The current run of the WWE 2K are extremely frustrating. Each release seems to come with its own compromises and drawbacks. WWE 2K22 has an upgraded engine, but the custom entrances have been taken out, and there’s no Rick Rude. To make matters worse, patches after its release borked major parts of it. It’s bad enough that the 6.5 I awarded to it is too generous for the state it’s been reduced to.
This wasn’t always the state of wrestling games. However, if you want to go back to the genre’s golden age, you need to travel back to the N64. Perhaps it’s because the competing brands of the WWF and the WCW meant that you actually needed to put effort into your wrestling title to shift units. The truth, however, is that AKI just did wrestling right; there was no competition. I mean, technically there were, but they just didn’t measure up.
AKI released six games on the N64. There were two for the WCW, and then they shifted to the WWF for two more. However, they also developed two Japan-only titles. The AKI wrestling games are what introduced me to pro wrestling in its entirety, and Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 was the one I sunk the most time into.
If you’ve never enjoyed the Japanese AKI wrestling games, it’s important to note that they’re pretty heavily based on North American counterparts. Virtual Pro Wrestling was mostly an expanded version of WCW vs. nWo: World Tour, while Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 takes the format of WWF Wrestlemania 2000.
It’s not just a clone, however. While the main “story” mode follows the same calendar formula that takes you from the middle of the card to the top, a lot of the game around it has been tweaked. Most importantly, the roster features wrestlers from various Japanese promotions at the time. The first blood and cage matches were removed since, apparently, these weren’t common in Japan.
What was added was a luchador-style mask editor that, honestly, is better than anything WWE has done since. It was also taken out of the North American follow-up, WWF No Mercy, so if you love masked wrestlers, this is the game for you.
On that note, another great feature that was added is running grapples. I know I’m being rather boring right now, but this feels like a must since it feels weird to have two wrestlers lock up, and then one throws a tilt-a-whirl head scissors. It adds a bit of extra speed to the match, so you can have your agile fighters running across the squared circle grandstanding a hotdogging.
Perhaps my favourite difference between Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 and WWF Wrestlemania 2000 is the lack of Attitude-era tackiness. The Japanese weren’t making everything look grungy and having wrestlers flip each other off. They were trying to pretend that pro wrestling is an actual sport meant to be respected. The entrances start with your oily man standing in the locker room, and then they get introduced in the ring. It might be a little more subdued and less exciting, but it’s kind of a breath of fresh air.
The create-a-wrestler system introduced in WWF Wrestlemania 2000 is carried over, and it’s still pretty great. This was where I first started the wrestling stable that I still re-create time and time again today. The heroic Greenback, the cocky Gold Standard, and the monstrous Mr. Murder, among others, are always the first I create. There are no female wrestlers, unfortunately. That wouldn’t come until WWF No Mercy.
“Royal Road Succession” is the main mode to Virtual Pro Wrestling 2. Grab a wrestler and their tag team partner, and then play a year in their career. You go from small exhibitions to bigger events, moving down the card until you’re the main event. You also gather championships and then defend them from other wrestlers. To be honest, it’s pretty long and repetitive. Somehow, I got through a full year the first time I played, but I’m not sure I could do that again. It would be great if you developed rivalries and there was tag team drama, but it’s just not that advanced. It’s still fun if you want to simulate a career.
What’s most shocking about Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 is how well it holds up against modern wrestling games. There are a lot of moves you can stick on your wrestler. Springboards, signature moves, dirty attacks; they’re all here. Wear down specific body parts to make your opponent submit, tire them out the old-fashioned way, or grab the steel chair.
The controls are, admittedly, stiffer. Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 doesn’t benefit from the procedural animations and physics engines available today. It makes you wonder where we’d be if AKI had continued building up their wrestling games year after year.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. After WWF No Mercy, AKI largely moved away from wrestling games. They did Def Jam: Vendetta and Def Jam: Fight for NY, then much of their staff kind of dropped off the map. Development of the WWF/WWE games went to Yuke’s Co, who had their ups and downs with it before being shunted off in favor of an internal 2K studio, Visual Concepts. They’re responsible for the train-wreck of WWE 2K20; then, they seemed to get on track with WWE 2K22. Then they just ruined it.
You know what doesn’t get patches? Old N64 games like Virtual Pro Wrestling 2. Unless you want patches because there’s definitely a modding community around it and WWF No Mercy that changes the roster and adds moves. Otherwise, it’s just as good as it always has been. It’s so good that it hurts. It hurts to be reminded that it still hasn’t been done better.