WWF WAR ZONE / Acclaim / Nintendo 64
I love random character creation mode.
Wrestling games in general didn't really hit their stride until the 64-bit era with WCW vs. NWO in 1997, and pretty soon the major feud was between THQ/Asmik's WCW-licensed games and Acclaim's WWE games. WWF War Zone was the first of the 3D WWF/E games, and the first direct competitor to WCW vs. NWO.
There's some similarity in look and gameplay style, but War Zone is really more like a fighting game than a wrestling game. Whereas the WCW games allow you to jump right in with intuitive and simplified control, this game has you memorize button press combos to execute both grapple and striking moves. To be fair, you can pause the game at any time for a "cheat sheet" of moves that can be executed from your current position (which is a neat feature), but it's something only really usable in single-player mode, as you'll probably get slammed IRL if you continuously pause the game while playing with buds. You can certainly levy the charge of "noob button mashing" at the WCW games and have some ground to stand on with that argument, but the WCW games also have a more sophisticated system of damaging different body parts and wearing them down with targetted submissions. Submission is almost useless in this one; each character simply has a general stamina bar that has to be pounded down until the opponent stays stunned on the canvas long enough to be pinned, and the most effective way to do that is simply by mixing punches and kicks and your strongest quick-strike slam moves.
One groundbreaking aspect for this game, however, is character creation. You can only have one lonely custom character at a time, and the possibilities are a little limited, but you can take them into Title mode or any other game mode. Physical features tend to require you to make either Big Fat Guy, Ripped Prison Muscle Dude, or Skinny Guy With Creepy Big Head, and the moves sets have to be taken all in one from another character - no custom selection of moves. Same with the theme songs, of which there are only about five original ones aside from borrowing another WWF character's theme. The fun here is all in the Random Creation Mode however, which is truly random and often slaps together elements in hilariously unexpected combinations.
As far as modes of play, you've got a standard tourney mode for single player, where you basically just fight through all the WWF characters in a semi-random order to first win the Intercontinenal Belt and then the Heavyweight Championship. You've also got tag team matches, a weapons match, the Royal Rumble and a limited form of Cage Match which is basically just a regular match where you have to try to stun the opponent long enough to get up and over the cage wall.
What WWF War Zone brought to the table, and improved upon, was the use of color commentary during the match. Vince McMahon (back when he was just a memorable announcer and not some steroid freak with an incest fetish) and Jerry "The King" Lawler do the blow-by-blow here, the commentary is not continuous and is basically just a bunch of stock clips that are triggered to play when certain things happen, but the syncing with game events is pretty good and the amount of clips is impressive for a cartridge-based game. You also hear from the crowd, who shifts in cheering and booing depending on who the "face" is and match events, and will start chanting and cat-calling for one side or the other. Particularly amusing is when you use a custom character, as they'll cheer or sneer at Player 1 instead ("Go Player 1! Plaaaayeeer Ooooooone!"). Wrestler ring entrances are limited to a simplistic walk to the ring against a mostly black background, but they do have their theme music at least. And while the crowd and backgrounds are simplistic and no less ugly than the games that came before it, the actual wrestler models look good with more detailed graphics and more fluid animation than anything to this point. Spamming the same move over and over not only lowers your momentum (in the form of damage you do per attack), but also gets the crowd booing you and calling you names.
On the whole it isn't a bad game, but it just seems too simplistic and "brawly" when you stand it up next to the WCW games. The limited character creation was a nice start, but it would go on to be improved greatly over the course of the many sequels to this one, and at this point it isn't enough of a draw by itself to give the game a leg up.
* Gameplay Video