We’ve already covered two 16-bit World Wrestling Federation games, and they were pretty solid, though unspectacular. But they weren’t the only show in town at the time, obviously. I mean, come on, can you imagine what wrestling would’ve been like if Vince McMahon held a virtual monopoly in the industry? Oh…right. Anywho, back in ’94, it was time for WCW to jump into the 16-bit ring with today’s offering, WCW SuperBrawl Wrestling.
It starts out promisingly enough, with a shot of the control room that zooms in on the title as a decent voice sample of WCW play-by-play man/total shill Tony Schiavone welcoming us to the game. The menu screens feature (badly, but again, 1994) digitized photos of wrestling action, and of course, this is the game that features what is undoubtedly the most famous character selection screen is the history of wrestling games.
There’s the 12-man roster as federally mandated for mid-’90s wrestling games, and it’s not bad, as it features WCW stalwarts as Ric Flair, Sting, and Vader, as well as big names like Rick Rude, the Steiner Brothers, and Brian Pillman, who was still in his “Flyin’ Brian” persona instead of his awesome, batshit insane Loose Cannon gimmick. Instead of simple static images like Raw or Royal Rumble, the characters “move”, although it resembles a GIF that didn’t quite load properly. Even more disturbing, they’ll randomly pop out of the frame to blurt out their catchphrase, and hilariously, it seems like only a handful of the boys could be bothered to head to the studio at all. Brian Pillman’s seemed legit, as no other human being could project that kind of throat-cancer induced rasp, but Ric Flair’s “Whooo!” was probably voiced by Randy in Accounts Payable.
When (or more realistically, if) you can tear yourself from the character select screen long enough to actually pick somebody, you’ll head down to the ring. It’s presented in an isometric view, similar to the Fire Pro series, but right about there is where the similarities end. Unlike Fire Pro, which utilizes a timing-based grappling system, or the LJN WWF games, which used good, old-fashioned button mashing to settle grapples, SuperBrawl eschewed grappling entirely and revolved their engine around a revolutionary new system where you…just kinda do moves. Y throws dropkicks, B throws a variety of strikes depending on which direction you’re pressing, and although none of those strikes do any sort of appreciable damage, that won’t stop the computer from punching you into the corner and relentlessly spamming you with the jumping elbow bash. Meanwhile, X and A do power moves, depending on which direction you’re holding, you can deliver piledrivers, atomic drops, back suplexes, and even the old Airplane Spin.
You can also run the ropes with L and R and climb the turnbuckles, although you’ll probably have no use for either, and while your opponent’s down you can pin them or stomp on them. However, as lame as it sounds so far, it takes a dramatic step down when it comes to finishing moves. You would think that, since part of the appeal of a wrestling game is to bust out your favorite character’s signature move, that the designers would put a little bit of care and effort into those moves. That is decidedly not the case here. For one, some of the moves are just flat out incorrect; Vader is supposed to have a powerbomb, instead he has a powerslam. Barry Windham’s superplex is now just a delayed vertical suplex. Some moves don’t quite make sense. Ric Flair has his Figure Four Leglock, but it’s not triggered while the opponent is down, instead, when you push Y and B to launch a special move, he throws a punch…and THEN applies the most discombobulated-looking Figure Four you’ve ever seen, although, on the upside, you CAN make opponents submit to it, instead of having to get up again and pin them. And then some finishers just suck; Johnny B. Badd’s is a punch, and you’re probably not going to land Brian Pillman’s Flying Sunset Flip unless someone literally sits there and takes it on purpose. You can also save up to four special moves in reserve, which is good, because if you attempt one and miss, you lose one regardless.
You’ll also notice a few other quirks during the matches. You have two health bars, one marked Health and the other marked Stamina. What the difference is between the two, I have no idea. I’m not even sure they mean sod-all, anyway, as I’ve seen both guys kicking out of pins with both bars empty and guys getting pinned while both meters were pretty much full. Even if they do matter, you’ll have a total sumbitch of a time getting them all the way down, as they refill extremely quickly, so unless you’re unleashing a torrential downpour of offense on your opponent, they’ll be back up to snuff in seconds.
During the match, you’ll also periodically see and hear Tony Schiavone pop up and provide little snippets of commentary. Granted, they’re not more insightful than “He’s going for the cover!” or “He’s got him up!”, but you can at least tell what he’s saying and it’s not terribly intrusive. Sadly, this game was made before the Vince Russo era of WCW, so we never got Digital Tony to spout off “It’s a shoot!” or deride Mick Foley.
There’s also a referee in the ring with you, who has a digitized voice for counting pins or countouts, although in tag team matches, he gets relegated to an inset picture like Schiavone. Sadly, though, you can’t knock him down or make him bail on the match like WWF Raw. Which brings me to an important point, actually. One of the biggest reasons this game doesn’t stack up against Raw and Royal Rumble is that there’s simply not that much to do. Raw featured wild modes like the Royal Rumble and Bedlam (Tornado Tag) matches, and you could do awesome stuff like toss your opponent out of the ring and blast them with a steel chair. There’s no such fun to be had here; there’s singles and tag modes, and a match can be two-out-of-three falls or an Iron Man match, and the usual tournament mode, but that’s really about it. Granted, that’s not entirely the designers’ fault, as WCW really wasn’t doing a lot of gimmick matches at the time, so it really wouldn’t have made too much sense to have those matches in the game, but after playing Raw, it’s kind of a letdown.
As I mentioned, this game loves it some digitized voice samples, and although they’re 1994-quality, they’re probably the highlight of the presentation end of the deal. There’s literally no music to be found here a’tall, no wrestler theme songs, no background music during matches, not even some generic dreck on menu screens. Punches and dropkicks connect with a sound akin to snapping your fingers, and yes, there’s plenty of grunting here, as well, and it somehow, it sounds even more carnal in nature than the WWF games.
Wrestlers barely look like who they’re supposed to portray; if it wasn’t for Vader’s mask, you wouldn’t be able to tell if it was him or King Kong Bundy. The Steiner Brothers and Rick Rude also feature ring outfits so garish your rods and cones will beg for darkness, and the wrestlers’ faces are a blob that resemble a cross between The Scream and the robot from Queen’s News of the World album, and they all move rather hamfistedly. The animations for moves aren’t much better, as once you’ve picked one, you shift into the first frame of its animation and stay locked there until either your opponent walks into it or the game just decides to unfreeze you, not to mention the pins, where the wrestlers appear to trip and fall onto the opponent.
I’m just going to sum things up here by saying SuperBrawl just isn’t very good. It’s not completely horrible, by any means, and there’s some fun to be had here, but again, it just doesn’t stack up to the WWF games, let alone Fire Pro, and unless you were a diehard WCW fan, you’d be better off getting one of those instead. It might have looked bleak for WCW partisans in terms of getting a quality game for their favorite promotion, but just a couple years later, they’d be rewarded for their patience with a game that redefined video game wrestling.
Being the only WCW game on Super Nintendo is worth some mileage, and the digitized voice samples work pretty well, and a character select screen chock full of unintentional comedy.
Terrible fighting engine, and everything looks just…off. Much shallower than its WWF counterparts.