WWF Royal Rumble

Despite being born and raised in Good Ol’ ‘Merikuh, I don’t actually know much about wrestling. Contrary to popular belief, U.S. households were not issued yearly VHS copies of Summer Slam in the mail back in the 90s. However, Rik asked nicely, so I’ve done a bit of research on the subject of 16-bit wrasslin’. The one we’re going to look at today obviously doesn’t include the storylines or backstage theatrics that made wrestling famous, but the core fight mechanics is a pretty good run at letting you throw opponents about the ring.

If you’re into wrestling, you can probably find a favorite included in the game.

WWF Royal Rumble is the second of four 16-bit wrestlers, all based roughly on standards set by WWF SuperStars and WrestleFest in the arcades. There’s a roster of twelve wrestlers (five of which are different for the SNES), and a decent amount of game type options. At the most basic, you and one opponent will toss and slam each other, with attacks wearing down each others stamina bar. Stamina can not be regenerated. Weakened opponents are vulnerable to being pinned and are also less effective in grapples (more on that in a second). Once you wear your foe down enough, you pin him until the count of three to win the match. If you’re caught in a pin yourself, you’ll mash buttons and hope that your stamina is high enough to allow you to escape.

Gameplay is based on strikes and grapples. Strikes have no variation; there’s simply one button to punch and one to kick. If you’re hit three times in succession, you’ll topple over and be open to a pin or ground stomps and elbow drops. You can initiate a grapple with a third button, or be similarly grabbed by your opponent. There’s no defense against this. Being grappled takes you into a “tug of war” mode. A meter appears above both wrestlers, indicating who is winning the struggle. Your objective is to mash one – and only one – button fast enough to fill your side of the meter. If you win, you’ll perform an appropriately wrestley move (suplexes, back breakers, atomic wedgies) decided by which button you were mashing.

Win the grapple battle to do stuff.

If you win a grapple with the A button, you’ll throw your foe. In the center of the ring, this flings him toward the elastic ropes, where he’ll bounce back toward you and be open for a drop kick or clothesline. If you’re at the edge of the ring, you’ll chuck him over the ropes and onto the floor. Various things happen outside the ring based on the game type you’re playing – in the default mode, you and your opponent have until the count of ten to get back in the ring or face disqualification. You can try to win a match this way, by pile-driving your opponent at the count of 8 and slipping back into the ring so he’s just getting up at the count (you sneaky devil). You can also find folding chairs out here that can be used as damaging weapons.

Royal Rumble also includes illegal moves. You can use specific buttons to choke your foe or rake his eyes. These attacks don’t appear to do much beyond offering slightly more damage. However, in a standard game, these buttons won’t do anything at all until you’ve taken out the referee. You can’t directly attack the ref, but if any of your attacks or throws should find him in the way, you’ll knock him unconscious and unlock illegal moves. The “Brawl” game type cuts the shit and omits the ref from the start, so you can use illegal moves, hit opponents with folding chairs, and scamper around outside the ring to your heart’s content.

Here, Bret Hart uses his signature move “Hold This Guy’s Legs and Fart On Him” (I guess).

I should mention here that Royal Rumble includes support for a 6-button gamepad. Without a doubt, this is the way to play it. Controls aren’t fiendishly complicated by any means, but there are a fairly wide variety of moves for only three buttons, so it helps to have the 6-button pad break almost all of them out to their own individual keys. The 3-button setup relies on button combinations (even for winning struggles) for many basic moves, which isn’t as accurate in a frantic battle, and to me at least, is much, much harder to remember.

These are the basics, and every wrestler shares identical moves – a bit of a disappointment. Fortunately, Royal Rumble does feature one specific special move per character. These “finishers” can only be used when your opponent’s stamina is in the red, and they do at least give consideration to the wrestlers’ differences and signature slams. I can only assume these are authentic – The Undertaker’s “Tombstone Piledriver” and Razor Ramon’s “The Razor’s Edge” sound legit enough to me. In all cases, you hit A+B, but will have to figure out the specific scenario to trigger the move. Some are as easy as winning grapples, others require specific placement in relation to stunned or prone opponents.

The Royal Rumble of the title. About as chaotic as it looks.

Beyond the basic one-on-one events, you also have tag team, triple tag team, tournament, and Royal Rumble. The variants of tag team are simple enough – pick two (or three) wrestlers who will wait ringside. At any time, you can head over to them and tag them in to replace you. The idea here is to manage your wrestlers’ stamina. Stamina recharges slightly ringside, so a fighter who’s getting winded can (and should) trade off for a rested wrestler. Likewise, you want to do everything you can to prevent your opponent from tagging in his teammate. This mode also lets your partner automatically choke-grab an enemy that passes the ropes near him, or join you in some unfair two-on-one beatings if you throw someone out of the ring.

