October 26, 1998 is a fascinating timestamp in the history of WCW. Symbolically, I’ve always viewed it as the point where the company fell off its final cliff; left to free fall for over two years with little hope of reascending to the summit of professional wrestling. One day prior, PPV feeds were infamously lost during Bill Goldberg and Diamond Dallas Page’s main event at Halloween Havoc. Understandably, fans were irate, and the decision to air the match for free the next evening on Nitro did little to ease tensions. As fate would have it, that episode wound up being the final time WCW defeated WWF’s Monday Night Raw in the ratings when going head-to-head.
The silver lining of that day came in the form of WCW/nWo Revenge, which was released onto the Nintendo 64 to critical acclaim. I still remember telling my parents to hold off two days on my birthday present because there was nothing more that I wanted. Sure, I could’ve asked for WWF War Zone, but have you played the game (or Attitude for that matter)? It sucks! There, I said it. It has mildly better graphics, maybe, but that’s about it. The controls are clunky, brusque and unresponsive. I rented it from Blockbuster and, suffice it to say, those were the three most frustrating days of my summer vacation. Besides, I was more of a WCW fan anyway.
Needless to say, Revenge is fantastic and is perhaps the wrestling game I’m most nostalgic about. In my experience, its predecessor, WCW vs. nWo: World Tour felt like the first revolution in wrestling games, and Revenge upped the ante in literally every conceivable way. It starts with the opening title scene, which to me is a masterpiece. If you’ve never seen it, you’re missing out. It goes on for what feels like forever, and I never want it to stop. It gets me so amped-up, which is not something that I can say about many other games. Not only that, but it perfectly captures the tone of Nitro at the time, which created a more authentic feeling experience.
The first thing I check whenever I get into a new wrestling game is the roster, and Revenge’s is absolutely stacked. You’re treated to pages upon pages of characters to pick from, all with alternate costumes. You could go even further and alter/customize them yourselves. It would've been nice to have the Create-a-Wrestler feature, but I did spend a fair amount of time mixing and matching attires. There were also a slew of new roster members including Bret Hart, Chris Jericho, Harlem Heat, and Bill Goldberg, who was arguably the biggest draw in the company. The only notable omission from the game, and it’s unfortunately a pretty big one, is Ric Flair. From April to September 1998, the Nature Boy was fighting a legal battle against WCW President Eric Bischoff, and presumably had to be removed for licensing purposes.
Championship Mode was another new addition and offers players the opportunity to compete for the Cruiserweight, World Television, World Tag Team, United States Heavyweight, and World Heavyweight Championships. There’s not much to it other than beating a series of wrestlers before challenging the champion, but I never got bored of it. I’d keep track of who won every match I played, regardless of the mode, and essentially booked an imaginary version of the company in my school binder. I would make-up storylines, albeit childish ones, during class, and once even tricked my teacher into thinking it was the homework I forgot to do. Luckily for me, he never paid close attention. Plus, the inclusion of the actual belts was a huge step up from the generic trophy ceremony in World Tour’s Tournament mode. What's more, defeating any of the silhouetted title holders unlocks them for Exhibition usage. Naturally, I don’t use the mode as much as I used to, mostly doing singles matches and 4-player battle royals with friends, but I’ve never lost sight of how big of a deal it was to me back then.
Visually, the presentation within the game also takes a giant leap forward. The sets for Monday Nitro, Starrcade, Bash at the Beach, Souled Out, SuperBrawl, and Halloween Havoc are all available and look outstanding. Having different stages kept the game aesthetically fresh and allowed you to further submerge yourself into the world of WCW. To make things even better, Revenge featured wrestler specific entrance motions and taunts, allowing some of the characters’ personality to show. This does, however, tie into my biggest complaint about the game which is the lack of theme music. Entrances are a key factor in the wrestling experience, so to not have them, and only offer a generic loop of tracks, is jarring and pulls you out of the moment.
Revenge suffers from blocky, floating body parts, but more than makes up for it with enhanced move designs and character behaviors. A Kevin Nash Jacknife Powerbomb is delivered with all the nuances that make it specific to him. Same goes for any maneuver that has an identifiable wrestler flourish. I can’t even begin to explain how much more fun it was to play a game where it didn’t always feel like you were using the same wrestler. They touted having over 700 frames of animation for each wrestler, and it shows. One other thing that further complimented this was the inclusion of voice taunts. Sting’s “Wooo” and Macho Man’s “Oh Yeah!” are the two that stand out most.
Aside from the lack of music and create-a-wrestler, my complaints with Revenge are mostly inconsequential so I’m going to bunch them together here. First, I never liked the cartoon rendering of referee Mark Curtis. Stylistically, it never fit. Second, I hate the constant run-ins during matches. Revenge is programmed to spam interference, and it’s just as annoying here as it was on Nitro. Otherwise, I think all the limitations of the game are truly my own. I never really sat down and learned every move set, so in that regard, there is a sense of sameness that sets in after a while.
This was developer AKI’s final WCW game, and their grappling system is as glorious as ever. I don’t know what I can say about it that hasn’t already been said. Revenge just flows and tends to be fun whether you know what you’re doing or not. The grapple system makes it way more accessible, and lets you slowly figure things out instead of trying to remember complex button sequences. WCW games were never the same after AKI left to work with the competition. Mayhem and, to a greater extent, Backstage Assault were significant steps backwards. I was so bummed the first time I played WrestleMania 2000. WWF just didn’t seem like AKI’s style, although I must say the game is fantastic and a great time capsule of the Attitude Era. It’s hard to break down exactly what I didn’t like. It’s a feel thing, really. I much preferred the sleekness and professionalism, for lack of a better word, of Revenge’s presentation. WrestleMania 2000 has that total “wWF AtiTuDE ErA” vibe if that makes sense, at all.
Let’s keep in mind where everything came from. World Tour was basically a Japanese wrestling game with a WCW license pigeonholed in at the last-ish minute. Revenge was a WCW game from top to bottom with a small remnant of that Japanese feel. WrestleMania 2000 felt like none of that. Do I wish WCW had retained AKI? Yes, absolutely, but I think it was just overall indicative of the way both companies were going. In a way, WWF went off of WCW’s back and improved on all their successes
You can always look back with hindsight and pick apart old video games, but at the time, WCW/nWo Revenge was just about everything you could want in a wrestling game. I don't profess to be an expert on the medium, I'm far from it. All I know is the way I felt, the fun I had, and the memories I made. I have a passion for gaming, even if I'm not very good at it, and Revenge is a prized part of my collection. It may not register in the conversation alongside Here Comes the Pain and No Mercy when discussing the greatest of the genre, but it deserves every bit of praise, and more.