I have to admit that when it comes to video game consoles, I’ve never been an early adopter. Growing up, we always clung to our old systems well past the point when game developers stopped supporting it. We were a Super Nintendo household until Christmas 1997, and resisted upgrading from a Playstation to a Playstation 2 until Christmas 2003. I still haven’t gotten around to whatever came after Playstation 2, and it’s the year after 2017, for Pete’s sake!
So I have to respect LJN for creating a new wrestling game for the NES in November 1993, two entire years after the Super Nintendo was first released and rendered the old console obsolete.
But I don’t have to respect them for putting out the most hideous wrestling game the world has ever seen.
I mean, look at this thing.
King of the Ring‘s badly-proportioned sprites, which appear to have been drawn free-hand, are far and away the most grotesque character models in any wrestling game I’ve seen…
…and that includes WCW Vs. The World’s floating torsos.
And if you think the game looks bad standing still, you won’t know the half of it until you’ve see these barrel-chested brawlers in “motion”.
Granted, I, like many wrestling fans, have always wanted to see Bam Bam work those traps and wiggle that pert little ass of his in video game form, but it ends up looking completely silly in practice.
The action looks no better. Every single time a wrestler drops to the mat, he has to fall sideways and land with his feet to the hard cam. As a consequence, every vertical suplex looks like an F5…
…and every body slam requires your opponent to perform a sky twister press.
At no point during the animation process did any of the artists wonder why in the world they’d need to draw a wrestler crouched like a frog in mid-air during a simple scoop slam?
I mean, every move got, like, four frames of animation, and this one made the cut?
You don’t need to be a member of Kai En Tai to realize this game is choppy, choppy.
Speaking of which, another downside to the wrestlers always landing spread eagle is that the player gets up close and personal with the entire roster’s junk, as the animators made sure to include a pixelated penis outline on every character.
The only conceivable payoff to this series of bizarre animation choices is that, with their downed opponents perpendicular to them at all times, players get to press (A+→) to pin them instead of (A+↓). I’m not sure it’s worth it.
Even though all wrestlers start out the same height…
…they warp and contort throughout the course of the game, growing an extra foot or two whenever they’re punched…
…or lean into a grapple.
Plus, wrestlers throb on the mat like a piece of bacon sizzling on the griddle.
All of these graphical anomalies could perhaps be forgiven if the gameplay were any good, but instead it’s yet another button-masher that can be easily conquered with an electric toothbrush or personal massager… um, I imagine.
It is possible to win matches without even touching the D-Pad until it’s time to pin your opponent. In the following Hulk Hogan fantasy, the Hulkster stands in place as Shawn Michaels bumps for him un-ironically, ending with Hogan celebrating both his victory and his full head of hair.
(Rumor has it Hogan personally lobbied the game developers to pretend he wasn’t bald)
The game’s physics leave a lot to be desired, as well. The digital equivalent of Neville, this is the game that gravity forgot. While one typically doesn’t expect his opponent to end up behind him after a hip toss, in King of the Ring the wrestlers float around every which way…
…and even enjoy luxurious, one-frame elbow drops.
While the contemporary 16-bit Royal Rumble games all at least included wrestlers’ finishers, everybody on King Of The Ring’s roster has the exact same move set. Within that standard move set, though, it is possible for Randy Savage to pull off his patented flying elbow drop, just like in real life.
Just like in real life.
It is not possible, however, to perform an Irish whip.
The roster at least looks decent on paper, with players getting to choose from Hogan, Taker, Luger, Ramon, Hart, Michaels, Bigelow, Yokozuna, Savage, and Perfect.
If you had ever wanted to pit Hulk Hogan against Bret Hart, you’re in luck, provided that the computer happens to select the correct opponent at random – you never, ever get to pick your own opponent in this game.
Not wanting to waste precious bytes on bitmapped photos like Steel Cage Challenge…
…the developers just kind of winged it with the wrestlers’ pictures.
I don’t know how Mr. Perfect’s avatar can look so dejected with such a lustrous mane.
At least Razor Ramon’s avatar has reason to be upset, sporting the biggest jowls this side of American Dad.
This picture of Rev. James Mitchell, on the other hand, is perfectly acceptable.
Yokozuna looks cartoony enough in his pic…
…but once the gameplay starts, he appears to have taken the phrase “losing face” literally.
And I suppose that since the WWF was already paying Marvel for “Hulk”, they figured they might as well shell out a few more bucks for Cyclops.
Not officially in the game is Tatanka, although there is a loincloth-clad character in the game who resembles a palette-swapped version of the Native American. That character? None other than TIME Magazine’s 2006 Person of the Year:
Thanks to this slightly-customizable player stand-in, any Tom, Dick, or Harry can get his name in the game…
…as long as that name has only three letters. So, more like Tom, Dck, or Hry.
Of course, with a three-letter maximum, the game designers were just asking for trouble. Here, I have paid tribute to 1999 King of the Ring winner, “Mr. Ass” Billy Gunn.
If you play it straight and don’t rename the “You” character, you’re rewarded with this special post-match message…
…provided, of course, that you wins.
What’s most astonishing about King of the Ring is how much worse it is in every way than not only the 16-bit games of the time, but even the previous 8-bit wrestling game, Wrestlemania: Steel Cage Challenge.
That includes not just graphics, but game modes, as well. Gone is the cage match…
…(as well as the Irish whip and half the frames of animation)…
…although King of the Ring at least adds the eponymous tournament feature. That’s nothing to get excited over, however, as your chosen wrestler simply takes on three consecutive opponents in what is ostensibly a three-round, eight-man elimination tournament.
There’s also the standard so-called “Tournament” mode, where you wrestle nine consecutive opponents in what, logically, ought to be a nine-round, five-hundred-twelve-man elimination tournament.
But the game’s most perversely amusing match type of all is the tag team mode, where your ghostly grey tag partner stands perfectly still outside the ring until you press Select…
…at which point the action abruptly stops so a tag can be made.
Seriously, all you have to do is press Select, and your opponent, whatever he’s doing at the moment, will wait patiently as you walk across the ring to make the hot tag. The result is the most polite tag team matches the wrestling world has ever seen.
Imagine how much more successful The Rock n’ Roll Express would have been if the Midnights had just let Ricky Morton tag out whenever he asked to.
‘Atta boy, Stan!
After playing King of the Ring, I will never utter another harsh word about WWF Superstars 2 for Game Boy…
…which, compared to King of the Ring for NES, looks like WWE 2K18…
…or maybe 2K17…
…or, uh, whatever the most recent WWE game was that didn’t have those sickening glitches and zombie characters.
But more importantly, after seeing what LJN put out in 1993, I will never again call Mabel the worst King of the Ring ever.