Dig diggity. There’s very few consecutive critically successful releases in the sports genre. Most series’ have that one title that stood out above the rest, such as NHL 94′, Formula One 97, and Championship Manager 2001/02. They’re the kind of games that are still played today despite more than 10 further releases following them because it’s where the pinnacle was hit in said series. It’s all too real today, with sports titles presenting their content as looking like it has been lifted straight from the TV. I just can’t play sports game today, they’re too involved and become something you have to really invest yourself into more than the average game. I prefer a quick drop-in, drop out game, which is why Rocket League has become a firm favourite of mine on PC, Xbox One, and Switch.
First things first, WWE/F isn’t a sport. Which makes discussion of it in relation to other sports titles feel a bit off. There was a time however, when my young little self believed it all to be true, and playing any wrestling game was my opportunity to be my favourite ‘sports’ hero. The fact is wrestling games play like a sport and as a result, I think it’s fair to compare it to not only other sport titles, but also other combat titles such as side-scrolling and 1-vs-1 beat-em-ups. There’s combat and competition, but there’s also the entertainment side of the coin as well, the side in which storylines pan out and help us to decide who to root for. Will it be the superhero babyface or the dastardly heel? Wrestling games let you dictate which way the cookie will crumble, and it’s down to you to decide whether you want to be a fun gingerbread man or a serious Oreo. I need to get off this analogy train right now.
AKI (now known as Syn Sophia) were the developers behind WWF No Mercy, but this hadn’t been the first title in this particular series. In fact, they effectively had two going at the same time, the US WWF and WCW games, and on the other side of the Pacific they were also developing for New Japan Pro Wrestling and All Japan. At the core of it, both series played almost identically in regard to the their control schemes, with a few changes either side to accommodate for the relevant audiences and match styles involved. Ultimately though, if you could play one, you could pretty much get to grips with the other.
If you’d played any of the prior US AKI titles to No Mercy, you knew exactly what you were getting into. A sublime control scheme which came across as extremely sophisticated yet was so easy to master. A mass of superstars who you could do whatever you liked with. An in-depth create-a-wrestler function, career modes with their own storylines, a wide variety of match types at your disposal, a whole battery of fun for any die-hard WWF fan of the time. It was a dream come true for those who had fallen head over heels for WWF Wrestlemania 2000, the fantastic but far more limited prequel to No Mercy.
The game has over 60 playable wrestlers, from stars like Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock, to women like Trish Stratus and Lita, down to the likes of referee Earl Hebner and even OAP Mae Young. Andre the Giant could even be unlocked as a secret wrestler which was a real treat. That roster could find themselves involved in cage matches, ladder matches, submission, Royal Rumbles, etc, and hardcore matches would even feature you entering the backstage areas to kick some no holds barred ass. The create-a-wrestler mode was ridiculously open for you to create ANYONE you wanted. You could update the roster to the present day if you wanted to by filling all of the vacant spaces afforded to you by the game storage available. You could create legends such as Hulk Hogan and have him face off against Andre in a classic rematch of their Wrestlemania III classic. Choose colours of clothing, what style of glasses to wear, boots, knee pads, and so on and on… and then there was the move lists.
Wow. You were almost in a position here to be able to think of any move you wanted, and find that it was available in No Mercy for you to use in your creation of your wrestler. Of course, by today’s standards it will feel a little limited, what with today’s wrestling audience seemingly more obsessed with unrealistic gymnastic move-sets. If you were a fan of the late 90s wrestling product however, you were in your element here. Some of the moves were just great to use too, such as the classic finger poke to the eye, or the turnbuckle powerbomb which looked truly horrific. You could do The Rock’s people’s elbow if you wanted, or choose to utilise the Dudley Boyz match-ending 3D. Your wrestler was yours to style as you wanted, and you could lose hours at a time just playing around with this function.
Graphically, it’s a tricky one to nail down. From a distance, it looks excellent. You can tell who’s who, what the arena setting is, and what’s going on in the ring. However, as soon as the game zooms in to any of the wrestlers, it’s a different face you’re seeing. They look blurry, with static horrific faces forever frozen in a smirk or grimace. Modern day mod packs have fixed this and given the game an unbelievable overhaul but… it’s just not No Mercy any more. Despite the graphical shortcomings, the game gest away with it because thankfully you don’t need to see Edge’s goofy permanent shit-eating grin which is downright laughable.
