The concept behind HG101 Presents: Wrestling with Pixels is simple: it aims to chronicle the history of wrestling videogames from the arcades, consoles, handhelds, PC, and even up to Pachinko and pinball machines. The list goes from 1983 to 2019 and it has over 300 games from over a dozen consoles, and there are cover art and pictures of all of them. The book is divided in sections such as wrestling games by year, special series, history of mods, mobiles games, canceled projects, and there is even a chapter on Hulk Hogan’s adventures in non-wrestling videogames.
This book has a bit of controversy. This started as a Kickstarter campaign back in 2014 by the author Audun Sorlie and he asked Matthew “Maffew” Gregg of Botchamania to write the book alongside him. It ended up with Maffew leaving the project, and because of the length of the production and lack of updates, donators started asking for refunds. At last, the book came out in February 2020 thanks to Hardcore Gaming 101. The story of the controversy won’t be discussed in this review, but the whole story of the 2014 Kickstarter campaign and all of the problems along the way was written by Bryan Barrera at WCWWorldwide.com and it is an interesting one.
The main section of the book is 200 pages of wrestling videogames focusing on over 300 titles starting with Tag Team Wrestling/Big Pro Wrestling from 1983 and ending with Fire Pro Wrestling World from 2017. Not only does the book catalog the titles, but each one has a short history of the production, facts, explanation of the mechanics, and a review. Some games get discussed more than others. For example, important titles like No Mercy or Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 might get a whole page or more than one, while Monster Wrestling or Nacho Libre might only get a paragraph.
Not only would you be really surprised at the number of wrestling games that exist, but even more surprising is how they vary. There are turn-based strategy games alongside ones with monsters and robot duking it out in cities that serves as a wrestling ring. There are card strategy and puzzles. You can even find text-based games, like the popular Wrestle Angels series. The book even covers non-wrestling videogames that have wrestling components.
On the usual wrestling videogames front, it is surprising how many Joshi titles were released in the ’90s. There is the whole history of the Fire Pro Wrestling and all its titles, which might be new information for those that only know of the ones that arrived in the United States. And did you know that Capcom, the creators of Street Fighter, released a wrestling game called Muscle Bomber and it’s one of the best wrestling titles? Or that Midway, creators of Mortal Kombat, produced the TNA Impact videogame and that Samoa Joe and AJ Styles were heavily involved in its production?
While a list of videogames might sound dry, trust me, it’s not. Even if you aren’t a big videogame person or have only played the WWE ones, there is a lot of interesting history here. A lot of the production stories are straight-up amazing, like the creation of Rumble Roses to give an example. Even the Smackdown and Smackdown vs Raw series have interesting backstories behind them, games that might seem like a copy of the one from the previous year. Wrestling videogame development is something to behold.
You can even read the parallels between the wrestling companies and their videogame production. For example, I found interesting that when WCW was riding high, it released some of the best wrestling videogames available, and then in 1999 and 2000 it released two of the worst ones. WWF/E released two classics in 1999 and 2000, meanwhile, their games weren’t hot in the mid-’90s. ECW started releasing games in 1999 and 2000, games that were not critically or commercially successful and were considered subpar and from another time. TNA released a videogame that was considered good but failed in creating a sequel. AJPW was releasing critically acclaimed games in the ’90s. In the 2000s there are games in Japan that featured AJPW, NJPW, and Pancrase wrestlers in the same game.
Other parts of the book are the history of mods in wrestling videogames and the history of Hulk Hogan in non-wrestling videogames, which are amusing. I learned of the McDickie and Total Extreme Wrestling franchises and their history. Also, want to guess how many Pachinko machines there are using the likeness of Antonio Inoki? Way too many.
The negative of the book is that some parts clearly show when they were written. For example, the Wrestlemania 2000 bio mentions Prince Albert as “today one of the hottest stars in Japan”. There are some moments like that. This will sound like a weird complaint, but while this book is exhaustive in its research and history, the console videogame stops at 2017. While I understand that maybe the book went to print before the author could finish writing about the 2018 and 2019 games, for some reason the mobile games and some of the last sections end in 2019. Maybe the main section could have ended up in 2018 to make it even more up to date as possible for the 2020 release.
The history of wrestling videogames is as interesting as playing it, and it is an important part of pro wrestling history. Wrestling with Pixels captures all the rich history and treats the subject with a lot of love and respect, since you can see how much the author loves both wrestling and videogames. Even though the book had a shaky production, at the end of the day, I found the final product very satisfying and an important document for wrestling fans, be it from a historical perspective or as a walk down memory lane.