Royal Rumble mode pits your wrestler against everyone else on the roster. Six wrestlers are in the ring at once in a giant free-for-all – luckily your opponents will also fight each other instead of all focusing on you. Whoever leaves the ring is out, so the idea here is to grab weakened opponents and toss them over the ropes. A removed wrestler is replaced by a new opponent until the entire roster is exhausted. Naturally, this is quite the endurance run, so you’ll have to carefully manage your own stamina (with no way to regain any). If you’re the last wrestler standing, you win.

The art is surprisingly well done, and I think the muted colors here work better than the vibrancy of what I’ve seen of the SNES version. Menus are primarily driven by digital stills of the wrestlers, while the in-ring approximations look distinct enough without much fine detail. Animations look a little stiff, but I wonder how much of this comes from trying to replicate the look of actual, fake moves as seen on TV. The eye rake and punch look particularly theatrical. Sound features MIDI versions of each wrestler’s signature riff (if you sit at each character’s select screen long enough), and the slams and thuds during matches sound sufficiently beefy. The crowd’s cheers even get louder at flashy moves.

Your tag team partner can tie up your opponent.

So is it fun? Yes and no. Once you get familiar with the controls, you can sling opponents around and pull off moves with reasonable precision. You’ll never see the fluidity of the real thing represented here, but you can reasonably execute a plan – grab this guy, throw him into the turnbuckle, climb up it and drop on his head. The problem I had specifically relates to all the button mashing. Does every move really need to be preceded by a tug-of-war struggle? It makes matches surprisingly tiring and tedious.

It’s even worse against the AI – you outright cannot win a grapple past difficulty level 4 (out of 10) – even a turbo pad couldn’t keep up. This cuts your possible moves down significantly, and forces you to spend the early parts – if not most of the match – trying to stick and move with your limited strike attacks. Tournament mode doesn’t let you pick a difficulty, so I found this mode unplayable.

Royal Rumble hits its marks well and offers a clear iteration over the previous Super WrestleMania. Sure, it would be nice to have distinct moves or animations for each wrestler, and some form of “story” mode would pay better service to its live-action inspiration, but the in-ring action is pretty solid. The grapple system and constant button mashing is a bit of a letdown, but I can’t think of a better way to do it, so I guess it gets a pass. The biggest complaints fall to AI difficulty and sheer repetition, but overall, it serves up what you’ve come here for.


The Good

Good spread of wrestlers. Royal Rumble mode is a fun addition and tag teams work well. Gameplay is generally fair (between two human players).

The Bad

Grapple system is based entirely on rapid button mashing, and the AI is faster than you’ll ever be at mid to high difficulties. Certain players locked to specific consoles seems cheap. Only one unique finishing move per character.


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10 thoughts on “WWF Royal Rumble

  1. Thanks for the review JMan!

    I never had much interest in wrestling either, aside from being made to watch it by others who were fans. The games always held a curious appeal for me, though, even though I strongly suspected there wasn’t all that much to them. The grapple system sounds familiar – I played a WWF game on the ST (Wrestlemania?) that employed something similar.

    I haven’t followed more recent games in the series, but it seems to me there’s much more focus on the in-ring action than the general pantomime/storyline aspect of it all, which would have some mileage, I would have thought. Perhaps a title without the restrictions of an official license might afford more creativity in this respect. But then I guess it wouldn’t sell many copies without the official names and personalities.

    1. I brought up the story because the latest game (WWE 13) has an extensive story mode. You can even build your own scripts to play as cutscenes, with canned animations and custom text dialog. The Giant Bomb guys were having a great deal of fun with that.

      I vaguely remember a story mode in one the N64 wrestlers, which really is the only other WWF/E game I’ve played. Even then, that was just matches against friends – never owned it.

  2. Of this series, I played WWF SuperWrestlemania and WWF Raw (both on the SNES) which I believe are predecessor and sequel of this one. I always thought these were much closer to simulating the “rules” of this “sport” than other games I’ve played. Oh, and at least in WWF Raw (SNES), I can still win a grapple against the computer most of the time even on difficulty level 10; maybe it’s been balanced a bit better in the next game.

    1. “Of this series, I played WWF SuperWrestlemania and WWF Raw (both on the SNES) which I believe are predecessor and sequel of this one.”


      “I always thought these were much closer to simulating the “rules” of this “sport” than other games I’ve played.”