The Career Mode was a lot of fun, with a lot of branching paths based on whether you lost, won, or carried out certain actions in your prior match. The storyline was also very different depending on if you were playing as the champion or not. No longer the challenger, you could be the defender if you wanted. It wasn’t the most in-depth story mode around, and felt a little half-assed at times. A lot of the storylines were taken from the shows at the time, as was the dialogue, which could result in you as the Undertaker speaking The Rock’s famous lines. It was quite jarring or funny depending on who you ask. Big Show was one of the top heels at the time, but due to some odd legal complication was removed from the game at the last moment. As a result, his role in all of the game’s major storylines was filled in by Stevie Richards who had never been a main event name, but suddenly was in No Mercy. Again, it was very weird but it was a small sacrifice to make for what was and is still an enjoyable mode to play, especially with your own created wrestler.
If there is one drawback to the game it’s in its audio quality, which is piss-poor to be frank. Nearly all of the superstars entrance themes are available, but they sound very tinny and rough compared to their real counterparts. Then there’s the menu tune which, despite developing a bit of a cult following (dig diggity dog), is downright bloody awful and needs to be turned off. Thankfully, the sound effects are at the other end of the scale and sound fantastic. Moves seem even more bone-crunching due to the impact of the sound made when you pull them off. You get a comedic ringing bell noise when you perform a ‘low blow’ on your opponent, and all of the metal clanks, wooden snaps, and mat impacts are all present and accounted for.
Match modes were in abundance, and you could tailor each one to your liking. You could disable count-outs if you liked, or allow weapons to be used in-ring. Nothing as satisfying as leveling your opponent with a set of ringsteps! The ladder match is probably the one that most people remember fondly mostly. With the belts or suitcase dangling from the ceiling, it was your job to get up the ladder and seize them. Of course, your opponent was trying to do the same thing so would be doing everything they could to stop you. Aside from pulling you off the ladder, they could opt to actually swing the ladder at your cranium and knock you cold, hoping to give themselves enough time to climb and steal the glory.
Annoyingly, I was one of the unfortunate ones who, when buying the game on day of release, got lumbered with a glitched copy. It’s a notorious story now, how a large majority of the initial run of copies of No Mercy were actually released with a game killing bug on it. You could play the game as normal, play matches or make your own wrestler, anything you wanted. However, every now and then, this seemingly random bug would strike from out of nowhere and delete all of your saved data, resetting the entire game back to how it was when you bought it. It could happen at anytime too, so when you’re playing a career mode as your own wrestler, but suddenly find some generic jobber appearing in the ring, you know you’ve been struck. Even more frustratingly, when it was time to trade the glitched copy in for a fixed new copy, AKI had decided to remove all instances of visual blood from the PAL version. Bizarrely, they still left in the animation of the wrestler reacting as if they had just been busted open and even allowed the first blood match to remain, which you won when your wrestler did the blood reaction animation. Without blood. Go figure.
You can’t discuss a game like No Mercy and not talk about multi-player mode. Here, with four 3 pronged pads, you and your mates could enjoy beating the living daylights out of each-other. Tag matches, 40 man Royal Rumbles, 4-way hardcore battles, it could be absolute chaos, and was equally as fun whether you were all pros at the game or amateurs. Amateurs would struggle with the more involved moves within the game but as long as you know what you have to do to get a pin in, you were fine.
Even today, nearly 20 years after it’s original release, there are still modding communities dedicated to keeping No Mercy relevant and up to date with today’s product. It still tops poll after poll when discussing best wrestling games of all time. No Mercy had it all at the right tempo and even with its graphical shortcomings, it still managed to replicate the look of the shows and spectacle far better than any modern day title could. Playing this today takes me back to a very innocent time, when I was nearing the end of sixth form, and wasn’t even a fan of actual wrestling at the time. I loved these games though. If you’ve never played any of AKI’s N64 wrestling games, you owe it to yourself to do so as they’re all such fun to experience. No Mercy of course sits at the pinnacle of the lot of them and, in my opinion, remains the greatest wrestling game ever made.
Dig diggity dog.
See me falling off ladders @auto2112