsolete.
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