      Agreed. I wanted to make reference to this one not feeling too “arcadey” but couldn’t figure out how to word that. Because it is fairly quick and easy to play, just without loose controls or cartoon physics.

      “Oh, and at least in WWF Raw (SNES), I can still win a grapple against the computer most of the time even on difficulty level 10; maybe it’s been balanced a bit better in the next game.”

      I had to check, then double check to make sure it wasn’t something I was missing. But a few FAQs for Royal Rumble even address the grapple difficulty imbalance. Maybe it was a bug that slipped through? I can’t imagine it was intentional, but it’s definitely there.

  3. Nice, I got the SNES version of this game a year or so ago, and found it pretty fun.

    Aside from fixing the “You Lose Grappling” bug(?), I believe the SNES also lets you choose “Difficulty” on any game mode (Single, Tag, Rumble, etc) — so you didn’t always have to get your butt kicked when playing certain modes.

    It’s so weird how almost half of the cast is different from Genesis to SNES…at first I was going to wonder why that is, but I guess it would make sense if it was a royalties thing — if the overlapping characters are the lowest-paid ones, so you’re only handing Hulk Hogan a check for every Genesis copy sold, and not ever Super Nintendo AND Genesis copy, you’re saving money…I donno, sound plausible?

    1. I was thinking it was more an issue of trying to differentiate the versions and add value – an early example of the modern generation’s tendency to have characters or DLC be exclusive to 360 or PS3. But your suggestion seems more plausible. Follow the money, I say.

      1. The more I think about it, the more I think your interpretation is right —

        I was trying to think to myself, “did they really market games assuming people had BOTH systems back in the day?”, and the counter-example I could think of was how the SNES and Genesis got totally different Jurassic Park games…

        But now that I think about it, I bet that was because two totally 2 different companies bought the movie-game rights for the different consoles, so my counter-example seems less likely and you’re probably right, this was very early “unique console content”.

        What does all this mean to the average man on the street? Their dreams of an epic Ric Flair/Papa Shango tag team are DASHED! DASHED, I say!

        1. To set the record straight on this pt, very belatedly, there were *not* separate co.’s bringing these licensed games to these 16-bit consoles. Acclaim Entertainment, Inc., by which its subsidiaries *LJN* (SNES) and *Flying Edge* (SMD) published this title, purchased rights to the WWF license for basically the entirety of the ’90s until THQ picked up the fold in ’99.

          That the same co. was behind both releases suggests the console-unique content was to differentiate the game on the respective consoles. If it’d been me in the CEO’s chair at Acclaim, my reasoning behind it would’ve been to easily confer each system’s audience with some exclusivity from essentially the same game code, with the possibility of addit. revenues from second-system cart sales.

    2. It’s also possible that the licences for the different ports were bought at different times. Remember that “wrestlers” tended to switch between organisations quite regularly in those days. Maybe when the SNES version was made, Hulk Hogan (for example) was not part of the WWF anymore?

      1. First about the licensing: That’s not an issue, all the wrestlers (names and likeness) are trademarked by WWF (Titan Sports back then), that’s why most of them had to change their name (Razor Ramon becoming Scott Hall, Diesel becoming Kevin Nash in WCW or the Road Warriors becoming the Legion of Doom in WWF) with the exceptions of people who used their real name (like Bret Hart). So Acclaim only had to pay a license fee once. The only exception may be Hulk Hogan as his name was trademarked by Marvel (because of “Hulk”), so even the WWF had to constantly pay Marvel to use the name.
        Also i don’t think that “Wrestlers switching companies” are an issues. Those Wrestling Videogames were always horribly outdated. WCW SuperBrawl came out in 1994 with a 1992 Roster, WWF Warzone (Playstation) came out in August 1998 featuring Bret Hart who was at WCW since December 1997 and Royal Rumble has the same issues: Papa Shango was already at USWA, Ric Flair was back in WCW for months, Lex Luger has turned from “The Narcisisst” to the All American Hero

        I guess the reason is that Acclaim thought “If we create two different rosters, maybe the people who own both a Mega Drive and a SNES will buy the game twice”
        They did the same before with Super Wrestlemania: The SNES version has the Legion of Doom, Natural Disasters, Sid Justice, Jake Roberts and The Undertaker. While the Mega Drive version has the Ultimate Warrior, British Bulldog, Shawn Michaels, IRS, Papa Shango and an extra game mode (WWF Championship)

        As for the game itself: It’s fun in multiplayer. It can’t compete with Fire Pro Wrestling (which is a wrestling simulation, while those Acclaim games are still pretty arcade) and because of the roster i prefer it over Raw (It was always weird that Luna Vachon was in there but no other women)

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